Here is my latest victim in our 4WD utility free-for-all. Let me kill the suspense right off the bat: this car is not worthy of any boxing analogies, the kind that defined the Ranger-Navara-Ranger-again reviews that preceded this one.
Maybe it is the fact that it is outdated (production run was between 2000 and 2006), but its replacement, called Sportero, is nothing to write home about either. We will discover why shortly. I am, of course, talking about the Mitsubishi L200 Warrior, also called the Storm in some other places.
What is it?
Same old formula: selectable 4WD, 2.5-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine, turbocharged with intercooler, and wrapped in a tall, off-grey-off-beige double-cabin garb — just like the main protagonist in this commercial, suburban-housewife transport drama — the Navara, and its biggest antagonists the Ranger, the DMAX, and the Vigo.
You cannot hope to make any sales in this sector unless you garnish your product in the most macho, in-your-face, unsubtle visual addenda, and Mitsubishi stuck to form. It has big wheels shod in big rims, body-colour wheel arch extensions, a huge toothy grin up front, a fat bumper, side steps, the lot.
All these combine to yield Arnold Schwarzenegger: not exactly an underwear model, but the massive musculature does provide a certain brutish charm that cannot be defined exactly.
This charm is further enhanced by the presence of a bonnet scoop that is off-set slightly to the nearside and a sporty scaffolding in the payload area. That bonnet scoop, by the way, does not feed the turbo, as many are wont to believe; it feeds the heat exchanger, which nestles at the top of the engine, just above the cylinder head, like a tray of cookies on a kitchen counter.
The version I drove was the face-lifted one. The result of the facelift was to further mar a visage that was hardly pageant-worthy to begin with.
The early versions had sunken headlamps that gelled well with the slight swoops of the bonnet’s leading edge, but the later versions got flush headlamps that gave the car a pinched, pointy frontal appearance, not entirely dissimilar to that despicable, dreadlocked monstrosity from the Predator movie franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger indeed.
It is a bit of a love-hate mix inside. I loved the leather adornment that covered the door panels, seats, dashboard top, steering wheel, gear levers, handbrake, and grab handles (some of these smacked of aftermarket installation).
I also loved the elephant-ear side mirrors, the ensconced driver’s seat, and the space up front. It was cossetting, a feature that lacks in most cars of this size. It felt like one was seated in the chair rather than on it, increasing the comfort levels.
But I hated the fact that there was no rear-view mirror. What gives, Mitsubishi? I hated the driving position too, which is not a contradiction to the enjoyment of sitting in the driver’s seat. It is fun sitting there, yes, until you start driving, at which point it becomes an exercise in endurance.
The pedal/steering wheel arrangement is better suited to a lower primate rather than a human. I particularly despised the rear bench, which has little headroom, even less shoulder room and non-existent legroom.
Other dislikes stretch to the rungu-type 4WD selector lever in an era when the rest of the world has moved to a rotary-switch electronically-operated setup. I also did not like the fact that the electric windows at the back had gone on the fritz, responding to instructions that only they knew from whence they came.
Oddly, this car should be a range-topper and yet it was devoid of kit. The inside reminded me of the base XLT that was killed by the Nissan in our first round. Air-con, electric windows, and radio, and that is your lot. To make matters worse, some of these things looked like afterthoughts, like the dash-top incline-o-meter and outside temperature gauge, which was dishonest (when it was freezing cold, it told us that outside temperature stood at 24C).
The demist button also looked like a late addition, standing lonely on the aluminium-effect surface next to the steering wheel. Get this; getting the demister to actually work involved working out a certain permutation that involved the fan (get the speed just right), the air-flow (circulate or flow-through?), the ambient temperature (hot, cold, or in between?), and whether or not the climate-control button was on or off.
Naturally, you must have pressed the demist button before working all this out. My degree in mathematics and physics did not help me here.
The primary controls felt different from the kits normally found in SUVs. The steering wheel, for example, offered slightly stiffer resistance, like that in a hatchback with an unassisted system.
The brake pedal was not mushy (thank God), and the throttle pedal travelled in a long satisfying arc, as did the lightweight clutch pedal, making modulation easy and enjoyable. If you ever leave driving school before mastering how to balance the clutch, maybe you should practise on this car.
It felt so much better, especially because the car I had tried my hand at just before this was, incidentally, another Mitsubishi L200 pickup — a petrol-powered, carb-fed 2.0 litre 2WD car from the mid-nineties with a mousetrap clutch action.
The Warrior comes with a 5-speed manual transmission. Long in the throw, it was fairly easy to slide the gears into position when shifting upwards, but the downshift from 5th to 4th was a touch awkward, and was the only fly in the ointment for what was clearly the L200’s only strong point: the fact that double-declutching and heel-and-toe were an absolute doddle.
So easy was it, and so much fun, that I found myself doing these two shifting techniques even when it was not necessary. And necessary the double-clutch shift was, because the long-throw shift action sometimes let the revs decay a bit too much before the clutch was re-engaged.
Ride and handling
An independent front suspension and a leaf-spring rear stilt makes for an interesting combo. The front works hard to engage the driver while the rear does its best hop-skip-and-jump impression. This effect was felt best on the gnarled stretch of road between Nakuru and Eldoret, near the Kapsabet turn-off, where the smallest twitch of the wheel caused alarming results out back.
On smooth roads, the massive bucket that serves as the payload was also an aerodynamic fiend: not only did it hold the vehicle back at speed, it also caused a tendency to swing from one side to the other.
But the surprising thing was, if you get your line right, the car actually corners quite well, with minimal body roll, despite the tall height, with little sign of understeer (I suspect this thing would oversteer like crazy on loose surfaces).
And here is some shocking news: It has no ABS! Thankfully, I did not have to find this out the hard way.
So why no boxing comparison?
Ah, but to be a boxer, you must have power. The Warrior has none. Low-end torque is also sorely missing.
The engine was weak to start with and the gear ratios were poorly selected. Actually, they went opposite to what is typically expected from these kinds of vehicles. First, second, and third gears were too high, so take-off and pick-up were pathetic, to say the least.
As for the low-end torque required to launch a car, you needed to really give it the beans (thus engaging the turbo), up to about 2500 rpm before any sense of poke was felt. The result of this effort was a noisy, banshee-scream launch that would cause outsiders to judge you and your driving skills unfavourably.
Fourth and fifth gear, on the other hand, were too low. Trying for outright speed on the highway found me in either fourth or fifth, with the engine wailing its heart out, only to discover I could not inch much past 110km/h irrespective of gear.
It made no difference whether I was in fourth or fifth, they both felt like the same cog. I think the transmission, with its wafer-thin power band, is more biased towards lugging loads and a bit of off-road work, which should really be the primary purpose for these cars.
The overall result was this: the drive turned into a noisy orgy of revs and gear-stirring, topped off with several visits to the black pump that revealed we were averaging less than 7 kpl — on the highway. What was going to happen when we got into town? It did not help that the engine was a bit off-colour and badly in need of a tune-up, and an oil change.
This car is one of a pair of weak links in Mitsubishi’s otherwise impressive vehicle lineup. The other is the Pajero Sport/Shogun or Sport/Challenger (the name depends on where you buy it from). Both cars suffer the same faults: little thought went into specifications, overall design, and engine development.
They both have noisy, weak, thirsty, revvy, and smoky 2.5 litre diesel engines that hark back to the time when Cain decimated a quarter of the world’s population (his brother Abel).
Why did they not just install the Pajero’s engine into this one, the way Nissan did with the Navara/Pathfinder? Incidentally, Mitsubishi also makes television sets. Maybe they got the TV guys to make a car, and this was it. Warrior? Maybe of the Lilliputian sort. Storm? Must be the kind that comes in a teacup.
What you probably didn’t know: Despite its failings, this car was Britain’s best-selling pickup for most of its production run (2000-2005). Just goes to show how looking the part can compensate for major weaknesses. This also explains why anyone with half a brain would ever think of buying a Hummer.