Mit­subishi’s Xpander of­fers room aplenty at a price that won’t empty your ac­count.

MIT­SUBISHI’S XPANDER BEATS EX­PEC­TA­TIONS ON THE ROAD, WITH THE IN­DONE­SIAN IM­PORTS TO AP­PEAL TO BIG FAM­I­LIES - AND THE PRIC­ING HELPS

The Nation - - FRONT PAGE - KINGS­LEY WIJAYASINHA

WHILE THAI­LAND is the largest mar­ket for pickup trucks in the Asean re­gion, In­done­sia is the big­gest mar­ket for MPVs (Multi- Pur­pose Ve­hi­cles), which is a good thing.

That’s be­cause ve­hi­cles pro­duced within Asean are ex­changed with­out im­port du­ties due to our re­gional free-trade agree­ment, which means pro­duc­tion hubs in each coun­try can spe­cialise in what cus­tomers in their mar­kets want most.

Although Thai­land’s auto mar­ket com­prises mainly pas­sen­ger cars and pickup trucks (we’re the world’s largest 1-ton pickup truck mar­ket), there is grow­ing de­mand for MPVs that can ac­com­mo­date large fam­i­lies when re­quired. That means such fam­i­lies need to have third-row seats for the sixth and sev­enth pas­sen­gers.

The fold­ing seats also make MPVs highly func­tional life­style ve­hi­cles that can serve many pur­poses, just like its name sug­gests.

Thai­land serves as the pro­duc­tion and ex­port cen­tre for Ja­panese au­tomaker Mit­subishi, with its Laem Cha­bang plants churn­ing out Tri­ton pick­ups, Pajero Sport PPV and Mi­rage/At­trage eco cars.

In order to ex­pand its prod­uct port­fo­lio (Mit­subishi ceased pro­duc­tion of the Lancer com­pact car ages ago), the com­pany de­cided to re-en­ter the MPV seg­ment (it was highly suc­cess­ful with the Space Wagon in the past), but with a smaller prod­uct – the Xpander.

Built in In­done­sia, the Xpander is im­ported to Thai­land and com­petes against fel­low In­done­sian- made ri­vals like the Honda Mo­bilio, Suzuki Er­tiga and Toy­ota Sienta.

Ex­ec­u­tives at Mit­subishi Mo­tor Thai­land Co Ltd (MMTh) said the new model is tar­geted not only at cus­tomers in­ter­ested in small MPVs, but also buy­ers from other ve­hi­cles seg­ments (in­clud­ing pas­sen­ger cars and pick­ups) who want a bet­ter value-for­money prod­uct.

Priced at Bt779,000 for the 1.5 GLS Ltd and Bt849,000 for the 1.5 GT, the Xpander’s first at­trac­tion seems to be its affordable pric­ing. I picked up the Xpander GT from the new MMTh head of­fice in Klong­toey area and had it for a week. Hon­estly, I didn’t ex­pect much from it, but it turned out pretty okay and that’s surely a good thing for Mit­subishi.

In terms of de­sign, Mit­subishi has been adopt­ing space­ship themes (they call it Ad­vanced Dynamic Shield styling) for many years and the Xpander is the lat­est ex­am­ple.

The front end, high­lighted by the crys­tal LED head­lights and pro­trud­ing wheel arches, re­minds you of an ag­gres­sive robot, while the side pro­file is toned down, and you can no­tice a some­what un­fin­ished at­tempt to cre­ate a “float­ing roof ” (there’s a black por­tion on the C-pil­lar but not on the A-pil­lar). The GT gets two-tone 16inch al­loy wheels with 205/55 R16 tyres. Go­ing back to the rear end, I felt that it is less dra­matic than the front, although car­ry­ing some modern el­e­ments.

The first good im­pres­sion I had with the Xpander is when clos­ing the door. The sound and feel was pretty nice and not some­thing I had ex­pected from an In­done­sian- built car (times have changed). Next is the qual­ity of the in­te­rior, which not only looked good, but also felt nice - par­tic­u­larly the leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel (ad­justable for reach and rake) and gearshift knob. How­ever, the stitch­ing on the con­sole and door panel aren’t real – they’re made so well you can’t tell the dif­fer­ence by just look­ing at it.

I liked the cabin of the Xpander, both in terms of styling, space and util­ity.

There are stor­age ar­eas, cup/bot­tle hold­ers, and charg­ing points all around the cabin, while the sec­on­dand third-row seats (both with back­rest in­cline ad­just­ment) can be folded in many con­fig­u­ra­tions to in­crease lug­gage space.

There’s also a par­ti­tioned cargo box to store ex­tra stuff and a drawer un­der the front pas­sen­ger seat (also with mul­ti­ple seat­back pock­ets).

Ex­cit­ing fea­tures in­clude voice com­mand, nav­i­ga­tion, 6.2- inch touch­screen, cruise con­trol, DVD/CD/MP3 player, rearview cam­era, eco drive mon­i­tor and scor­ing sys­tem, and more.

The Xpander is pro­pelled by a 1.5litre MIVEC en­gine de­vel­op­ing 105hp and 141Nm, which may seem small for an MPV ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing seven peo­ple. The four-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion is smooth and well-cal­i­brated, giv­ing the Xpander good ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The sus­pen­sion, struts up front and rear tor­sion beam, soaks up shocks and vi­bra­tion pretty well (again ex­ceed­ing my ex­pec­ta­tions), and only when the go­ing gets re­ally tough would it start to show weak­nesses.

The con­fi­dence level on the high­way re­mains high for a small mini­van, and cruis­ing at 120kph is quite com­fort­able. But go above that and the Xpander starts to feel floaty and out of place.

Driv­ing it in the city, on the other hand, is easy, thanks to the nar­row 5.2-me­tre turn­ing ra­dius. Cor­ner­ing isn’t too bad for a lanky MPV, with the front strut bar of­fer­ing in­creased steer­ing pre­ci­sion. Mean­while, the ground clear­ance is 205mm, which al­lows it to pass through poor road con­di­tions in the coun­try­side com­fort­ably.

There are plenty of driver-as­sis­tance sys­tems such as Ac­tive Sta­bil­ity Con­trol (ASC), Trac­tion Con­trol and Hill Start As­sist. All seven oc­cu­pants get three-point safety belts, which is great, but there are airbags only for the front oc­cu­pants. Con­sid­er­ing it’s your chil­dren and other fam­ily mem­bers who will be on the sec­ond- and third- row seats ( there are two ISOFIX child seat an­chors), in my point of view ad­di­tional side airbags should be of­fered, at least as op­tional extras.

Mit­subishi is on its way to win a large num­ber of cus­tomers with the Xpander - not only in the big cities, but also in the coun­try­side where there is a large pop­u­la­tion of big fam­i­lies. It comes fully loaded with fea­tures and car­ries a good level of qual­ity that is hard to find in re­gional ve­hi­cles.

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