Mitsubishi L200 (1996 - 2006) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

Sales of pickups in general have been buoyant in recent years, largely due to the fact that instead of incurring benefit-in-kind taxation based on their CO2 emissions they instead are taxed as commercial vehicles at a far more preferential rate. What's more, vehicles like the Mitsubishi L200 have become increasing sophisticated with features such as air conditioning, electric windows and CD players. Indeed, many canny company buyers quickly twigged that a well-specified double - or crew - cab could effectively replace a company car, have all the creature comforts and yet still incur minimal tax. The Chancellor is keen to close this loophole that may see a big surge in used stock on the market, so keep your ears open for the latest legislation. In the meantime, here's some background on Mitsubishi's market leader.

Models

Models Covered: 2 and 4dr Pick Up [3.0 petrol, 2.5 74bhp, 2.5 88bhp, 2.5 98bhp, 2.5 113bhp diesel (single cab, double cab, 4x4 and 4x2, base, GL, Trojan 1-4, Triton, 4Life GLS, 4Life Animal, Warrior]

History

The L200 product line has been around for many years, but in order to keep the complexity at a manageable level this test concentrates on the models produced post December 1996. It was at this stage that the 'new' L200 was introduced offering a more modern, rounded look and plusher interiors. Two engines were offered, both based on a 2.5-litre diesel block. The naturally aspirated engine made 74bhp while the turbocharged and intercooled version was good for 98bhp. Both engines were available in either rear-wheel drive versions or the more aggressive four-wheel drive guise, identifiable by its bonnet mounted air scoop. It wasn't until June 1998 that Mitsubishi introduced the L200 GL 4x4 double cab, a well-equipped version that offered space for four and a payload just the right side of the all-important metric tonne. The 98bhp 2.5-litre engine and a thirsty 178bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine represented the available powerplants. A 4-Life GLS version was also offered which appealed to private buyers looking for a capable crossover vehicle, campaigning solely with the 98bhp diesel unit. A range of trim upgrades were introduced in August 1999, the GL getting central locking, an electronic immobiliser, new seats and tinted glass amongst other things while the 4-Life GLS was fitted with a passenger airbag, revised trim and upholstery, a rear seat armrest and a passenger seat undertray storage system. In January 2000 the Animal special edition of the 4-Life double cab was announced with big alloy wheels, stainless steel decals and Animal branded decals. A number of Trojan and Triton Special Editions of the L200 GL double cab were rolled out, the Triton featuring the 3.0-litre V6 engine with an automatic option available. October 2001 saw a significant change to the L200 line up, with the adoption of more environmentally friendly 'Euro3' compliant engines. The L200 single cab offered an 88bhp turbo diesel and a 113bhp unit, both based on the old 2.5-litre block but with cleverer emissions controls. The double cab versions campaigned with the more powerful engine. Across the range there were a number of trim upgrades with a new front bumper, a deeper front grille and darker seat trim introduced. The 4Life double cabs got revised 16-inch alloy wheels, a charcoal grey centre panel and chrome door handles. A Warrior special edition model was introduced in 2002. With the 113bhp diesel, 4x4 running gear and a double cab body style it proved popular. In response to increasingly powerful rival offerings, Mitsubishi introduced a Power Upgrade Pack in summer 2003 that took power up to 138bhp but which preserved the existing warranty arrangements. In early 2004 a Club Cab model was introduced to fit into the range between the single and double cab models. An all new curvier L200 arrived to replace this model early in 2006.

What You Get

Both the rear wheel drive and 4x4 variants feature a similar 2,245mm load bed length but the all-wheel drive double cabs are restricted to 1,500mm due to their additional passenger space. Although the single cab vehicles make great workhorses, the impressive year on year sales performance of the L200 has been generated largely by the double cab variants. In 1999 sales of the L200 in the UK stood at 1,818 units per annum. In rose gently in 2000 to 1,930 vehicles, but by the end of 2001 sales had more than doubled with 4,076 being registered. A virtual doubling of sales happened in 2002 with 8,141 finding homes and 2003 looks like setting new records again. The reasons behind the L200 double cab's success are easy to grasp. Aside from the taxation benefits, it looks sleek and stylish yet rugged and imposing as a good offroader should be. Next, it will seat four in comfort, five if you don't mind getting friendly in the back, and finally, you've got that external load area for bags, bikes, building materials or anything else you happen to chuck in there. It's the pick-up's looks, image and versatility that make people want them and Mitsubishi's L200 has got the lot. The vehicle that was once used by cowboy builders in Australian soap operas is now an essential lifestyle accessory for young trendies with people and bulky items to move around. Open the door, climb aboard and you'll be surprised at the driving position. Comfortably firm, supportive seats sit low to the floor, so you feel like you're piloting a sports coupe on stilts rather than a truck. Naturally, the impression fades when you get under way but a growing number of British buyers have realised that here is a viable alternative to a similarly priced family hatch.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

There are a number of things to check over with any pickup and the L200 is no exception. Check that overloading hasn't damaged the suspension. Despite the one-tonne payload many buyers who visit garden centres at the weekend don't realise quite how quickly a few bags of pea gravel or scoops of topsoil for the back garden can exceed a tonne in weight. Also make sure that the load bay hasn't been damaged by objects sliding round and denting the bodywork skin. The engines are rugged, and Mitsubishi's 3-year/100,000 mile warranty arrangement should ensure that most vehicles got off to a relatively protected life. The later specification Euro3 diesels are noticeably quieter than the rather agricultural early units. The interiors are hardwearing and shouldn't show too much damage but watch out for amateurish drilling of the fascia by people looking for somewhere to mount their mobile. Storage space for odds and ends in the cabin isn't an L200 strong point.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2000 L200 2.5TDi Double Cab - ex Vat) Expect to pay around £230 for a clutch assembly and £300 for an exhaust system. Spark plugs will work out at £12 each, while a cam belt retails at around £70. Allow £12 for an oil filter. A catalyst will retail at around £400, whilst a starter motor is £130. Front brake pads start at around £40 with rears weighing in at £65.

On the Road

The 2.5-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine that most customers will choose is a surprisingly civilised engine. It's got 113bhp on tap, which isn't a huge amount for a big vehicle, but with max torque of 240Nm produced at a lowly 2,000rpm, the power is available where you need it most. Fitted to a double cab L200 this results in a punchy spring off the line and there's plenty of useful grunt for towing/hauling weighty loads. Top speed is a surprisingly rapid 94mph. The Warrior double cab that we ran as a long-term vehicle resulted in one of the more popular sets of keys amongst the office's 'weekend warriors'. It looks more of a glossy urban thoroughbred than an offroad workhorse but don't be fooled. As with all 4x4 L200s, it's still a genuine offroad tool. Mitsubishi's Easy Select 2WD/4WD system provides the transmission, allowing the driver to direct power towards half or all of the vehicle's wheel quota. As well as standard four and two-wheel-drive modes, there's a low-range 4x4 setting for tackling particularly tricky obstacles. Easy Select works at speeds of up to 62mph, although, as any experienced (and sane) offroad driver will tell you, safe offroading should take place at considerably lower velocities. The downside to the L200's undisputed offroad pedigree is a slightly bouncy ride on the tarmac. It is, however, top of its class for ride and handling, just don't expect the same comfort and feel from a pick-up that you'd get from less capable 4x4s designed predominantly for on-road use.

Overall

The Mitsubishi L200's success may have caught the Chancellor on the back foot, but it's easy to see why an increasing number of buyers have opted to take the plunge. With a bargain price and a rugged appeal that escapes the usual 'Barbie Truck' compact 4x4 a Mitsubishi L200 is a brawny alternative and one which makes a surprising amount of sense. One of the more sophisticated double cab editions is probably the most tempting and represents a lot of fun for your money.