MitsubishI’s Xpander beats expectations on the road, with the Indonesian imports to appeal to big families - and the pricing helps
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-for-money 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 16-inch 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 second- and 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 1.5-litre 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.
Mitsubishi Xpander GT specs
Engine: 4-cylinder DOHC
Bore and stroke: 75.0x84.8mm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Max power: 105ps/6,000rpm
Max torque: 141Nm/4,000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Suspension (f/r): McPherson strut/torsion beam
Steering: powered rack-and-pinion
Turning circle: 10.4 metres
Brakes (f/r): vented disc/drum
Track (f/r): 1,520/1,510
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Tyres: 205/55 R16
Fuel tank capacity: 45 litres
Distributor: Mitsubishi Motor Thailand Co Ltd