Futuristic design gives this MPV some styling verve. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Futuristic design gives this MPV some styling verve. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Sometimes you get precisely what it says on the tin. In the new Mitsubishi Xpander, the name describes a vehicle with a modular interior that can be expanded from a five- to a seven-seater, or into a panel van, by flipping down all the rear seats.

Taking on rivals such as the Toyota Avanza, Suzuki Ertiga and Honda BR-V, Mitsubushi’s offering is the latest entrant in a burgeoning segment of affordable seven-seat, multipurpose vehicles (MPV). It caters to car budgets that don’t stretch to Hyundai H1, Ford Tourneo Connect or VW Kombi territory.

The Xpander is sold in a single-specification 1.5l model, and the only choice you get is whether it’s a five-speed manual (R299,995) or four-speed automatic (R319,995). The prices compare favourably with those of the Avanza and Ertiga, which offer power similar to the 77kW Mitsubishi’s while the BR-V is the most expensive in the playpen but also has the most poke with 88kW.

The Xpander is the longest of the lot at 4,475mm (the Toyota is 4,190mm, the Suzuki 4,395mm and the Honda 4,453mm), and this shows up in the Xpander’s relatively spacious cabin.

While the car is ideally suited for schlepping young ’uns to soccer practice, it does have enough space for six or seven adults at a push. Grown-ups can fit into the back row in reasonable comfort if middle-row passengers move their seats forward on sliding rails. The backrests of all seats can be adjusted  separately in the modular Swiss army knife-like interior, and the middle row can be tilted forward against front seats to cater for bulky cargo.

Impressive utility, though the one problem this compact MPV shares with its price competitors is it has a tiny luggage area in seven-seater mode, with space in the boot for no more than a couple of tog bags. At least there’s a full-sized spare wheel under the chassis. The Xpander’s third row has to be flipped down to expand the boot into a family sized 781l, and buyers seeking three seating rows with a large luggage area must look to the pricier Kombi/H1 league.

Along with being larger than its rivals, the Xpander avoids looking like a generic “mommy mobile” with its futuristic styling that includes Mitsubishi’s Dynamic Shield Design at the front.

With the affordable price tag come some cost-cutting though. Interior plastics in this budget family-hauler are all hard, and there are no soft-touch panels to lend a more premium feel though the cabin is spared from looking too low-rent by some silver decorative trim.

There’s a closable storage nook between the front seats, but it lacks an armrest; further evidence of penny pinching.

Hard plastics dominate the cabin, but it has most of the important features. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Hard plastics dominate the cabin, but it has most of the important features. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Xpander has many of the features that matter though, including air-conditioning vents for rear seat passengers; on a hot day the front vents might have struggled to cool a fully occupied car on their own.

Electric windows, central locking and an infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB smartphone connections are also part of the deal. So too a reversing camera, though there’s no front parking sensor.

Dual front airbags, Isofix child seat anchors and ABS brakes provide peace of mind, and the Xpander achieved a noteworthy four-star rating in the Asean NCAP crash test.

I tested the automatic version, which at sea level with two people on board felt adequately powered. The 1.5l normally aspirated petrol engine delivers honest commuting performance and stretches its legs on the open road without feeling particularly strained, but it does become quite vocal when revved higher. Driven at higher altitudes and fully laden it will no doubt call for more vigorous throttle work, but it’s nowhere as gutless as Renault’s underpowered 1.0l Triber, the country’s cheapest seven-seater.

The Mitsubishi averaged a rather thirsty 7.8l /100km with two people aboard, but it was a very low-mileage test unit and may get closer to the claimed 7l/100km once the engine loosens up.

The car’s mainly urban commuting role will probably be best served in two-pedal format, and while the auto gearbox isn’t the smoothest we’ve experienced it does not constantly hunt for gears.

The Xpander is one of the largest seven seaters in the budget MPV segment. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The Xpander is one of the largest seven seaters in the budget MPV segment. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Ground clearance is a handy 205mm, which gives the Xpander an SUV-style elevated seating position. High-profile tyres and fairly cushy suspension make for a compliant ride quality on rough roads and gravel. The front-wheel drive vehicle scampers through corners neatly enough too, and light steering makes it effortless to guide through the urban grind.

The Xpander takes on the family lugging market segment with a keen price, a shape-shifting interior that deals ably with the vagaries of growing families, and a good crash-test rating — not to mention a zooty design that might get ’lil soccer players excited.

Tech Specs

ENGINE

Type: Four-cylinder petrol

Capacity: 1.5l

Power: 77kW

Torque: 141Nm

TRANSMISSION

Type: Four-speed auto

DRIVETRAIN

Type: Front wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

Top speed: N/A

0-100km/h: N/A

Fuel Consumption: 7.0l/100km (claimed), 7.8l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 164g/km

STANDARD FEATURES

ABS brakes, driver and passenger airbags, electric windows, remote central locking, tilt and telescopic steering column, USB port, air conditioning, seven seats, infotainment system with Bluetooth and voice control, multifunction steering wheel, reverse parking camera

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: Three years/100,000km

Service plan: Two years/30,000km

Price: R319,995

Lease: R6,893 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Mitsubishi Xpander 1.5 auto

WE LIKE:

Shape-shifting interior, interesting styling, it’s not a Renault Triber

WE DISLIKE:

Some interior plastics look cheap, no centre armrest

VERDICT:

For ’lil soccer teams

MOTOR NEWS

Star rating

****Design

***Performance

***Economy

****Ride

**** Handling

****Safety

****Value For Money

****Overall

Competition

Honda BR-V 1.5 Comfort auto, 88kW/145Nm — R350,100

Suzuki Ertiga 1.5 GLX auto, 77kW/138Nm — R310,900

Toyota Avanza 1.5 SX auto, 77kW/137Nm — R313,300

subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.