There’s no need to bemoan the arrival of the vehicle excise tax that has pushed our favorite SUVs out of the new car budget. Perhaps the carmakers saw this coming, because now we have a bumper harvest of new B-segment MPVs with price points hovering around the P1M bracket. Easily the most talked about of them all is the Mitsubishi Xpander, first announced last year but only made available recently.
Compared to its competitors, the Xpander has a leg up in terms of design. It bears Mitsubishi’s trademark dynamic shield design language that makes passengers feel safe and protected in such a seemingly armored design. Another cool trick of the expander is how its topmost lights serve as Daytime Running Lamps (DRL) while the real headlights are lower on the body, looking like massive foglamps. Lower on the façade is a central skid plate and foglamps on either side.
Its profile features muscular and boxy haunches, housing 16-inch wheels in this trim. A character line stretches from the front door to the back. As for the windows, you’ll notice a notch on the rearmost window that gives it a floating roof look.
Behind, the Xpander features LED tail lights that stretch inward and upward. There are sporty design cues all over like an integrated spoiler, corner reflectors and a center diffuser and skid plate with integrated foglamp. Being a GLS Sport, it’s fitted with a rather modest skirt set as standard.
Inside, the Xpander features fabric seats and a very novel dashboard design. The steering wheel has tilt and telescopic settings, while the seat slide fore and aft, and has back rest and even seat height adjustment.
The instrument cluster features large dials with a multi info display for fuel, temperature, trip info, and fuel consumption. The wheel itself has remote buttons for the stereo, as well as cruise control in the GLS Sport.
In the center of the dash is a large touchscreen infotainment system with built-in navigation and a back-up camera. As for music sources, there’s connections via USB, Bluetooth and Aux.
The Xpander seems purposely designed for techy passengers. It’s infotainment system allows for screen mirroring with a smart phone. There’s three power outlets in the car for cellphone charging. There are also thin slots seemingly taylor-made for cellphones and tablets all over, too.
In the second bench has three-point seatbelts for all, and a ceiling vents for aircon. With just a flick, the bench can fold and tumble forward for easy access to the third row.
The third row, when stowed, may not be entirely flat; there’s a slight angle to it, but it certainly opens up the cargo area. The seats are pulled up with just a tug on the strap. They’re stowed just as easily with another. Of course, these seats can be pretty tight for adults, even if the second row is slid all the way forward. Even with the seats up, there’s enough space for a week’s groceries.
Powering the Xpander is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with MIVEC valve timing. It’s paired with a four-speed auto or a five-speed manual in other trims, and drives the front wheels. It may not impress on paper, but in practice, it’s surprisingly adequate and versatile for a variety of situations. The throttle response is smooth and the gear shifts are barely perceptible.
On the road, the Xpander feels and drives like a smaller car. The only difference is the relatively high seating position. The electric power steering is nice and light yet still precise. Best of all, the ride is soft and comfortable and the noise suppression is very good — easily the best in its class.
For city driving, there’s more than enough power to get you moving along. Much of the torque comes in above 2,000 rpm, so it may not feel powerful initially, but gets rolling quickly from there. Where some might find it lacking is at higher speeds or when it’s fully loaded. It will have to rev higher to get heavy loads moving along. Still, the kickdown from the four-speed auto wasn’t as rough as I was expecting.
Perhaps the real revelation is how comfortable and easy to drive the Xpander is. It feels much wider inside than it looks, visibility is very good, and safety-wise, is equipped with entire alphabet soup of systems you’d expect.
Finally, the consumption is par for the course, getting 8-9 km/L in the city in heavy traffic with a couple of passengers. In summary, the Xpander may not impress on paper, but it certainly does in the drive, being by far one of the most comfortable and easiest to use in this segment yet. Priced at P1,060,000 for the GLS Sport, it’s quite a bargain, so long as you’re willing to wait.
Text and photos by Iñigo S. Roces