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Mitsubishi Challenger review

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    The Mitsubishi Challenger is a big machine, with heaps of lazy power, a bit too noisy, but a delight in the tough stuff.

David Fitzsimons road tests and reviews the Mitsubishi Challenger.

Diesels have a lot going for them and sales are up in Australia. But they battle to sway buyers put off by agricultural noises from under the bonnet. It's hard enough to convince people in the middle of the weekday when the diesel chatter can be drowned in the hubbub of city noise. But at 5am on a public holiday when you're about the only car on the road, it is deafening. As I drove through the suburbs to start the road trip, the chatter felt loud enough to wake up the locals.

"Are you going to have to put up with this all day, dad?" asked one teenage daughter. "It'll be fine. Once I get out on the highway, it'll be right," was my hopeful reply. To be fair, once you're on the open road, get used to the noise - and turn up the sound system - you can forget you are in a big, noisy 4WD.

The $56,990 5-seat Mitsubishi Challenger XLS was added to the range this year to sit below the Pajero, but above the Outlander, as a serious 4WD that buyers could still live with around town. It has been hailed by writers who took it offroad, but has come in for flak from those who tested it as a big urban runabout. I was trying both in one trip.

Around the city the Challenger does feel agricultural, with the 4WD transfer gear stuck next to my left leg, but its size and high-seating position are handy in traffic. On the Hume Highway its a smooth though cumbersome cruiser. It's no sportscar and even old-model small sedans fly past. But the next day when we tackle a rough trek through several abandoned gold mining towns in the mountain forests of the Great Dividing Range the world changes for the Challenger.

Faced with a challenge it responds in style. It chugs up the dirt roads that follow the Goulburn River with aplomb. However the onboard satnav is soon searching for answers. Not far out of civilisation and it shows we are driving in the river.

And then it goes blank, well green actually. According to the screen we are lost in a forest somewhere. You'd think climbing to the top of the Great Dividing Range you'd actually be getting closer to the satellite but this proves to be uncharted territory. Not so good for an offroad machine.

The road deteriorates seriously as we reach the tiny towns of Gaffneys Creek and A1 Mine Settlement - once bustling but now largely abandoned. The Challenger though takes the steep climbs on the narrow dirt roads easily.

After passing through the hamlet of Woods Point we climb to the fabled town of Matlock (remember the old TV cop show Matlock Police from the 1970s, but there's no sign of actor Paul Cronin and his police motorcycle now though).

What we are confronted with in the dusk is a sign to Walhalla that I think reads 24km. But it actually says 74km and the road becomes atrocious. It's basically a narrow collection of rocks hardly changed since the days of the packhorse. Great 4WD territory but the average speed drops to barely 30km/h as we battle to avoid the gaping potholes. We bounce away around the plateau and begin the descent into the valleys of upper Gippsland. There's no sign of wheel slip on the rocks and the Challenger's high seating position is valuable for peering off the edge of the road into the valley.

While this is supposed to be a test of the Challenger's all-round capabilities it also becomes praise for the ability of a humble Toyota Camry. Because around the corner, coming up the hill in the dark we meet a Camry-driving couple with two kids in the back who not only tell us they are aiming to be hundreds of kilometres away near Albury that night, they are low on fuel and the kids are hungry...

With the trip now taking a couple of hours longer than Google maps forecast, we roll on through the darkness. The lazy roar of the engine sounds like a bear. The last 10 kays, on the edge of a cliff with a river below, is a narrow one-lane descent. The satnav has given up all hope now. Occasionally a place name appears, drifts around the screen aimlessly and disappears.

Finally we arrive at our destination of Walhalla, where the bitumen starts again. The Challenger, now totally covered in dust, has proved its worth as a versatile hauler. Folding the back seats over has given us enough room in the boot for two mountain bikes and our luggage, but you would need a bike rack with the rear seats in use.

Fuel economy has been good but not great with the diesel. It averaged about 15L/100km around town but came down to nearer 10-11L/100km on the open road. But it is more frugal than the petrol model.

Returning to Sydney via Canberra shows that the Challenger is also a comfortable highway driver. However, it will mostly suit people who are regularly heading off the blacktop. There are better buys on the market, including the Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory, if you rarely leave suburbia.

It's a high step to get in and out of the car but once there the leather seats were comfortable and easily adjustable. The reversing camera was invaluable and should be a basic in cars of this size. Overall, it's a big machine, with heaps of lazy power, a bit too noisy, but a delight in the tough stuff.

RATING: 75/100


Price: $56,990
Engine: 2.5L/4-cylinder turbodiesel 131kW/350Nm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Economy: 9.8L/100km (official), 11L/100km (as tested)


Toyota Kluger 3.5 KX-R AWD: 80/100 (from $45,490)
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5 ST TD: 76/100 (from $48,490)
Ford Territory AWD: 74/100 (from $44,890)

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 10 comments

  • have a 2012 challenger 30th anniversary issue - 6 airbags, roof racks, factory tint, towbar, premium audio, manual - for $41 000.  stepped out of a NP pajero manual diesel 3.2.  Pajero is a better vehicle overall, but there is no way on earth it is worth $20 000 more.  The Challenger is longer in the boot area, and a little narrower overall, as well as being around 100mm lower.  Pajero motor is better up till around 1500 rpm, then the peakier challenger’s engine wins.  the challengers fuel consumption was around 12L per hundred when new, but dropping to 9’s now - 12000 kms.  I cannot complain about the Challenger at all.  I had a friend purchase a top of the range Kluger for $39 000 and he was stunned to see what I paid for the Challenger.  A relative also paid $36 000 for a D22 ute with canopy, bar, tow tint etc and wouldnt believe the Challenger was $41k.  Serious 4x4 work averaging 30km/h ???  .....  more like 3km/h…

    50nm less on the auto box??? - the auto will not take the torque.  the LS is an auto model.  very hard to get a manual with all the fruit - go for an anniversary pack - if u can find one.

    rob mendham of lithgow Posted on 28 June 2012 9:42pm
  • I stumbled across this review when researching the Mitsubishi Challenger. I currently drive a Holden Jackaroo and use it for regular towing and the occasional off-road trek. Both tasks the Jack performs amicably. I was eyeing the Challenger as my next possible tow vehicle. In reading this review I was suitably impressed with the account of traversing the road that “becomes atrocious…..Great 4WD territory…..” Upon reading this I was thinking that here is a review that actually takes a vehicle off road and puts it through its paces. As I read on my awe turned to doubt when I read…. “the average speed drops to barely 30km/h…..” I don’t profess to be a serious off-roader but on the occasions I have engaged 4WD I can’t remember too many times that I’ve been barrelling along bush tracks at 30km/h. As I read on the reality of the ‘tough’ 4WD terrain this Challenger was being put through becomes all too clear when it meets up with the Camry family. I then realised the road being travelled is one I have driven with my son driving on ‘L’ plates in a 3 cylinder, 1000cc, Daihatsu Charade. So much for a true review!

    David Stone of Langwarrin Posted on 25 February 2011 3:53pm
  • I want to know where WG NSW got his XLS from for that price?

    Ben Adams of Perth Posted on 04 January 2011 9:08pm
  • Why does the auto drop 50Nm to the manual and is it noticable?

    Dan Collins of Lithgow NSW Posted on 24 November 2010 7:20pm
  • I can’t beleive the comparisons. A Kluger and Territory are both petrol only, and I know people who have brought these cars and suffer rediculous fuel economy. They don’t towe well, their clearance is very limited. Almost a common speed bump will slow them up!
    I purchased a XLS 7 seat with extras for under $50k drive away.Similar spec Prado was was over $25k more. NO MOTORING WRITER can justify that!!!!!!!!!!!!
    The Challenger is a great car, we tow our boat and camper trailer with it. On road off road. 12000ks later and still happy.
    Oh by the way, the money we saved be not following like mad merinos, we are happily planning more trips!
    You can have your sponsored TOYOTA’s!!

    WG NSW Posted on 23 November 2010 2:03pm
  • Took my new Challenger LX manual into the dunes between Beachport and Robe last weekend. 1200 Km road, 200Km beach and dunes.
    A mate who has a Prado 4L auto came with.  Fuel consumption: Challanger 11L/100km Prado 20L/100km.  Loading: challenger not up too that of the Prado (about 100kg less and took out a chunk off the ground clearance).  In car comfort: you would have to be a sulk to notice the difference, OK the seats are a bit better in the Prado.
    Performance on the tar: the Prado is no challenge.
    Gravel road: Prado has no chance, felt unstable at high speed runs the challenger has a very solid stable feel about it.
    On the beach and dunes: the Challenger flies but the Prado was never too far behind, on the soft beach sand the Mitsu got no challange at all from the Prado.
    Really the only thing the Prado had over the Challenger was the load it could carry. as it was just my wife and I and camping gear for three days in the Mitsu this was not a real issue though, $1600 worth of OME suspension will fix that.
    For 12K less you would have to have your head in the sand not to give the Challenger a very good look..  “Love That Car”

    Murray of Mildura Posted on 11 October 2010 12:57pm
  • Purchased manual model in May, highly disappointed, motor has started missing and shuddering on a constant basis, after multiple trips back to dealership I have been informed that a software upgrade is required, which isn’t designed yet, this was to be rectified before the end of August, I have now been informed possibly by end of year. Car is unable to be driven any distance due to being unreliable, if problem is ever rectified or Mitsubishi ever care to get back to me I will be selling ASAP and purchasing a Toyota and never going back to Mitsubishi!!

    NICK RUWOLDT of MT GAMBIER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA Posted on 15 September 2010 6:19pm
  • Comments on the earlier models (2001-20003) would be appreciated. I am a small female needing a 4wd as we own a large boat and campervan. Towing? What are they like, I have towed for years, so know the difference when you have something behind you. Fuel economy? Hopefully good, I have my heart set on this car for some reason, maybe because I have owned 3 other Mitsubishis and have never had a problem, towing or not. Thanks.

    Faye from Bacchus Marsh of Bacchus Marsh Posted on 21 July 2010 11:50pm
  • I took the LS for a test drive today and as others have said at other web sites very clattery engine even with the windows wound up. I am driving a Freelander version 1.5 with the 2.0 L BMW diesel engine currently and it has no clatter. I was hopefull for the Challenger to be a nice alternative to my usual overpriced Landrovers and a 7 seater that I was after. Engine is willing on the freeway suspension is good well dampted but the bad news spongy break pedal, indirect steering feeling, and my drivers seat had a rocking movement and it also seemed a little small ain all ways needs more bolstering Mitsubishi.
    I am going back to Landrover I’m better off with a second hand Disco or Freelander. I was quite disappointed in this $44,000 4WD.

    Noel of NSW Posted on 04 July 2010 5:30pm
  • Just to make a few things clear. The price quoted is for the top model. The standard goes for $44,990. The average fuel economy of 15L/100 ks is not normal. The manual gets about 10L/100 in the city and can get down 7.5L/100 on the freeways. There is no fuel option, only diesel. It is in a different league to the kluger and territory, it really compares with the Prado and pathfinder.

    Hope this helps.

    C Posted on 03 June 2010 10:23pm
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