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.
MITSUBISHI CHALLENGER XLS 5-SEAT
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)