The Mitsubishi Challenger took a short break from our market and allowed vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder to find their stride. It came back with vengeance late 2009, and now a mild makeover has delivered new tech. Steve Vermeulen realises while it’s not likely to be your first thought, the Challenger shouldn’t be forgotten by full-size SUV buyers.
Mitsubishi’s Triton-based Challenger SUV is back and while it has given away some sales against the likes of Nissan’s popular Pathfinder, it’s fair to say this newly refreshed version is indeed a worthy challenger to more popular options. Even the bog-standard base model GLS we tested seemed to offer all the essentials and it’s especially good as a wagon to get away in with caravan or boat in tow.
Over the top-of-the-line Challenger Exceed model the GLS misses out on gas discharge headlights and fog lights, leather interior, climate air and for front and rear occupants, eight-speaker audio (over six on the GLS) and a leather steering wheel. This really isn’t anything to lose sleep over and what remains makes for a well laid out, practical and hard-wearing workhorse that doesn’t skimp on safety features, with standard stability control and six airbags. It’s also among the roomiest of SUVs I’ve tested, especially in the cargo bay. For any additional gear you don’t wish to store in the caravan, you’ll have no problem in loading them in the Challenger’s 1813-litre luggage cavity. That space expands immensely too if you fold the rear seats down.
Legroom is good, the seating is a little low to the floor, but it makes for a comfortable drive on long journeys.
What’s more, for a 2090kg unit, it’s weirdly light on its feet.
The 2.5-litre diesel develops 133kW and 356Nm of torque from 1800rpm so it pulls convincingly across a broad range of conditions, and importantly, this new 2011 model is capable of lugging 3000kg behind it. This is a slight increase over the 2010 models, so keep this in mind if you’re buying second-hand. To help you distinguish between the outgoing variant and this revised model look for the paddle gear shifts behind the steering wheel. Also new for 2011, these become more useful than you’d realise, especially for dropping cogs to lug the load up steep inclines. A flip of the fingers and you’re back on the pace, very handy.
It teaches vehicles of the Pathfinder’s ilk a few things about road manners too. The Pathfinder’s a fantastic wagon, but you’re always aware of the ute underpinnings and mass. The Challenger better exhibits the refinement levels and capabilities you want from an SUV, suppressing the worst frequencies our volcanic chip can generate and holding its own through corners. The Triton’s leaf-sprung rear-end isn’t carried over for the Challenger, instead a well-sorted three-link arrangement backed up with standard stability control keeps the taller, heavier body structure in check. It’s more civilised and less heavy duty though than leaf suspension; we wonder if a set of heavy duty springs may make towing the maximum three-tonne capacity a little easier.
The brakes require a fair bit of force to apply so this will take some familiarisation, but ultimately I’d argue this makes Mitsi’s other big boy SUV, the much pricier Pajero, feel dated on the road.
The Challenger works similarly well off road too, so the slipperiest of DoC sites or boat ramps will be no trouble for this capable mud plugger.
The Challenger nameplate lives again, with impressive results. The agricultural ladder chassis cuts mustard as a pleasing wagon and it’s almost ideally suited for the go-anywhere, do-everything Kiwi family. And while it’s not the most highly specified of the range, the decor, drive characteristics and sharp $58,290 price point mean you don’t feel out of pocket with the GLS.
See the Mitsubishi Challenger for sale.