Review - Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian

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The Car

The fifth generation of Mitsubishi's ubiquitous L200 pickup arrived on these shores last year and is the latest model in a line stretching back to 1978. The model tested was the range-topping Barbarian trim with an automatic gearbox that will set you back a little over thirty-one thousand pounds plus colour-tax and sits above Warrior, Titan and 4Life specifications. Barbarian, Warrior and Titan all come with a quad-cab configuration and 4Life is available in quad, club (2-door extended) and single cab configurations.

The L200 is truly a “world car”, being sold in every market in which Mitsubishi is represented with the notable exceptions of the USA, Canada, China and, curiously, Japan. Here in the UK and many European and Middle Eastern markets the L200 is also available based as the Fiat Fullback.

The Looks

Do you like chrome? Do you REALLY like chrome? If so then this is the truck for you. For most people, it's very hard to look past the amount of shiny metallic cladding on this truck. Some of it is real metal, but many of the other parts are plated plastic - the masks around the rear lights, the door and tailgate handle covers and, yes, the fuel cap cover. It's all, in my opinion, trying just a bit too hard. It gets better as you move down the range, though, and the Titan spec has just enough chrome to show it's a higher specification without looking quite as gauche.

The 17-inch alloy wheels on the Barbarian divided opinion. Some liked the stylised diamond-cut 6-diamond pattern on them (an echo of the Mitsubishi emblem, of course) and others felt they were somewhat exclusive. What everyone agreed is that they were too small looking for the rest of the truck and, given the proportion that the speedometer over-read I get the impression that owners are almost expected to remove the road-biased Dunlop items and replace them with larger, more rugged rubber.

If you can look past the jewellery, then the actual proportions are quite conventionally handsome, with some of the more self-conscious design elements of the previous generation toned back a bit.

I drove the Barbarian around central Perthshire, an area where there are a lot of L200, D-Max, Hilux and Navara that spend their lives working hard on estate tracks and I felt better about it once it had a good coating of muck, but the self-consciousness about that chrome just wouldn't leave me. I don't think the Electric Blue helped amongst the whites, greys and greens of the local trucks.

While not directly related to the looks, it's worth commenting that the L200 is a large vehicle by “domestic” standards. It’s 60cm longer than an Outlander, for example, making it near-impossible to fit into a single supermarket car space without hanging over either end.

The Inside

Where the exterior of the L200 Barbarian was considered to be "too much", the interior is, for the most part, an oasis of good taste. The dashboard has three shades of grey with pseudo-brushed-aluminium highlights and, sure, the plastics aren't soft, slush-moulded items and a rap with your knuckles results in a sharp tap and soreness, but it all looks good and is screwed together properly.

The Barbarian and Titan trim levels come with leather seats, the Barbarian's being an effective combination of dark grey and black, with lighter grey highlights and some panels bear carbon-fibre texture. The word "Barbarian" is embroidered on the front seats, just in case you somehow need to remind yourself. The good news about all of this is that the seats themselves, front and rear, are supportive and comfortable both on long motorway journeys and when rough tracks mean that extra lateral support is needed.

The instrument cluster is a model of restraint. The analogue speedometer and rev-counter are clearly labelled, and the digital fuel and temperature gauges are easy to read as well. The minimal trip computer has the functions you'd expect, but the display can only be changed by reaching through the steering wheel. I found I left it set to "Range".

The cabin has many storage spots for keeping "useful stuff". There's a huge space under the front armrest that contains a 12-volt socket and, moving forwards, there's a pair of standard-sized cup holders and, in front of the gear selector, a further space that's handy for a phone. Above the rear-view mirror is a spectacle holder and all four doors have map pockets and space for 500ml drink bottles. The fold-down rear armrest has a further pair of cup holders. There's even the novelty of a large glovebox.

TAstefully illuminated in electric blue, nothing says class like illuminated door sills

TAstefully illuminated in electric blue, nothing says class like illuminated door sills

This L200 had a roller Mountain Top cover over the load space, a good compromise of flexibility, security and weatherproofing if you don't wish to have one of the canopies that are available both from Mitsubishi and on the open market. I confess that I only opened the load bay once, and that was because I had to for a security check. One of the challenges of using a pick-up "socially", and this is not peculiar to the L200, is that the loadspace is so large, flat and featureless. This means that anything smaller than a pallet tends to slide about and you either risk damage or that it's out of reach when you go to retrieve it. As a result, I kept my belongings in the rear cabin, where they were secure and, thanks to the tinted rear windows, out of sight from prying eyes. As I'm sure you can gather from this, there are no shopping-bag-friendly utility hooks in the load bed.

Lastly, you're aware I'm sure that one of the things Andrew asks on Rear View is for people's most pointless optional extra. Since driving the L200, I have a new answer to this question: Illuminated kick plates. In the bright blue fitted to the Barbarian, they're car park cruise-tastic!

The Controls

Here is where the L200 wins through and shows that, underneath the glitz of the Barbarian specification, is a solid product. The leather gear shifter and steering wheel are perfectly placed and sized. The stalks move with a well-judged, solid feel and have a high-quality, matte satin finish.

The stereo and navigation system is mounted high on the dashboard and has a combination of knobs, buttons and a touchscreen that are mostly intuitive once you remember that the physical buttons exist and don't try to do everything via the touchscreen. There are also mode, volume and voice control buttons on the steering wheel with the cruise control interface. Behind the steering wheel were, to my surprise when I first got in, a pair of cast metal paddle shifters. Whilst not the best I've used (Infiniti retain that crown for me) they had a good, solid quality feel in the way that buttons or tabs on some other vehicles I've driven simply don't. The action was crisp, and they were both convenient and useful off-road. I particularly liked how when you held the "up" paddle for a couple of seconds then the transmission returned to self-shifting mode.

All of these well-resolved control surfaces make the cabin a pleasant and comfortable place to be so, while it's possible to criticise some of the aesthetics, the underlying quality isn't in doubt.

The Drive

In the week I had the L200 I covered the country - from home in the Midlands to Perthshire, home again and then Southampton, Reading and home. As you can imagine, this meant a lot of motorway miles but also involved A-roads, country lanes and about 50 miles of hill track.

Let's get this out of the way; the L200 Barbarian drives well for a truck. Not brilliantly for a car, but it is a commercial vehicle with body-on-frame construction and semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear. Handling is competent - there's little body roll despite the high stance, the ride on motorways and off-road is solid but well damped, and the long wheelbase means there's little pitch or roll. The steering is direct. Where you notice the commercial underpinnings is on pockmarked urban and A-roads when with an empty load bay the ride is harsh and borders on bouncy. Experience with other pick-ups makes me sure this will improve when loaded or towing and given those are the primary reasons for buying a pickup like this.

The 2.4 litre turbocharged diesel pulls well through the seamless, 5-speed automatic box. It takes 12 seconds to reach sixty miles per hour, which isn't particularly fast, but the L200 doesn't feel slow joining motorways, and the inherent torque means that speed doesn't drop on hills or, indeed, at any time when cruising with UK motorway traffic. It feels like it can lope along at the speed limit all day long and, if you do so, you'll return about 28mpg and have a 400+ mile range from a single tank.

The four wheel drive L200s have four modes available to the driver. The default is, of course, 2WD High but there is also 4WD High with an open central differential, 4WD High with a locked differential and 4WD Low with a locked central differential. There were selected electronically via a dial on the centre console rather than the traditional transfer case lever. This knob was easy enough to use, but the display in the binnacle took a long time to show which mode you have selected, sometimes leaving you unsure if drive or differentials were engaged. A manual check that gears have engaged via a lever is much more reassuring than a pair of blinking LEDs.

My father and I took the L200 on an inspection tour of some work sites, and it didn't have any issues with loose, potholed tracks. Apart from the ford pictured, there was nothing his Toyota Urban Cruiser on winter tyres hadn't climbed. Nonetheless, he declared it to be "not a bad pickup" - high praise from someone who has bought more Hilux than he can count over the last decade.

The Technology

How do I say this? It’s not great. The satnav is nicely integrated into the dashboard and isn’t an aftermarket system, not necessarily a given in this segment. It probably didn’t help that the L200 was delivered with every single setting the opposite of how I would choose to have it, but I worked that out relatively quickly by poking randomly at the menus and prodding buttons that seemed likely. On the way through I discovered probably the weirdest setting of any satnav I've ever used. "Curve Alert" warns you if you're in a sharp bend, or series of bends, by sounding a warning "bong" and therefore distracting you. It got turned off.

One last entertainment-related annoyance worth pointing out to potential purchasers is the built-in USB slot for an iPod or iPhone. Not only is it impossible to play anything other than the default music app on your device (so no Harry Potter audiobooks on Audible) via the cable, but when you're not playing music it doesn't charge your device. Goodness, how I laughed when my phone battery went flat as I used Waze to find my hotel one evening.

The Lane Departure Warning System. Normally I'm a fan of active safety systems like this, but the combination of a large vehicle, narrow British roads and calibration that bordered on paranoia meant that turning it off with the button beside the starter became a natural part of the startup procedure.

Ending on a positive note, the reversing camera was well-placed very close to the centreline of the vehicle and seemed remarkably resistant to road-crud, remaining clean even after long, damp trips and never needing a wipe of the magic de-crudding finger.

The Conclusion

Reading through my thoughts above, it sounds like I’ve been very harsh on the L200 but, reading through again, I realise that I’ve been harsh on the Barbarian specification. The L200 itself is a well built, comfortable pickup truck with a strong engine that's well-matched to the automatic gearbox. With all of this in mind, I can’t recommend the Barbarian but would consider the Warrior specification that has all the positives of the Barbarian but misses out many of the irritating or embarrassing fripperies.

The questions of whether a pickup makes a good car is a wider one, and people looking to use one with a cap over the load may be better to wait for the future Shogun Sport model which will, fundamentally, be an L200 SUV. That said, if you’re in the market for a tow car or load carrier for work or lifestyle then the L200 range should certainly be on your radar, although maybe not the Barbarian.

The Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian Quad Cab automatic costs £31,845 on the road including VAT with metallic paint a further £516 including VAT. The L200 range starts from £21,883.80 for the single-cab 4-Life model.