A fun drive with the Xpander

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    HAPPY was how the Yuletide holidays could be described because not only were we treated to a wonderful vacation at an island house in Lake Lumot, Cavinti, Laguna, but the ride to get there—aboard the Mitsubishi Expander—was equally merry.

    I took the wheel for the three-hour drive (including an hour of EDSA-like traffic) to this private enclave owned by my dad’s friend. Lumot Lake is on the other side of the more popular Lake Caliraya and is accessible only via a zigzag route on narrow provincial roads.

    Malaya Business Insight didn’t make it to the Mitsubishi Xpander Media Drive to Bataan because we probably missed an invitation. But it did not matter, the guys at Mitsubishi had ready for us the Xpander for the holidays. It was a great Christmas to New Year surprise, which provided many unforgettable memories.

    This is a multi-passenger vehicle like the Montero, which is a sports utility vehicle. They both seat seven and even look alike. The big difference is the capabilities on the road. The Montero is tall and imposing. The Xpander drives like a car, feels like a car but carries as many people. Finding the sweet spot for any car owner does not end in the price tag.

    If you compare functionality, rather than feature for feature, one can conclude that both can do what the other one can, except for the Montero’s ride height, being a diesel burner and with a few more inches of leg room.

    The MPV clearly shows its lineage with the Montero. The sharp, angled outlines look like they were chiseled out from the robots of Japanese lore. The front-end shows all the lines of the second-generation Dynamic Shield design and bumper-embedded headlights. It’s a Montero but with a long roofline.

    There is so much to like with the angular styling. It is both sporty, taking away the boredom of the elongated shape of a wagon, and elegant, which adds to its plus points. It rides on 16-inch alloy wheels and the wheelbase—just long enough for sufficient legroom and short enough to provide a nimble and automobile-like ride—is perfect for the conditions that his car will operate in.

    Compared to the Avanza, which has rear wheel drive, or the sportier Rush which is a gussied-up Avanza, the Xpander’s ride is plush, almost luxurious to a certain degree.

    Definitely softer and more pliant than the two Toyotas.

    Inside it is a wonderful mix of textures and patterns showing a lot of restraint but also innovation, for example the nice muted silver pieces or that deep pocket in the middle part of the front passenger seat. The high-gloss black accents just meld so well with the contrasts of the matt-finish silver carbon fiber-like trim. There is nothing loud here. Even the infotainment screen does not scream “controls here!” Though it is bright and quite intuitive.

    My friends liked the quiet elegance, which seems to be a hit with the women more than the men. From the driver seat the layout of the dash is focused and clean. The onboard layout with well-marked controls properly clicks into action with a nice, tactile feel. I can see many parts are shared with other vehicles, like the soft-touch materials, or some switches feel familiar with say the ASX or the Mirage. But that is alright.

    Given its price point there is so much this MPV gives.

    Going up the hills of Cavinti is not at all hard with this car. On the way we were pushing up faster because of the heavy traffic we encountered along Sta. Cruz, Laguna which delayed us by an hour.

    The Xpander’s 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine does an excellent job of pulling around the 1,200 kilograms of metal and plastic that makes up the car. When asked for, there is a proactive response from the throttle and a real sense of urgency from the transmission. But it does it quietly and unobtrusively. Unlike the turbocharged Tuscon engine, which shouts at the climbs as it takes torque, the Xpander requires well managed overtaking maneuvers. This is because the engine is so responsive it is also quite peaky and loses out revolutions. That is not to say that is lacks power. It is just sometimes strained such as when peaking power.

    That said, the 4-speed automatic is always ready to adjust and make up for the engine’s lack of exercise. We did very little overtakes though. The drive up was just too scenic to waste. Besides clicking the standard cruise control even on the hills provided a more managed drive. The Xpander is frugal reporting a 13.8 km/L figure (average speed of 60 km/h) for that drive and a 15.2 kilometers per liter on the highway.

    When we reached the lakeside house, we fumbled with the keys to the gate and since there was a downpour just moments before we arrived, the uphill road was slippery. It was not problem for the Xpander. We did experience wheel slips on the muddy corners but it was all systems go.

    How does one put the Xpander’s engine and transmission capabilities, huge interior space with amply sockets (even one all the way back to the third row) enough cupholder, a soft and comfortable ride all into perspective. One need not, I think.

    The Xpander is a class leading MPV by all counts. Mitsubishi’s ability of putting into this one vehicle a blend of the best features it has from its SUV and passenger car expertise has created an MPV with the sensibilities of a sedan and the space (almost) of an SUV. I think this is the reason why the clamor for the Xpander is loud, and the waiting lines are long.