David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Double-cab pick-ups, like the new Mitsubishi L200, have to be two vehicles in one. During the week, they're workhorses lugging heavy loads from place to place. At the weekend, they're family cars full of kids and the weekly shop. And if the pick-up owner happens to be a caravanner, they must be tow cars, too.
The trouble is these demands tend to conflict with one another. Leaf-sprung rear suspension may be man enough to cope with a tonne of cement in the load bay, but without a decent payload in the back most pick-ups have a bouncy and uncomfortable ride.
Pick-up drivers tend to accept these compromises because the VAT element of the purchase price can be reclaimed if the vehicle is used for work purposes and has a payload of over a tonne. But few would argue their pick-up drives as well as a typical family hatchback – and that's before you consider what tow car ability it has.
The fifth-generation Mitsubishi L200 comes much closer to being good at all these roles than just about any other pick-up I can think of.
It's still tough as old boots, just as it always has been. The payload is 1045kg for manual cars, and 1050kg for automatics. The load bed is 1470mm long, 1470mm wide and 475mm deep.
As well as having lots of load space, there's now more room for people. Headroom is improved up front, and there's more legroom in the back so six-foot passengers can travel in comfort.
Whether working in the week or caravanning with the family at the weekend, forest tracks, rain-soaked building sites and muddy touring parks shouldn't pose a problem. All L200 models have a switchable four-wheel-drive system to keep the Mitsubishi moving however slippery the ground beneath its tyres. The cheapest 4Life model has a more basic system, but it still offers two-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive high ratio, and four-wheel-drive low ratio (to provide lower gears and better control off road).
Titan, Warrior and Barbarian models have the more sophisticated Super Select 4x4 system. In place of the old car's stiff lever, there's now a rotary control to switch between modes. Unlike other selectable 4x4 systems fitted to rival pick-ups, the Mitsubishi L200 can drive on tarmac in four-wheel-drive high ratio with no danger of 'wind up' (when the front and rear wheels turn at different speeds causing severe strain on the transmission).
It's possible to switch from two- to four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 62mph. The centre differential can be locked for more extreme off-roading, and there's a low ratio mode to handle really steep slopes. This could also come in handy if you need to drag a caravan away from a very boggy pitch.
We took the L200 around a demanding off-road course (admittedly on non-standard off-road tyres) and the Mitsubishi handled every rut, rock and slope.
The old model was also pretty good in the rough. Where this new L200 Series 5 really scores over its predecessor is on the road.
On tarmac, the L200 has been improved in just about every way. It still has leaf springs at the back, but with an extra 120mm of suspension travel. We took to the road without any weight carried in the load bay and found the L200 surprisingly comfortable. It's still a bit bouncy compared to a regular hatchback or estate car, but anyone used to the old L200 will be amazed by the improvement.
The steering is also much sharper than it used to be. Turning the wheel in the old L200 felt like steering by elastic bands, with a slow and sloppy response that made it hard to place the Mitsubishi precisely. The Series 5 is much better, with a more direct response to the wheel. There are now 3.8 turns from lock to lock (down from 4.3) and a turning circle of 5.9 metres. That makes the L200 easier to manoeuvre in tight spaces than the Isuzu D-Max (6.1 metres), Volkswagen Amarok (6.5 metres) or Nissan Navara (6.6 metres).
The manual gearbox is also more car-like in feel. Instead of the old model's ponderous lever and awkward action, the new gearlever has a much shorter and slicker shift. As well as the six-speed manual there's a five-speed automatic with paddles behind the steering wheel if you fancy playing racing driver.
Choose entry-level 4Life spec and you'll need to stick with the manual transmission and the less powerful (151bhp) version of the 2.4-litre diesel engine. Other models have 178bhp and 317lb ft of torque. The diesel grumbles away a bit, but better sound-deadening means the noise is now less intrusive.
That's plenty of muscle for towing, as we were able to find out. Unusually for a press launch, Mitsubishi went to the trouble of laying on a caravan. We only had a brief drive on a tight circuit at the MIRA proving ground (we were alone on the circuit hence the lack of towing mirrors in the photographs), but there's no doubting the strength of the 178bhp engine. It pulled the 1590kg Bailey Unicorn Cordoba with real determination.
Our drive was too short and the circuit too tight to draw any firm conclusions about stability, but the signs are good. Most versions have a kerbweight of 1935kg (including 75kg for the driver not included in Mitsubishi's published kerbweight), which gives an 85% match figure of 1645kg. The legal towing limit is 3100kg, and the noseweight limit is 125kg.
All models are well equipped and keenly priced. The 4Life costs £19,749 excluding VAT, rising to £25,199 for the Barbarian automatic. Seven airbags and a trailer stability system are among the safety features, and even the most basic model has air conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity.
As well as being affordable to buy, the L200 should be cheap to run. The official combined fuel economy figure should always be treated with caution, of course, but the high-powered manual's 42.8mpg makes it more fuel-efficient than any comparable rival.
We'll find out more in a month's time when we'll be putting the L200 through a full tow test. For now there's every sign that the new Mitsubishi L200 is the best double-cab pick-up on the market.