Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Express
strong engine, slick DCT, comfy driver’s seat, unladen handling, forward visibility, manoeuvrability, rear packaging
Room for improvement
poor ergonomics, hunts for gears in hills, passenger sunvisor blind-spot mirror, no AEB, obvious budget corner cutting
Mitsubishi relies on Renault’s Trafic for new Express van, but how does it deliver?
6 Jul 2020
THE Express marks Mitsubishi’s return to the mid-sized light-commercial van market in Australia after seven years away, with the Japanese brand looking to fellow alliance member Renault to help deliver the goods.
Built in the same Sandouville factory in northern France, the new Express shares all of its DNA with the French marque’s own Trafic van, and Mitsubishi’s Australian subsidiary admits it would have been impossible to return to the segment without the help of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
To see how the Express stacked up, we spent a day out west testing it in the Perth CBD and surrounding suburbs with a quick foray into the nearby hills – exactly the sort of environment this kind of vehicle spends most of its life in.
FROM the get-go, it is easy to spot the Renault relation in the Express with all of the body panels besides the front bumper being shared with the Trafic, and even then the front fascia bears a striking resemblance to its French twin.
Climbing aboard the working-class Express, you are greeted with an expectedly no-frills interior comprising of hard grey plastics and grey fabric seats – it is a commercial vehicle, after all, with an emphasis on robustness above all else.
The driver’s seat is manually adjustable for height, tilt, lumber and reach while the steering wheel boasts both height and telescopic adjustment, something we were all too happy to see. Passengers make do with a fixed two-person bench seat.
At first glance the dashboard and instrument cluster appeared simple yet functional with no unnecessary frills or gadgetry to be seen.
The exterior mirrors are power adjustable and, thanks to their considerable size, it was easy to set them up and get a decent field of view down the flanks of the almost two-metre-wide body.
Standard equipment on the Express includes two-stage remote central locking, Bluetooth and USB-compatible audio system (with DAB radio), air-conditioning, cruise control, rear parking sensors, rubber floor mats and through-loading capability underneath the passenger bench.
Our test vehicle was the automatic short-wheelbase (SWB) variant priced from $42,490 plus on-road costs, which, compared to the manual version, adds a few extra conveniences including a reversing camera, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers and foglights.
Power in this case comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine good for 125kW of power at 3500rpm and a meaty 380Nm of torque available from just 1500rpm.
This healthy serving of low-end grunt combined with the slick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission – driving the front wheels – meant the Express had power to spare around town and was never found wanting when moving away with traffic or when exploiting a gap.
The 2.0-litre is so energetic, in fact, that traction was sometimes an issue for the inside wheel at adjacent intersections where a quick getaway was needed to enter the busy and reasonably fast-moving Perth traffic.
Admittedly, we were not given the opportunity to load the Express up to its 1115kg payload capacity (payload varies depending on wheelbase and transmission), but we doubt the powerplant will ever be left wanting around town, regardless of load.
In the back of the SWB there is 5.3 cubic metres of cargo space with 43 litres worth of storage in the cabin.
Our test vehicle came fitted with the optional cargo mat and cargo barrier, the latter rendering the standard through-loading feature redundant as there is no compensating gap for longer objects to still make use of the feature.
The cargo bed itself is flat, wide and easily accessible thanks to the sliding side doors and 180-degree rear barn doors which also feature a 90-degree stop for when maximum access isn’t required.
Unsurprisingly, the unladen ride proved quite bouncy over speed bumps and bigger road irregularities but we were impressed with the van’s small-bump compliance.
Around town, the steering was pleasingly light and direct, with the Express never feeling particularly big or cumbersome in traffic or when giving things a nudge in true courier-driver fashion.
Manoeuvrability was also decent, with the Express being relatively easy to park although we would like to see a bigger display for the reversing camera rather than just the left third of the almost redundant rearview mirror.
On the topic of visibility, forward and side vision is good, with the large windscreen and windows combining well with the commanding driving position.
The same cannot be said, however, for the rear visibility, with over-the-shoulder checks almost impossible on both sides owing to the lack of any side windows on the rear doors.
To rectify this, Mitsubishi has fitted a ‘driver blind-spot mirror’ on the underside of the passenger sunvisor, and while it vaguely does the job it is by no means a substitute for a small wide window or blind-spot monitoring system.
The other area of concern for us was the general layout of the cabin, with few controls falling easily to hand.
The biggest offenders here were the air-conditioning controls, cupholders and park-brake lever.
In order to adjust the fan speed or air direction dials, we were forced to lean well out of our driving position only to find play in the dials themselves, making it hard to be sure they were in the desired setting without taking our eyes off of the road.
The windscreen demister button is even further out of the way and is actually easier for the passenger to reach than the driver, alongside which lies a blank button we can only assume is left over from a higher-spec Trafic given the Express is only available in one trim level.
It’s a similar story with the cupholders, two of which were mounted on top of the dashboard behind the air vents (one in each corner) while another folding unit was mounted low down on the far side of the gear lever.
As for the park brake, the lever itself is mounted low down on the floor of the cabin which doesn’t pose much of an issue, however it becomes almost impossible to reach if the retractable driver’s armrest is down, meaning you have to fold away the armrest every time you go to grab the lever.
This wouldn’t be such an issue if the armrest was a one-position-fits-all affair but in the name of adjustability and comfort for all, it has been fitted with a one-way ratchet system meaning you have to reset its position every time.
While this may seem like a minor gripe, it did become a nuisance towards the end of our seven-hour stint in the Express as we replicated the sort of routes and stop-start routines of delivery drivers.
On the open road, however, the armrest was a welcome addition, as was the manual override for the automatic transmission which sometimes struggled to pick a gear in the hills above Perth.
Thankfully, the transmission let us select and hold almost any gear we wanted – within reason – which allowed us to lean more on the turbocharger and exploit more of the low-end torque before needing a down change.
One other small detail we noticed that may impact a lot of drivers was the limited size of the dashboard-mounted phone holder, with neither a Galaxy A70 or iPhone 11 Pro Max able to be squeezed in.
Overall, the Express is actually a decent drive and coped extremely well in the hustle and bustle of the Perth CBD and surrounds.
It’s comfortable, practical, genuinely quick around town and relatively frugal, returning a fuel economy figure of 7.8 litres per 100km after a day of mostly urban driving.
The official consumption figure supplied by Mitsubishi is 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle.
Most of its gripes surround the cabin layout and we can’t help but feel it needs an autonomous emergency braking system given its obvious urban intentions.
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Model release date: 6 July 2020
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