For the last few years, company car drivers have been ditching their Mondeos in favour of one of the new style-oriented pickups that have emerged to take advantage of the reduction in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax. Trouble is, Gordon Brown closed that particular loophole in the 2004 Budget. So where does that leave the pickup? Builder’s mate, or charismatic everyday transport? We thought we should find out.
It’s a niche market, and the Japanese have it pretty much sown up. Likely suspects include the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger (closely related to the Mazda B-series), Isuzu Rodeo, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200.
The L200 was around before the pickup craze began, so Mitsubishi were only a cement bucket’s throw away from being able to capitalise on the taxation breaks. With the addition of a few ‘look at me’ chrome parts and some soft furnishings, their double cab L200 became the 4Life. Since then, numerous special editions have been aimed at the lifestyle bunch, the most successful of which came when the manufacturer teamed up with wetsuit and surf-wear company Animal.
The Warrior is a similar concoction, but with a little more attitude – think pimp-esque dark windows, chunky tyres on 16″ alloys, strategically placed chrome, ‘Warrior’ graphics – and available in Chromatic Silver or pearlescent Pyrenees Black. ‘In your face’ is probably the phrase. The interior treatment is a little more restrained, with the addition of air conditioning, 6-disc autochanger, brushed-alloy effect dash panel and leather steering wheel and gear knobs.
No matter how much leather you put in there, however, it’s still a truck, and for some that’s part of the charm. The driving position is surprisingly laid-back, though, and the natural position for the adjustable steering wheel feels almost American, although the transmission tunnel does take up quite a bit of space in the footwells, leaving the cabin feeling narrow.
Some of the instruments and switchgear feels a little old-fashioned, and the column stalks are reversed, too, with indicators on the right and wipers on the left. Amusing at the first couple of junctions, but soon frustrating.
The point of any pickup is the rear load bed and the L200 is no different. There’s space for a jet ski or a couple of bikes, but there’s still the classic dilemma of where to put your shopping: a 1,065kg payload might be great for grubby things, but Tesco carrier bags tend to roll around in such a vast space.
Climb aboard expecting a car-like experience and you’re in for a shock. But think of it as a truck with added style and it becomes much more fun.
While the front end uses an independent wishbone/torsion bar set up similar to the Shogun, the rear retains its leaf springs and solid axle to cope with heavy loads. That’s all well and good if you regularly take 10 bags of cement out for a drive, but with an unladen load bay the back end can become a little bouncy. Watch out for roundabouts, too: in the wet, they can become an arm-twirling frenzy. There’s no ABS, either.
The gearchange is satisfyingly workmen-like, and with a narrow power band and ratios chosen to help with off-road and load-lugging work, you’ll be stirring the cog box quite often. The recirculating ball power steering is wonderfully light if somewhat vague. All told, it’s fun bulldozing your way through town, but out on the open road it can require extra concentration.
It’s a useful tug vehicle though, with a rating of 2,700kg, and pretty happy in the gloop with good axle articulation (particularly at the rear) and a lockable rear differential.
Under the bonnet, things are unchanged from the previous double cabs, although the 2.5-litre turbo-charged and intercooled diesel received some welcome revisions recently to bring power up to 113bhp. Torque is a useful 177lb/ft at 2,000 rpm, and a power-boosting chip is available.
We can’t help feeling the L200 could have really benefited from Mitsubishi’s relationship with DaimlerChrysler. The insertion of an engine wearing a three-pointed star transformed the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the same 2.7-litre five-cylinder oil-burner would do wonders for the L200’s fun-factor.
It would help economy, too. Many owners report a sub-20mpg thirst, not helped by the rear load bay acting as a giant air scoop when empty, and a servicing requirement of every 4,500 miles conspires to ensure the L200 won’t be exactly cheap to run.
The Warrior starts at £16,999 which, of course, excludes VAT. Private purchasers will have to fork out £19,974 – £21,149 if you want leather seats – putting it up against the Land Rover Freelander, Jeep Cherokee, Toyota RAV4, and our favourite, the Subaru Forester.
Although residual values were previously reasonably firm, the Chancellor’s recent bombshell means figures may soften as we head towards the 2007 cut-off date.
So is it worth it? Ex-company car drivers will likely be disappointed, mostly by the crude diesel engine, but if you have a particular love of trucks, you’ll get on just fine with the L200.