IT’S THE RIGHT SIZE, neither too big nor too small, and has one of the best turbo-diesel engines in the business under the bonnet.
It is also reasonably quiet and comfortable on road, and, off it, as we discovered, capable of tackling the roughest of bush tracks and rocky inclines.
As a day in the saddle showed, the new 2010 Mitsubishi Challenger is a very complete and competent package.
With pricing starting at $44,490 (plus on-road charges) for the LS manual, Mitsubishi's new mid-sized four-wheel-drive wagon presents a real alternative for both family wagon buyers and serious off-roaders.
Sharing the same strong and economical 2.5 litre common rail intercooled turbo-diesel powering the recently-updated Triton, the Challenger is offered in five and seven-seat configurations.
It also comes with two levels of trim: the LS which provides a manual option, and the more luxuriously appointed, auto only, XLS.
Mitsubishi let us loose at the wheel of both variants with a combination of highway driving, secondary roads and some extreme off-road trails.
Off road, with low range transfer case, standard rear diff-lock, high ground clearance, Mitsubishi’s SuperSelect centre differential, and the grinding torque of that brilliant diesel, it was up to any challenge.
And on road, surprisingly, it proved equally capable, offering car-like comfort and interior appointments, wagon convenience and willing performance.
Slotting into Mitsubishi's four-wheel-drive range between the Outlander and the Pajero, the new low-range equipped Challenger certainly takes the game up to the likes of ‘soft-roaders’ like Kluger and Territory.
When word gets out, it is going to add some heat to the SUV sector.
One of the first things you will notice about the new Challenger is its size. In a sector where everything is getting bigger and fatter and more indulgent, the Challenger offers space and comfort in a ‘right-sized’ package.
This will appeal to a lot of buyers. Also sure to appeal is that it looks neat ‘in the metal’.
According to Mitsubishi, the new Challenger was styled to be as much at home on city streets as in the bush. The intent was to convey genuine off-road capability and ruggedness as well as smart urban style and on-road comfort.
While the front sheet-metal is identical to the Triton, a new front bumper and headlight lenses add a little extra refinement and style. Most would agree that the Challenger’s lines marry well with the sloping nose of the Triton.
From the front doors back of course, the Challenger is all new. Its profile features blistered fenders, a high beltline, short overhangs and ample ground clearance.
From the wheel, though the nose slopes from view, the sensible dimensions of the Challenger will make it as easy to negotiate supermarket car parks as it is for bush trails.
At the back, the high-positioned tail-lights complete its purposeful and nicely balanced lines.
Those who have battled with a swinging rear door on an SUV will appreciate the Challenger’s lift-up hatch-style rear door. The tube side steps – fitted as standard to all models – also add an extra touch of style while assisting entry to the high-stepping Challenger.
The premium XLS can be picked externally by a chrome grille, colour-coded side mouldings, tinted rear glass and fog-lamps.
Inside, Mitsubishi has made driver and passenger ergonomics something of a priority, with a versatile layout and ample headroom and legroom in each row.
Passengers in the second row seats, in particular, will notice the excellent legroom. There is ample space for the knees of six-footers there.
Space for third row occupants in the seven-seat variants is also reasonable.
The seats fold readily (third row into the floor, second row canting forward) and both second and third rows seats split fold individually for greater flexibility and storage space.
The entry-level LS gets a leather-bound steering wheel, gear shift, park brake and transfer lever, with metal highlights and fabric seating.
The more luxurious XLS adds leather seat trim, a wood-trim console and centre panel along with a cargo blind and cargo room net.
The seating in each, for shape and bolstering, is on par with the segment.
There is additional padding and under-thigh support (compared to the Triton), electric adjustment in the XLS, and, with a tilt adjustable steering wheel in both models, it is easy to get ‘set’ and comfortable at the wheel.
Importantly, despite its rugged construction, high stance and off-road capability, there is nothing agricultural about the interior style, features or feel of the new Challenger. It’s like being in – and driving – a mid-sized wagon.
Both models in the Challenger line-up are available in five- and seven-seat configurations.
The entry-level LS Challenger gets 17-inch alloy wheels and a full-sized alloy spare, along with side steps, chrome exterior door handles and mirrors and roof rails.
Inside, the LS features automatic air-conditioning, steering-mounted cruise and audio controls, power windows, remote keyless entry and central locking, colour centre display and a six-speaker single CD player system with an audio jack for MP3 player connectivity.
The XLS adds power driver's seat with slide, dual height and recline movement. It also gets Mitsubishi's high-fidelity eight-speaker Power Sound System, Mitsubishi Multi Communication System with satellite navigation, reverse camera and video jack, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Fog-lamps, headlamp washers and reversing sensors are standard on the XLS.
Safety features across the Challenger range include Mitsubishi's All Terrain Technology (MATT) system, including Active Stability and Traction Control (ASTC), Multi-mode ABS with EBD, and diff lock.
The 2010 Challenger features Mitsubishi's RISE body construction technology, as well as driver and passenger front, side and curtain airbags.
The Challenger utilises the same 2.5 litre common rail turbo-diesel engine that's fitted to the MY10 Triton.
It is a super unit offering 131kW of power at 4000rpm and 400Nm of torque at just 2000rpm on the manual-equipped Challenger LS.
A five-speed automatic is available as an option on the LS and standard on the XLS. In auto form, peak torque is limited to 350Nm at 1800rom to preserve the transmission.
In both manual and auto variants, whether grinding up a steep trail or for highway overtaking, the Challenger feels very strong.
Double wishbones with coil springs sit below the front end, while the Triton's rear live axle and leaf springs have made way for a multi-link solid-axle riding on coil springs.
A rigid ladderframe chassis underpins things (rather than the monocoque favoured by most in the sector), with the base model LS manual weighing in at 2041kg empty.
Maximum towing capacity of 2500kg leaves ample capacity for safely putting the horse float or the caravan in tow.
There are disc brakes on all four wheels (with good pedal feel for off-road work) looking after the braking.
Taking power to each corner is Mitsubishi's Super Select 4WD system.
With a separate transfer case, the Challenger offers 2WD mode (for normal highway travel) or 4WD high, and 4WD low – with a locked centre differential and manually operated rear diff lock (via a button on the dash) fitted standard across all models.
High-range modes can be selected on the move. To engage low range however, things have to be brought to a halt.
Below, the Challenger offers 220mm of ground clearance, an approach angle of 35.6 degrees and a departure angle of 24.6 degrees.
With a carlike turning circle of 11.2 metres and nicely weighted steering, there is no trouble picking through tight turns in the bush (nor, you’d expect, in the cut and thrust of the urban jungle).