THOSE IN THE MARKET for a seven-seat people mover are spoiled for choice these days.
Chrysler, Citroen, Dodge, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Renault and Toyota each have their own non-crossover seven-seaters on the market, and all have their unique appeal.
Mitsubishi?s Grandis is one that will no doubt be familiar to most. On sale in Australia since 2004 as the replacement for the Nimbus, the Grandis is an attractive package for family-bound motorists.
Although it can?t hold a candle to Honda?s slick Odyssey, the Grandis is one of the more handsome people movers on the market today.
Sharp triangular headlights are complemented by futuristic vertical tail lights, and blacked-out pillars smooth the glasshouse and give the Grandis a sleek and quite edgy profile.
For 2009 the Grandis is only available in VRX flavour, and that brings a bodykit with flared wheel-arch extensions, sportier front and rear bumpers and a set of 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.
A chrome exhaust tip and a set of front foglights are also part of the VRX package, as is a subtle rear spoiler, a pair of roof rails and electrically-folding wing mirrors with integrated side indicators.
Despite the slightly advanced age of the Grandis?s basic design, it is still a shape that?s easy on the eyes ? and one that will retain its good looks for at least few more years yet.
As pleasant as its exterior may be, the real appeal of a people mover lies within its shell. Intelligent packaging and sensible ergonomics are key; the Grandis satisfies on both these criteria rather well.
Seven seats fit comfortably into the Grandis?s 4760mm long and 1835mm wide frame, and the setup is extraordinarily flexible.
The 50/50-split third row seats can fold completely flush with the floor or be tilted 90 degrees to the rear so that two people can enjoy the view through the car?s open tailgate.
The second row seats adjust fore and aft, and the backrests can fold down to create a full-length bed. Alternatively, they can both be pushed up against the first row of seats to maximise cargo space.
One downside: the procedure for stowing away the third row takes some getting used to, and having to remove the headrests is a chore.
There are cup-holders for each of the seven seats, and the two outboard passengers in the second row also get a fold-down tray table mounted in the front seatbacks. Map lights are provided in all rows and the rear cabin gets its own ventilation controls mounted in the roof.
Generously-sized storage bins have been incorporated into each door, and there?s also some stowage room under the third row seats.
The front pews are heated and all seats are upholstered in black leather. Our tester came fitted with the optional dual sunroof, which lends the cabin a much airier feel when opened up.
The driving position is good, although the steering wheel adjusts only for tilt and not reach. The leather-trimmed wheel is comfortable to hold though, and the dash-mounted shifter lever falls readily to hand.
One major shortfall is the lack of steering-wheel mounted audio controls, meaning the driver needs to lean over the dash to change radio frequencies or CD tracks on the six-stacker CD tuner. With the seat back, it can be a bit of a reach.
There?s a great deal of plastic in the interior of the Grandis, but quality of fit and finish is high and everything feels well-screwed together. The barrel-shaped centre console though is a bit clunky design-wise, and encroaches on knee space.
That said, it?s a versatile interior, and despite heavy use of mid-grade plastics there?s a premium feel to the cabin.
The seats are comfortable, legroom is plentiful (even in the third row) and only tall adults will find a shortage of headroom in the rear seats. Overall, the Grandis is a comfortable vehicle to be in for any length of time ? a perfect companion on a longer trip.
The Grandis VRX is motivated by Mitsubishi?s venerable 4G69 2.4 litre inline four. Developing 120kW at 6000rpm and 216Nm at 4000rpm, the naturally-aspirated 2.4 litre MIVEC powerplant provides adequate shove to get the Grandis moving.
The engine is paired with a conventional four-speed automatic, which features a tiptronic mode for manual control over gear ratios. The automatic is the only gearbox on offer however, with no conventional manual available.
Braking is by ventilated discs on the front axles and solid discs on the rear, and steering assistance is hydraulic, rather than electrical. The Grandis is suspended on MacPherson struts at the front and multi-link trailing arms out back.
For such a large car, the Grandis offers quite reasonable urban agility. The steering geometry allows for a respectable 11 metre turning circle, and the steering assistance is light enough to make carpark manoeuvres a doddle.
Equipment and Features
In terms of electronic gadgets and entertainment features, the Grandis is starting to show its age.
A six-speaker, six-CD stacker with MP3 and WMA compatibility is standard kit, but there?s no auxillary input for iPods and other portable media players. Sound quality is average and as mentioned before, changing frequencies requires the driver to lunge forward to reach the controls.
Seat heaters for the front pews are standard, and the rear seats also receive their own ventilation controls. Cruise control is also a factory-fit.
The Grandis comes fitted with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist as standard, however electronic stability control and traction control are notably absent.
Although the Grandis?s active safety systems may fall a little short by today?s standards, the car?s passive safety features are certainly good.
Front and side airbags for the first row occupants are standard, as are curtain airbags for the first and second rows.
Three-point safety belts are provided on every seat, and the first row seats also score belt pretensioners and force limiters. Child seat anchorages are fitted to all second and third row seats.
On the road, the Grandis proves a competent handler. Its mechanical underpinnings may be simple and perhaps a little outdated by now, but there?s enough power and agility there to deal with whatever conditions suburban driving may throw at you.
Fully laden, the 2.4 litre engine can feel a little strained going up steep inclines, but the gearbox kicks down willingly and positively to keep the motor in the meat of its powerband.
The suspension is more than compliant enough to soak up choppy asphalt and small potholes, but still firm enough for good control at the legal limit ? even on secondary roads.
For highway driving and overall dynamics, it trails family wagons like the Sportwagon and Falcon (for instance), but for an upright people-mover, it?s quite a reasonable steer.
Keep it away from mountain passes though: handling is not as ?sporty? as the VRX?s exterior styling might suggest.
Visibility from the driver?s seat is excellent, although using the wing mirrors while reversing is a must.
Perched up high in the driver?s seat and the steering wheel canted back, it does feel a little bus-like, but that can be an advantage when trying to look ahead of traffic.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive in both the squab and the backrest, with fold-down armrests enhancing long-haul comfort. The second and third row seats are also great for long distances, and the ability to adjust recline settings on all rows makes it easy for passengers to get comfortable.
The good outward visibility and reasonable turning circle make it easy to squeeze through shopping centre carparks, and the rear parking sensors reduce the chance of low-speed mishaps.
A generally easy car to drive and live with, the Grandis still feels a little bulky. It?s not especially huge on the outside, but there?s no hiding the fact that its primary purpose is as a ?family bus?.
And it does that pretty well.
The Grandis offers up a lot of car with surprisingly few compromises. The whole package is one that many families will find more than adequate, and there?s plenty of sprawling space for seven people.
Luggage space is plentiful with all seats in place, but don?t expect to fit everyone?s bag in the boot if taking a full load of passengers away for a weekend.
In VRX trim, the Grandis is nice to look at and even nicer to sit in. The leather furnishings feel genuinely up-market and the level of standard kit is high.
There are a couple of niggles: the absence of stability control is bound to turn off some safety-conscious buyers, and dashboard ergonomics would be aided greatly by the provision of steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Aside from those complaints, the Grandis offers a great drive, acres of interior space and pretty decent value for its $44,950 asking price.
The basic design may be starting to show its age a bit, but the Grandis still has its charms.