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Mitsubishi looks to, well, expand its MPV leadership

FOR MITSUBISHI Motors Philippines Corp. (MMPC), the numbers do the talking. Across more than 70 countries, 430,000 units of the Xpander have been sold. Since debuting in 2018 in the Philippines, more than 60,000 garages now have a unit of the multipurpose vehicle (or MPV).

That’s why you can’t blame MMPC for creating commensurate buzz to herald the newest iteration of the seven-seater.

In a release, MMPC President and CEO Takeshi Hara said, “We are excited for Filipinos to finally be able to see in metal the new Xpander. Mitsubishi Motors wanted to further evolve the Xpander and assert its number-one position in the market. We have enhanced its unique selling propositions while upholding the traits that have made it the MPV that it is today. Expect a reimagined ride that will tap into your adventurous spirit and re-excite you to hit the road and go outdoors.”

While it is a refresh of the current (and, thus far, sole) generation, Mitsubishi says that this version (referred to as a 2023 model), pushes forward aspects and features that make it a “new-generation crossover MPV.”

The adjectives fly fast: practical, spacious, convenient, fuel-efficient — tenets that will surely continue to endear the people-mover to Filipinos who like to travel as a group — and over long drives.

MONTERO SPORT-LIKE
If the Xpander looks strangely familiar, it’s by design. Designers have taken cues from the Montero Sport — reinterpreting its image in the Xpander to endow it with an “advanced SUV concept.” To give that SUV poise and presence, the new Xpander bears a front fascia meant to make it appear wider and bolder. Lamps have been brought up higher for a more dignified look as well. Even the familiar Dynamic Shield grille receives some tweaking.

On the sides, immediately noticeable are the bigger 17-inch wheels and larger side sill garnish. Moving over to the back reveals changes as well. The T-shape is adopted there too through the taillights which are integrated in the recast bumper. The brand throws in a tailgate garnish for effect.

In the cabin, there are lots of changes, too. The so-called “Horizontal Axis” design identity makes its way to the dashboard “for a more robust feel.” The Xpander now gets accents of soft-padded material with, get this, real stitches. Even the steering wheel (which can be adjusted for reach and tilt), undergoes changes, with “a compact center to enable a better grip.” The instrument cluster has been refreshed as well, and boasts a dynamic opening graphic.

For those giving tons of value to infotainment connectivity, the seven-inch Smartphone-link Display Audio (SDA-3) plays nice with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can interact with it through a touchscreen or hands-free functions. Below it is a new digital LCD A/C panel purposefully made “not only to match the overall aesthetic but also to be easy-to-understand.” And even as it features a 12V outlet and USB port, the front console has been converted into a larger capacity open tray to accommodate gadgets and a sundry of stuff.

A new floor console has armrests that can hold a tissue pack on the back of its lid and (count ‘em) four 600 ml-sized bottles in the main compartment. “The layout of the console cupholders have been reoriented sideways and now bears a larger circumference. All these offer better organization and maximization of space,” reports Mitsubishi.

Further bringing the Xpander to the present are second-row USB ports for easy charging. The familiar Type-A port is joined by the higher-capacity Type-C. A/C dials and louvers in the rear are also in a different hue to update the feel; while cupholders have been placed into the seat armrest. Favorite features such as the easy-folding seat mechanisms, front row and luggage under trays, multi-function seatback pockets and third-row power outlets make a return in this latest iteration.

Mitsubishi says that the Xpander “has more than enough room for full-size adults plus luggage,” with the MPV configured to provide passengers space while being able to fit four four-gallon water bottles or a stroller directly behind the last row. With the seats collapsed, the vehicle offers a flat cargo deck.

The Japanese brand insists that the Xpander is the only model in its class to get cruise control. A reversing camera also makes maneuvering and parking more convenient.

CHANGES APLENTY
Even steering and suspension settings have also been enhanced in the new Xpander — with the rear absorber getting larger, and extra front and rear springs being fitted into the system, along with high-performance valves. These are said to result in a flatter and more comfortable ride even on winding roads. MMPC adds that a steering wheel return control was integrated for better maneuverability at low speeds to relieve driver stress.

The MPV’s new version gets an electronic parking brake and brake auto hold, plus active stability control, hill start assist, and traction control — standard on the AT variants. In aid of the aforementioned SUV cred, the Xpander’s ground clearance has been upped to 225 millimeters (best in class yet again). Rumbling under its hood is the familiar 1.5-liter MIVEC DOHC 16-valve, serving up 103hp and 141Nm, known for its power and fuel frugality.

The price of admission starts at P1.03 million for the GLX M/T, up to P1.11 million for the GLX A/T, and P1.18 million for the GLS A/T. The Xpander comes in these colors: White Pearl, Graphite Gray, Black, Red, Sunshine Orange and Blade Silver Metallic.

FIVE TO 10% GROWTH
MMPC is anticipating sales of 1,500 units a month for Xpander, which should continue to cement its share (over 50%) of the market. “We’re still hoping to sell more than that,” underscored MMPC FVP for Sales and Marketing Cecil Capacete in a Q&A after the model’s unveiling last Friday at the Mall of Asia Concert Grounds.

Meanwhile, MMPC AVP for Sales and Marketing Mark Parulan said that the MPV’s enhancements are a result of customer feedback, when asked whether our market could possibly see a CVT option in addition to the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.

The Xpander launch was also the occasion for MMPC to kick off its nationwide test-drive tour to let customers get behind the wheel of its vehicles and maneuver them through a specially designed test-drive track simulating varied road conditions. Said Mr. Hara in a statement, “As the economy reopens, we want to reignite the love for outdoors among our Filipino customers and show to them how and why Mitsubishi cars are the perfect adventure buddies. One of our goals for the year is to reach out to more customers outside the walls of our dealerships. So customers can expect us to be in their cities whether Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.”

Dubbed “Reimagine Your Ride: The Mitsubishi Test Drive Tour,” the series continues in Cebu (June 24 to 25), Davao (July 15 to 17), Laguna (Aug. 12 to 14), and Pampanga (Aug. 26 to 28).

In a subsequent interview, with a group of writers, Mr. Hara admitted that MMPC must be “more aggressive” in making people see the merits of its vehicles, hence the test-drive tour. “In normal test drive, people can’t see the difference,” he said, and added that he hopes to add more stops in the tour.

When asked by “Velocity” about business projections for the year, Mr. Hara said that he expects the company to register at least five to 10% growth. However, he confessed it would be “very hard” to accurately make predictions owing to the country’s economic situation and the pandemic. He also said that banks are thankfully starting to open up and provide more car loans, although they are “still careful with checking customer profiles.”

Will the dealership network grow this year? “Of course, but I cannot mention (specifics),” he replied with a laugh. However, he did hint that they are looking at getting a “great dealer group” on board.

Mr. Hara also revealed that with the onset of the pandemic, people were (and still are) looking at more affordable cars like the Mirage and Mirage G4. He believes the Xpander also fits the bill here. Still he looks forward that, from 2023 onward, “maybe the market can go back to its original position (in 2019)” and restore the appetite for more expensive models.