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Click to view picture gallery“With 4x4 sales on the
  slide, Mitsubishi’s
  new fourth-generation
  Shogun faces an
  uphill task. David Miles
  put it to the test to find
  out if it has still got
  what it takes...”


REGISTRATIONN FIGURES provided by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders this week show that the 4x4 and SUV sectors of
the UK
's new car market are continuing to decline.

Last year sales fell by twelve per cent to 164,641 vehicles and much
of this was put down to the fact that important models such as the Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander and Mitsubishi Shogun ranges were on run-out before replacement new models arrived.

However for the first four months of this year and with all the new models in place, there has been a further fall of nearly seven per cent at a time when new vehicle sales in the UK have actually increased
by 3.15 per cent overall.

The industry view is that some customers are moving from SUVs and 4x4s to MPVs — or people carriers — and for the first four months of this year, MPV sales growth is a shade over ten per cent.

So why are people changing? The MPV has high visibility and ownership status, most have flexible five- or seven-seat layouts and load carrying flexibility. And drivers like the higher 'command' driving position. High running costs, increased 'gas guzzling' taxation and pressure over moral and social obligations from the anti-4x4 lobby seem to have dulled the consumer's appetite for buying some types of 4x4s.

This is not good news for brands such as Jeep, Dodge, Nissan and Mitsubishi whose ranges are dominated by 4x4 vehicles. Another issue is the fact that the anti-4x4 feeling will also harm the sale of used off-roaders and SUVs and that in turn lowers residual trade-in values — good news, though, for those thinking of buying a cheaper secondhand 4x4. However, whilst people spending between 20,000 and 35,000 on a new 4x4 can easily cope with the added running costs and road fund licence charges, purchasers spending substantially less on pre-owned vehicles, and likely to be restricted to more limited budgets, will poss-ibly be put off by all the negative vibes and high road charges these vehicles are now being subjected to. How it will all pan out, only time will tell.

Which brings us, appropriately, to the latest (fourth generation) Mitsubishi Shogun that was launched in February this year. In the UK, Mitsubishi expect this model to maintain its sales levels at around
6,000 units for the first full year of sales.

Mitsubishi feels that Shogun owners, in the main, buy a heavyweight 4x4 principally because they need one. They are, in general, country dwellers or commercial business operators who need a 4x4 for towing. There is also increasing demand for the Shogun by Police forces and the Highways Agency who require the load carrying space, high visibility and reliability these vehicles are renowned for.

The Shogun first came to the UK in 1983 in three-door form — and the UK was the first country outside Japan to get it. This was followed, in 1985, by the first five-door models and the Shogun was also the first 4x4 to have seven forward-facing passenger seats as standard. In Japan it was, and still is, known as Pajero and the same name is used in most countries of the world — only Spanish speaking countries adopted the alternative name of Montero. And that is because 'Pajero' in Spanish can be interpreted as a very rude word.

The UK chose to use the name 'Shogun' because at the time the book and the television series about the Japanese Shogun Warriors were published and broadcast. The decision to go with the 'Shogun' name turned out to be a marketing masterstroke.

Around 2.5 million Shoguns/Pajeros/Monteros have been sold since 1982/83, with 736,973 sold in Europe and 92,954 sold in the UK. The European customer loyalty rate is an impressive 70 per cent. Cus-tomers come back time and time again, attracted by the rugged reliability and the genuine off-road performance coupled with on-road driving refinement and the fact that it can be used either in two- or four-wheel drive with high- and low-ratio gearing.

The latest Shogun passenger-carrying three- and five-door models for the UK are priced from 22,949 to 34,999. All have a revised 3.2-litre, four-cylinder direct injection, common-rail turbodiesel engine. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine has been dropped from the line-up for this gener-ation as over 90 per cent of sales in this sector are accounted for by diesel-powered models.

There are four levels of specification for three- and five-door variants: Equippe, Warrior, Elegance and a new flagship specification — Diamond. Elegance and Diamond models will take 65 per cent of UK sales and five-door, seven-seat versions will account for two thirds of overall sales.

In my forty years split between being a motoring writer, head of PR for a vehicle importer and now back to automotive journalism, I have been lucky enough to drive Shoguns as test vehicles or company cars, for over 20 years. And in all types of conditions, both in the UK and around the world, including some very extreme off-road conditions. I know them inside out and throughout their various evolution and the lasting impressions I have are of the Shogun's on- and off-road driveability, refinement and reliability.

Different styling treatments have been more popular than others but the same core strengths — reliability, versatile seating, comprehensive specification, driveability and the three year's unlimited mileage warranty — have been, and still are, the reasons to own a Shogun.

Today's looks are more acceptable. Sharper styling lines have replaced the old and familiar rounded appearance. While it now looks a classier vehicle, it defiantly remains a big and in-your-face true 4x4.

My test model was one of the expected main-sellers: the Shogun LWB 3.2 DI-DC Diamond model with automatic transmission priced at 34,684, but with added options it tops out at 35,053. This is serious money and reflects the up-market specification of the vehicle. In recent years the Shogun has moved away some from being a work-horse for the 'landed gentry' to becoming a luxurious business vehicle with flashy alloy wheels, wide tyres, luxurious leather interior and an 'executive car' technical specification.

Somewhere along the line in the last few years it has lost the rear differential lock — important for serious off-roading — and the adjust-able suspension height and ride comfort settings. However, while the new fourth-generation Shogun might be more refined and up-market, it still retains the capability to tough it out with the best of them off-road, providing sensible grippy tyres are fitted instead of the current standard road versions.

In specification terms this Shogun lacks for nothing: seven seats in three rows, the fold-away rear row of seats that increases the load area, air conditioning, electric windows throughout, loads of airbags, cruise control, rear view parking camera, two/four-wheel drive select-ability, high/low ratio gear selection, a fantastic navigation, sound and information system, technical programmes to govern stability, braking and traction control and even an electronic compass, barometer and altimeter.

The ride comfort is fine; the handling is better — but still nowhere
near the performance of the BMW X5, for instance. The Shogun rolls,
it pitches but you have to remember that at heart it is still a real 4x4 off-roader, not just a 4x4 big-wheeled car or people carrier. Load space, dependent on seats in use, ranges from 215-1,069-litres. When it comes to towing, the latest Shogun can haul up to a substantial 3,300kg braked.

The revised 3.2-litre, 168bhp, 275lb ft (from 2,000rpm) intercooled turbodiesel engine is better and cleaner than it's ever been. But it still cannot match the latest Land/Range Rover, BMW, Mercedes or Audi engines. The Shogun's automatic transmission is smooth and easy to use, especially when it comes to selecting two- or four-wheel drive and high or low ratios. Very user-friendly.

Top speed, compared to the competition, is a modest 110mph with
0-62mph taking 12.9 seconds. Fuel economy is shown as 26.7mpg in the combined cycle. Not a chance in reality — my test car returned a punitive 19.7mpg for on-road use, and less for a period of off-roading. The emissions at 280g/km are not good either as they land it in the highest vehicle excise duty band, which will cost owners 300 this year. Next year it goes up to 400. Whoever said the Chancellor hated cars has got it wrong — he must really love these 4x4s. The question is: Where will he refill his coffers once he's driven them all off the roads? And if the proposed road pricing and higher rates of congestion charging plans are adopted, Shogun owners will suffer financially even more.

It saddens me to say this, but today's Shogun is outclassed when it comes to on-road handling and refinement. It feels sluggish, it's thirsty and has a 'tarty' image. That noted, don't forget it's excellent good points: a high specification, it's rugged and competent off-road, has excellent build quality, seven seats, good warranties and it has a genuine heritage. So, the Shogun legend lives on but it no longer leads the way, which is a real shame. — David Miles

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Mitsubishi Shogun LWB 3.2 DI-DC Diamond | 34,684
Maximum speed: 110mph | 0-62mph: 12.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 19.7mpg | Power: 168bhp | Torque: 275lb ft
CO2 280g/km | VED Band G 300
| Insurance Group 15A
Visit Mitsubishi's website Click to go there now

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