Car-derived four-wheel drive vans are very much of a niche market in the UK. After all, the majority of van drivers spend all of their time firmly rooted to the tarmac unless the laws of physics get the better of their driving ability or the weather conditions turn a bit nasty, something which happens occasionally rather than frequently.
Certain jobs, however, do require accessing remote sites by using muddy forestry tracks or even fields and, of course, there are farmers. Fortunately, a handful of car makers undertake to convert their Sloane Street cruisers into light commercials by removing the rear seats and fitting a flat load bed. Mitsubishi is one such manufacturer and it has an illustrious history in this market.
It currently offers both the Outlander and Shogun in commercial vehicle guise (4Work in Mitsubishi-speak) and we have recently had the opportunity to spend six months living with an example of the latter. The latest and extensively updated in 2007 Shogun van is up for grabs solely in short-wheelbase, three-door guise. It’s sold with either a five-speed manual or an automatic gearbox and we elected for the former.
Power comes courtesy of a mighty 3.2-litre four-cylinder in-line 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled common rail diesel. It’s a development of the previous direct injection unit. Top power of 158hp makes its presence felt at 3,800rpm, while a very generous peak torque of 381Nm bites at 2,000rpm.
Four-wheel drive is electronically selectable — you use what looks like an automatic gearshift that sits next to the gearlever — and the driver can switch to a low set of gears prior to tackling the really rough stuff once it is engaged.
At the front the suspension uses a double wishbone arrangement with coil springs, with multi-link coil springs deployed at the back. Anti-roll bars are fitted at both ends of the vehicle, which sits on 17in alloy wheels. In our case they were shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/T 265/65R17 tyres.
Ventilated 290mm-diameter disc brakes are installed at the front, with a ventilated drum-in-300mm-disc set-up acting as the rear anchor. ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution comes as standard as does a stability and traction control system. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering provides a 10.0m turning circle.
Grossing at 2,665kg, Shogun 4Work can handle a 580kg gross payload and it can tow a braked trailer grossing at a usefully high 2,800kg.
Access to the 1.7m3 or thereabouts cargo bay is by means of a single, large, rear door hinged to the nearside whose exterior plays host to the alloy spare wheel. It’s a bit heavy as a consequence, but a full-size spare is essential for this type of vehicle.
It opens to reveal a load bay with sides that are well-protected against minor scratches and scrapes by a variety of plastic mouldings. Complete with a wash/wipe system and a heated window, the door itself is similarly defended to half its height — the trim incorporates a storage pocket — while the floor is covered by a fitted carpet.
Only two cargo tie-down points are provided. The only other thing likely to restrain wayward items from sliding forwards is the lip at the cab end of the load tray. A heavy duty steel mesh bulkhead is available as an option, but we decided to do without it. When fitted it’s impossible to reach through between the front to the load area to retrieve bits and pieces.
Good to see a 12v power point close to the rear door and to see that rails are provided should you want to use the roof to carry, say, a ladder. Don’t, however, exceed the 100kg roof-loading capacity.
Maximum load length is 1,290mm. Maximum width is 1,390mm, narrowing to 1,090mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,070mm. Rear loading height is high at 711mm, a consequence of the necessary ground clearance.
One of the big advantages of sitting behind the wheel of a 4x4 with high ground clearance is the commanding view you get of the road ahead. You may be able to improve it even further by adjusting the height and angle of the seat cushion; Shogun provides both facilities.
How about stowage space for all the bits and pieces that drivers carry around with them? You get shallow bins in each of the doors, a shelf beneath the switches for the climate control system — the air conditioning is remarkably effective — and a big, lockable, glovebox with a two-tier interior.
A large lidded bin between the seats with a lidded tray built into its lid gives you somewhere to stow your sandwich box and there’s a 12v power socket in the lower section. Unfortunately there’s nowhere handy to put a flask or a clipboard, but at least two cup-holders are provided.
Standard features include an MP3-compatible radio/CD player, electrically adjustable and heated mirrors — indicators are built into the mirror casings — driver and passenger airbags, a dash-mounted 12v power socket and a grab handle on both A pillars.
We were seriously impressed by just how much performance Shogun has on tap. Show it an incline and drop down a gear and it digs in nicely, forging ahead like a big, unstoppable house brick on wheels. It’s no slouch when it comes to high speed motorway cruising either, although we increasingly wished we had a sixth gear to play with. Reducing the cruising revs would surely help to increase fuel consumption on motorway runs?
It handles pretty well for a short-wheelbase high centre of gravity 4x4 too. You can corner with confidence so long as you remember just how far off the ground the centre of gravity is, and just so long as you can cope with the limited amount of feedback from the steering. Its cornering ability and overall stability come as a consequence of a stiffer chassis and an uprated suspension compared with its predecessor.
Noise levels are well controlled. You get a, not unpleasant, growl when you accelerate hard in low gear and that’s about it apart from the occasional whistle from the turbo and some bumping and thumping from the tyres. The engine can sound a bit ‘rough’ at start-up, but it soon smooths out once warmed through.
Off-highway all the torque on tap makes ploughing up rutted slopes a doddle and the amount of engine braking available make steep descents drama-free too. Almost nine inches of ground clearance and a decent degree of suspension articulation help prevent Shogun from grounding too often. Just make sure you don’t bash the side steps.
Fuel consumption during the Shogun’s 5,000+ miles in our hands averaged out at just a tad under 30mpg, very close to the 29.0 we returned with an earlier test vehicle. In conjunction with its 69 litre fuel tank this gives the Shogun 4Work a range of about 450 miles between visits to the diesel pumps.
Our long-termer was finished in metallic deep red paint for an extra £340 (excl VAT) and all Shoguns come with colour-keyed bumpers and door handles. Remote central locking comes as standard, as does an alarm.
Shogun is protected by a three-year unlimited-mileage warranty backed by a three-year pan-European roadside rescue package, and is covered by a 12-year anti-perforation corrosion warranty. Service intervals are set at 12,500 miles and the vehicle falls into insurance group 12D.
The light commercial version of the Shogun exudes strength and build quality. The driver has an overriding feeling of smugness because no matter what the weather or road conditions combine to throw up this vehicle stands a good chance of making it through safely. The engine is excellent and all we can think of that is missing is a sixth gear.