24 January 1997


Toyotas market-leading Hilux takes on the updated Mitsubishi L200 in this months comparative test. Andrew Pearce and Andrew Faulkner do the driving

THERE never was a lot wrong with Mitsubishis old 4WD L200, except a hard ride and a lack of loadbed length. But import quotas meant it never sold in the same volumes as the Hilux. Toyota always had 20%-50% of a small UK market, whereas the Mitsubishi alternative has only recently bettered 10%.

Well, quotas are disappearing and the new L200 aims to reverse the league tables. Built in Thailand, its got more space, more power, more load capacity and a smoother shape than the old one. Can it upset the current king?

Powertrains, noise, economy

Toyota steadfastly refuses to turbocharge the UK-spec Hiluxs 2.4-litre diesel, so it sticks with 78hp and 120lbf ft torque. Thats adequate, but long hills peg the motor back and it droops given much cargo or a heavy trailer.

Once revs have drained away under load they tend to stay that way. But kept spinning, the engine is OK – diesel rasp is muted and the odd boom period soon passes. Cruising big roads is best done at the legal limit or significantly faster, as drone fills the cab in between.

The Hilux is happiest if youre not in a rush, scoring points with a light clutch and gearbox, and reasonable 27mpg economy.

The turbocharged L200 was always a lively drive, and by adding an intercooler Mitsubishi has lifted output to 98hp and 177lbf ft torque. But vehicle weight has climbed too, so the new L200 doesnt feel that much different to the old; less crisp if anything.

But its well ahead of the Hilux – faster on acceleration, stronger at any point in the rev range and much more willing to fight its corner under load. True, you can temporarily embarrass the engine with too much throttle at low speed, but given a little consideration it pulls hard from 1500rpm. Transmissions are equally easy work to use. The L200s rattle, boom and wind rush are on a par with a Shogun-style 4×4, making travel quieter than in the buzzing but bearable Hilux. But youll pay a little more for the L200s extra performance; consumption over 500miles averaged 25.8mpg.

Interiors, load space

As always you hop up into the Toyota then slide sideways between a fixed steering wheel and low slung seat.

Once in place, your legs are pretty horizontal. Its a routine you soon get used to, and theres plenty of space alongside the clutch pedal to stretch a limb.

By contrast you drop more easily into the L200s harder, more profiled chairs and sit more naturally at the height-adjustable wheel. But youll soon find a major comfort shortcoming – theres no space in the footwell to slide your left boot past the clutch pedal.

The L200 goes the carpet and curves route, putting soft stuff underfoot and a chubby, flowing 90s dashboard up front. That deep dash robs cab space compared with the Hiluxs tidy but older-fashioned offering, though it (and the backlit controls) do bring a cosier feel to the interior.

The Hilux hits back on storage space and farming practicality with a centre cubby box and plastic flooring, but keeps its slightly recalcitrant umbrella handbrake. Both pickups stay simple with manual windows and mirrors, though the L200 stretches to a revcounter.

Mitsubishi saves its biggest punch for the load bay. An extra 405mm (16in) makes the new L200s bed 75mm (3in) longer than the Hiluxs, though all other dimensions are similar. Payload sails past the Toyotas, too, (1200kg against 975kg) and towing capacity is 100kg better at 2200kg.

On detailing Mitsubishi edges ahead again, adding a rope rail outside the Hilux-equivalent, decent-sized hooks.

Less good news is that loading heights are within a gnats of each other. So the pickups John Wayne image extracts a price; even a tall man has trouble heaving weight over the sides, and a short one puffs to get something heavy up to the tailgate. Why oh why, etc…

Ride, steering, brakes

Comfort has never featured much in Hilux travel. Stiff leaf springs at both ends make it hop and jitter on motorway tarmac, and positively pogo over more serious stuff.

The new L200 uses the same leaf/torsion bar mix as the old, only with the knobbliness knocked out. Now only big craters kick hard enough to remind you its a one-tonne pickup. The rest of the time the ride might not be butter-smooth, but even unladen its always much gentler than the Toyota.

Neither truck rolls much in corners, and they both readily spin the inside rear wheel if fed too much power. The test Hiluxs steering was better than others weve driven. Though needing little effort, it still felt as though a large rubber band had been inserted between the wheel and tarmac.

The L200s lighter, more positive system is more relaxing and makes the car easier to drive quickly – something the motor encourages. Dont expect either to turn on a sixpence, for locks are hopeless.

On braking (discs and drums on both) the Toyota wins thanks to better progressiveness, though its stopping power feels lower than the stronger-servoed Mitsubishi.

Off road

Both pickups have part-time 4WDand no centre diff. Toyota drivers either have to get out and fiddle with manual front hubs or leave them locked, so most probably leave them.

L200 owners can stay in the warm, but will need to shift into 2wd and turn the motor off before their auto-locking front hubs disengage. Swapping between 2wd and 4WD on-the-go is easy in the Hilux, whereas initially the L200 newcomer must come to a stop to get those auto hubs in. After that, theres no problem.

Engines differences stay the same. The Hilux pulls well as long as its motor is spinning, but once revs dip below a crucial point it wont come back. On steep banks that can be tricky if youve been over-optimistic with gear choice.

The L200 is much sharper when booted hard so can pull higher gears, yet theres still useful effort off-boost. In extremes the Hiluxs better ground clearance and longer axle travel give it a positive edge, but even here its not completely home and dry – the oppositions standard rear diff lock will sometimes push it on where the Toyota spins to a stop.

The verdict:Market leader or not, time seems to have stood still for the Hilux.

Although still a good buy with that big load bay, decent cab and high build quality, it needs to be updated soon if its to keep top spot. The revamped L200 outscores it in almost all departments. Performance, noise, ride, comfort and payload are all better – usually significantly so – and it costs marginally less. To sell like hot cakes, all the newcomer needs is a Toyota badge on the bonnet.

&#8226 Model: Mitsubishi L200 4wd

&#8226 Engine size: 2.5 litres, 98hp

&#8226 Transmission: Five-speed manual

&#8226 Drive: Part-time 4wd

&#8226 Brakes: Disc/drum

&#8226 Suspension: Torsion bar/leaf

&#8226 Weight: 1630kg basic (3593lb)

&#8226 Towing capacity:200kg


&#8226 Warranty: 3yr/100,000miles

&#8226 Price: £13,200 (ex VAT)

The revamped Mitsubishi (right) beats or equals the Hilux on bed space.

Above: Big boot crisis. The L200 has no space alongside the clutch to park your leg – the Hilux however has a proper foot rest. Right: A rail backs up the L200s useful set of hooks; the Hilux just has the latter.

Above left: Single bonnet nostril takes air to L200s intercooler. Depending on your point of view, it either makes the truck look like a nasally-challenged pheasant or an American muscle car. Above right: This axle-twister just lifted the L200s back wheel clear of the ground. In the same spot the Hilux stayed in closer contact and elsewhere showed more ground clearance. However the L200s rear diff-lock gives it an advantage.

&#8226 Model: Toyota Hilux 4WD

&#8226 Engine size: 2.4 litres, 78hp

&#8226 Transmission: Five-speed manual

&#8226 Drive: Part-time 4wd

&#8226 Brakes: Disc/drum

&#8226 Suspension: Leaf all round

&#8226 Weight: 1540kg (3395lb)

&#8226 Towing capacity: 2100kg (4630lb)

&#8226 Warranty: 3yr/60,000miles

&#8226 Price: £13,420 (ex VAT)

More here tomorrow

Mitsubishi importers the Colt Car Company say that L200 supply will be limited initially as the Thai factory has to serve a world market. It expects around 1000 UK sales in 1997.

Above left: Deep, swirling dash and carpet underfoot make the Mitsubishi L200 cab cosy if not completely practical… Above right: …whereas plastic flooring and a plainer, workmanlike fascia mark out the Hilux Toyota equivalent.

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