Mitsubishi's new pick-up isn't just for self-employed builders, says Ashley Hollebone

The four-wheel-drive pick-up has always been an important vehicle to Mitsubishi. It is its biggest-selling model, ranking higher than the famously fast Evo and the cutely styled Colt hatchback. This is the latest version of Mitsubishi's "utility" vehicle, designated the L200, although you may know the type better by the aggressive-sounding names of the trim levels often emblazoned on it - Animal and Warrior.

The old pick-up was a pretty unadventurous-looking thing. But this latest one appears more bold and modern, a little as if Nasa had had a hand in its design. Its chassis, electronic stability control system, engine and interior are all new.

Mitsubishi is now heavily marketing the Warrior, long favoured by the self-employed for its tax breaks, as a "lifestyle vehicle", with an eye on tapping the lucrative SUV market (where its Shogun model doesn't have quite the cachet it once did). Nissan has been doing something similar with the Navara pick-up, pushing the idea that the thing is designed to carry quad bikes and surfboards rather than hardcore and shovels.

So, the top-of-the-range Mitsubishi L200 Elegance crew-cab model comes with leather all over the place, a DVD player, satellite navigation, traction control, multi-CD changer and air conditioning. Not so much a utility model any more, then. And if you don't fancy changing gear for yourself, you'll be pleased to learn that auto transmission is standard on the Elegance, but will set you back a further £800 on all of the other models.

The double-cab Elegance model comes in at £19,999, which is a lot of truck for the money. I liked the simple dash with its pleasing controls and easy-to-use audio system. For the sake of fun, and extreme conditions, there's also an altimeter and a compass included within the vehicle's digital display.

OK, it's big and there's lots of kit and it looks wacky, but is it safe? Well, it does have traction control. I tried it out in the safe environment of a disused airfield.

This is how you see if it works. Nail your foot to the accelerator and throw the wheel over as hard as you like and as many times as you like - and you'll be amazed that you're not looking up at the sky. All that weight and it won't roll?

It's not allowed to, you see. A computer works out the lateral G-forces from suspension movements and then tells the engine how much power it can give out - if the car's brain thinks it can't handle the request made by its driver, then it simply won't let it get into the situation. Even at full throttle around a tight circle of cones, the one-tonne truck still would not break out. How well all this wizardry will last, given the harsh treatment such working vehicles go through, remains to be seen.

In the real world, it's not going to be driven like that and, electronic gizmos or not, it's clear that the suspension and chassis have been improved over previous models. But don't let a salesman talk you into believing that the stability control system means the L200 will never roll over. You simply can't play around with the laws of physics and good old gravity. Trying to make a car idiot-proof can create a false sense of security, but this is an impressive feature and highlights the notable recent improvements to chassis and steering in this class of vehicle, which was once notorious for barge-like road-holding.

The 134bhp variant is without question a great engine - it's as fast as you would want in a vehicle such as this. Acceleration is lively, and the new common- rail 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine produces 17 per cent more power than its predecessor and, more important, 26 per cent better fuel economy. An average of 33mpg is claimed, but that would depend on the driving conditions.

Super Select 4WD is yet another new feature of the L200. This system allows the driver to change from two-wheel to four-wheel drive while moving at 70mph. Once in 4WD, the turning circle is very good, and in 2WD, it rivals that of a hatchback. Steering has improved due to a rack-and-pinion setup that results in much more car-like behaviour.

With the traction control turned off and 4WD low-range selected, I decided that it was time to go off-road and get muddy. The truck performs very well indeed here; even as a rear passenger you have nothing to sacrifice in terms of comfort, with plenty of leg and headroom. The deeper the mud and the bigger the bumps and dips became, the better the car did.

Mitsubishi is hoping that this will be the first one-tonne truck to gain a four-star EuroNCAP crash test rating. In manual form, 62mph comes up in 14.6 seconds, with a top speed of over 100mph, depending upon how quickly you need to deliver the hardcore/get to the beach. The Animal variant comes with a 160bhp upgrade, although unless you are towing a full payload, you certainly would not require that option when the standard 134bhp engine is a fine unit.

On the whole, the new L200 is a good vehicle. In fact, it is the best in its class for what it is. Nissan's Navara is the key rival, but if you're in the market for something like this, my money's on Mitsubishi's Warrior variant. It just seems bolder, smarter, more practical and more refined.

The L200 comes with a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty and is priced from £12,249 to £19,999.

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