– Manageable size
– Large flexible cabin
– Car-like driveability
– Knee-bumping centre console
– Road noise at highway speeds
– Hard plastic interior trim
The Middle East market has never been friendly territory for minivans. In this part of the world, minivans are considered either hotel transportation or cargo hauler, even though their actual primary function is as a multi-purpose family vehicle. Instead, people here are obsessed with big petrol-hungry 4WDs that intimidate more humble road users and never even touch sand with their tyres. And the fact that most minivans don’t look that good either doesn’t help their cause. But if we were to hold a beauty contest to determine the hottest-looking minivan ever, the Mitsubishi Grandis would be the winner hands down. Of course, Mitsubishi refuses to call it a minivan, but that is another story.
With a dance of angles making up the headlights, a swoop of curves shaping up the hood and a trail of LEDs lighting up the tail, the Grandis looks like no other van on the road. If this much detailing went into Mitsubishi’s other cars, they’d have a line of cars rivalling BMW in audacity. Built on a dedicated front-wheel-drive platform, the Grandis caters to the midsize minivan segment, so it is visibly smaller than offerings like the Toyota Previa and the Chrysler Grand Voyager. It features four forward-opening doors and a rear upward-opening tailgate, making it more car-like than those bigger vans with heavy sliding rear doors.
The Grandis rides a little higher than a proper car, so old people have a little trouble climbing on, but once in, passengers are treated to an airy interior thanks to 360 degrees of window area. The front passengers are greeted with an attractive dashboard the size of a dining table, with a lump in the centre housing the gear shifter along with the a/c controls, stereo and some storage spaces. The front is home to two slightly-bucketed seats with proper armrests, and is comfortable to loaf in while cruising along. Interior space is abundant, but we encountered a severe flaw with this setup that could put off some buyers. The central lump housing the shifter is so wide that we found our knees resting on it. Eliminating this issue requires the driver to move the seat some way back, while very tall people might prefer to sit in the back. The back indeed is a very comfortable place to be in, as the whole second row bench can be moved front and back to increase or decrease legroom as needed. It is more cramped in the third row with the second row moved some way back, and some clumsy people might have trouble slithering into that space, but it is perfectly fine for shorter people and kids. The second and third rows can be split and folded easily to increase luggage space enough to rival a walk-in closet, while the third row can even be made to flip backwards to make a nice sofa while the tailgate is open. In fact, it is possible to lay all the seats flat to create a makeshift bed, among the other endless possibilities. With all the three rows in use, there is enough luggage space for maybe one big suitcase, but for 7 passengers too. Only dual front airbags are standard, but side bags may be available as options later.
The interior materials are sturdy, and the cabin is well built, but every touchable surface is made of hard plastic, although designers did thoughtfully add padded armrests on the doors. We would’ve preferred more soft-touch surfaces in a family-oriented vehicle, but to be fair, we also experienced the same plastic treatment in the last Honda 4WD we tested. There are cup holders all over, including for the third row. The seats were made of patterned cloth and all of them were manually adjustable. Indeed, the Grandis is devoid of overly luxurious features, except for the obligatory power windows, mirrors and keyless entry. Our test vehicle was a basic early model with a no rear a/c or even a stereo, but the actual version on sale comes standard with rear a/c complete with separate controls, while the stereo is a simple radio cassette player with 4 speakers. Options currently include 16-inch alloy wheels and front fog lights, both of which we heartily recommend to enhance visual appeal, and we were told that badly needed luxurious options will be available for 2007, such as dual sunroofs, leather, CD changer and more.
The Grandis is powered by the 160 hp 2.4-litre 4-cylinder MIVEC engine shared with the Outlander 4WD, which is not enough to move the beefy Grandis with any real verve under full throttle, but the torque curve is beautifully spread, peaking at 217 Nm, leading to excellent low-end pick-up in traffic situations. Engine vibrations can be felt slightly at idle, but is very smooth and refined under throttle and while cruising. The 4-speed automatic shifts very smoothly and can even be shifted manually using up and down motions of the console-mounted gear lever. The Mitsubishi auto gearbox is definitely one of the better self-shifting trannies we’ve tested, even if it only has four speeds. There is also a five-speed manual available, but it is discontinued for 2007 since no one wants to stick-shift a minivan. Fuel economy is similar to any 4-cylinder four-door midsize, but the fuel tank is relatively small for such a long-distance cruiser.
Every once in a while, we come across a vehicle that shatter our preconceived notions and surprises us with uncanny abilities. The Grandis is one of those vehicles, proving to us that a minivan does not need to drive like one. Weighing only a little more than a fully-loaded midsize sedan, the Grandis handles every bit as well as cars like the Toyota Camry. There is a fair amount of body roll, but no more than any softly-sprung family car, and it offers a good amount of grip, letting us take corners as confidently fast as a sedan. Its taller centre of gravity does not seem to come into play at all, while providing all the advantages of a higher driving position. We even pulled off some handbrake slides, which usually reveal vibrations due to weak construction, but this platform is stiff and the body is tight, while the oversteer is handled with car-like stability. A jacked-up 4WD would just roll over.
Straight-line highway cruising is comfortable for the most part. Bumps are soaked up with ease, but severe imperfections on high-speed roads lead to a perceptible amount of suspension travel as the vehicle smoothly bounces over the annoyance. Wind nose is not as big of an issue as road noise, and the rumble of the tyres does not make a welcome replacement for an inactive stereo. The ABS-assisted four-wheel disc brakes are pretty good, with a decent amount of pedal feel. Around town, the Grandis is very manoeuvrable thanks to its reasonable size, good all-round visibility and well-placed mirrors. The light steering makes it easy to park this minivan using just a few fingers to turn the wheel, and we didn’t even sweat it while backing up into thin parking spaces.
We wish minivans were respected more in this region, instead of being thought of as company transportation driven by low-paid drivers. While driving around, we were subjected to mild road rage from all sorts of scum, including bored taxi drivers. We of course did our part in keeping these people in their place, which is in our rear-view mirror. Someone even clipped our tester and drove away when it was parked. The fact that our Grandis only suffered paint damage and nothing else is a testament to its durability. The clipped bumper just popped back out, good as new and ready for some touch-up paint treatment.
The Grandis could easily have become a benchmark for the minivan segment. With attractively original styling and car-like drivability, it has become our favourite long-distance people carrier. While the lack of luxury features is addressed for the 2007 model year, the knee-bumping dash shifter console is the only thing we’d like to change in a vehicle designed for space above all else. Otherwise, the Grandis is as stylish as it gets in the minivan market.