In the last few decades, pickup truck sales have soared in the UK. As the cost of motoring gets more expensive and tough looks get ever more popular, pickups have exploited the niche perfectly, with low rates of tax and roughnready styling.
The L200 is the UKs best-selling pickup, and weve been testing one for a week to answer three questions. One: Whats it like to live with? Two: Is it a car, or a commercial vehicle? And three: Should you trade in your current car for one? Read on to discover the answers
To say the L200 Barbarian Black is a Marmite car would probably be understating the polarising looks. To some, itll be the best vehicle theyve ever seen, and theyll swoon over the aggressive nose with its mesh grille, the black paintwork, matte black stickers, matte black 17-inch alloy wheels, matte black roof, blacked-out windows, and black everything else.
To others, itll be the most tasteless, pig-headed, this-embodies-everything-thats-wrong-with-society ugly brute theyve ever set eyes on. For these people, the L200 is reserved a special level of hatred, shared only with the now-extinct Hummer, people who wear fur coats, and Steven Segal movies.
In our time with the car, impressions were mainly positive, and the word behemoth was used on more than one occasion. Its certainly big, and theres masses of ground clearance that makes you feel like it could handle any terrain you throw at it.
As such a polarising beast, it actually becomes something quite enticing to have parked outside, particularly if you get a kick from turning a few heads.
In an attempt to make the L200 more car-like, Mitsubishi has crammed all manner of gadgets into the interior of the top-spec Barbarian Black. Leather seats, integrated satellite navigation, illuminated kick plates and electric windows and mirrors all feature, and you also get a reversing camera – handy, given the vast expanses of metal behind you.
Combined with the accessory hard top, those vast expanses make rearward visibility borderline non-existent, but between camera and mirrors theres enough of a view to avoid squashing small vehicles. The lack of guidelines on the rear camera display does make precisely judging the cars extremities tricky, though.
Happily, visibility is much better out of the front and side windows, where youll appreciate the lofty driving position. The leather seats are suitably soft and theres reasonable adjustment, so most should be able to find a comfortable compromise. Space in the back is good too, though the middle seat is only an occasional perch.
Plastics err towards the nasty side of cheap, but they all feel tough enough to stand up to years of abuse, and after stepping in and out of posh, pristine interiors, theres a certain satisfaction to be had clambering into the cabin with muddy boots, knowing you can simply remove the sturdy rubber mats and hose them down. The L200 is a car of simple pleasures.
Luggage space naturally isn’t an issue, with two caveats: One, that you spend money on one of the many load bed covers that Mitsubishi offers, and two, that you don’t mind your shopping sliding around the vast load area.
Once upon a time, virtually every off-road vehicle was constructed as the L200 is today – a ladder-frame chassis, with a body bolted on top. The L200 even has leaf springs at the rear, a hundreds of years-old concept still used when heavy loads are required – itll carry a metric tonne, and tow up to 2,700kg of braked trailer.
Its simple, robust, easy to mend and inexpensive to produce, but lacks the sophistication and refinement found on more modern monocoque vehicles.
And that pretty much sums up how the L200 feels to drive. Its easy to dismiss terms such as car-like when applied to large off-roaders, until you drive something like the L200 and realise just how car-like Range Rovers, BMW X5s and others really are.
Thats not to say the L200 is unpleasant, quite the opposite, but the bumpy ride quality, shudders through the frame and truck-like steering may all come as a bit of a shock if youre trading up from a regular car, or trading across from a less rufty-tufty SUV.
Grip levels are relatively low despite the wide tyres, but unless you turn off the traction control and boot the throttle on a wet roundabout, the most youll ever have to deal with is steady, persistent understeer. And frankly, in a car as tall as the L200, it feels safer that way.
The steering is entirely feel-free and seemingly has the steering ratio of the Black Pearl, but its light to use and theres enough lock to squeeze out of tight spots. Combined with the good forward visibility and automatic gearbox in our car, the L200 was a doddle to thread around town and made a grim, raining journey up the M62 almost tolerable.
Yet more evidence of the L200s relative lack of sophistication can be found under the bonnet. 2.5 litres in capacity, four cylinders and fuelled by diesel, it rattles away like a goodun under hard acceleration – a silky-smooth modern diesel it is not. On the plus side, all Barbarian models get a more powerful, 175-horsepower version of the regular 2.5.
Its also quieter at idle, and theres so much torque available – 258 lb ft at 1,800rpm – that the auto gearbox rarely feels the need to let the engine venture too far up the rev range. Even at these low revs theres plenty of performance on offer, and when you do sink pedal to rubber mat, overtaking is a brief and easy affair. 0-62mph takes 13 seconds.
The gearbox can occasionally hunt between ratios around town, but from around 50mph onwards the torque converter locks and a squeeze of the pedal results in forward motion as well as just an increase in noise.
Subjectively, and perhaps importantly for the sort of people who may be interested in the L200, the slightly agricultural nature of the engine does suit the cars character.
Value for money
Theres no getting around it, but 29,158 for our L200 Barbarian Black with an automatic box is a little eye-watering, and thats before you throw in the 216 plastic load bed liner, 1,753 Grand Top hard top and 90 for front and rear rubber mats. That all brings the total to 31,217
Of course, if youre using the L200 for business purposes you wont pay 20% VAT on everything, which makes for a more palatable 26,015. That still seems like a fair whack, but actually its no more than youd pay for a mid-range Outlander, so you can see the benefits for business buyers. Move down to the regular Barbarian model (which still gets leather and plenty of toys), lose the auto box, and youll pay only 22,899 pre-VAT.
Belying the cars commercial roots, youre not granted anything so posh as a trip computer, so an accurate estimation of fuel consumption is tricky. Official urban is 26.6mpg, extra urban is 35.8mpg, and combined is a claimed 32.1mpg. Manual versions see 4-5mpg improvements on these numbers. Our test suggested a tank range of 500 miles, which equates to around 30 mpg from the 16.5 gallon tank.
The Barbarian Black sits in a relatively low group 11 for insurance, and gets a flat Euro 5 Light Goods Vehicle tax rate of 135 per year. The warranty covers the first 3 years or 100,000 miles, and theres 12 years of anti-perforation warranty for the body. All of those should make it significantly cheaper to run than the equivalent SUV or crossover.
After a week with the L200, we reckon we have pretty good answers to our three initial questions.
Whats it like to live with? Good fun, we think. The lack of sophistication is almost endearing, and the car exudes a toughness both to look at and when driving it that makes you feel invincible. Perhaps this is why theyre often driven so aggressively
Is it a car, or a commercial vehicle? The latter, despite all the trinkets. Its also a very expensive commercial vehicle if you play fast and loose with the options list, at which point competition gets a lot tougher. However, its car-like enough that it would still make a good family vehicle, and the importance of wipe-clean seats and hose-down mats cant be underplayed. Nor can all those commercial vehicle running costs and tax breaks.
Should you trade in your current car for one? Possibly. If you have a sense of adventure, enjoy outdoorsy activities, want a car with plenty of form and function and dont mind the roly-poly handling, its an engaging alternative to some of the more limp-wristed soft-roaders on the market. But those alternatives are probably easier to live with, day to day.
What the press think
The L200s overall buzzScore is just a fraction off our own rating, at 6.9. Ratings for the Barbarian are a little higher, reflecting how positive reviewers are about the cars tough image and extra equipment.
All warn that its definitely truck-like to drive, though reviewers do praise the ease by which it can be hustled along, particularly with the automatic transmission. Test-drive before you buy to make sure you can put up with the way it drives, but if you can, it comes recommended.