MITSUBISHI'S Challenger offers an intriguing conundrum, always has. What would be the appeal, for example, of a SUV using the underpinnings of a commercial-grade vehicle? And why would you include it in a fleet that featured the Pajero, which is cut from the same mould?
Yet, it remains there or thereabouts finding favour in equal measure with families that like the work-horse capability of the Triton but the body of a wagon or by those who are not swayed by the comforts of soft-roaders preferring instead the Challenger's prowess off the bitumen.
Mitsubishi has trimmed and simplified the line, dropping the two-wheel drive version and seven-seat options as well as the top-of-the-range XLS. The Challenger is now available in two-entry models and an up-spec LS choice.
Inside, the Challenger is quite utilitarian, almost stark really. Function quite obviously outdoes form here but there is surprisingly a certain comfort to that.
Plastics are harder than they should be and the sat-nav and radio surrounds feel quite cheap but dials and buttons are large and sturdy and cleverly, exactly where it would make sense to find them.
The driving position is excellent - you sit perched high above the traffic with the instrumentation unobstructed and steering wheel comfortable under hand.
There is head and leg room aplenty for both rows but while the rear seat is a bit flat, as is often the case with vehicles of this sort, it is rather a more comfortable journey for occupants in the front. Seats are supportive and nicely bolstered holding you in even on the rough bits.
There are plenty of easily accessible storage compartments, all sensible in size, so you can easily fit the coffee, water, phone as well as the kids' Little Pets collection.
The boot is impressive, so much so that I actually had to climb inside to anchor the car seats instead of just stretching over and it offers up more than 1800 litres with the second row stowed.
On the road
The Challenger takes most of its underpinnings and driveline from the Mitsubishi Triton and this is largely reflected in its on-road performance.
The feel is all commercial strength rather than family wagon but strangely enough it remains a comfortable ride. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine does a great job in powering the Challenger even under load. It takes a while to get going - and is loud to boot - but once under way it is quick to speed and easier on the ears too.
The soft suspension coupled with power under foot and rigid diff can make for some interesting moments until you become au fait with its language.
The Challenger drifts noticeably around corners and large steering turns from lock-to-lock calls for some nifty work around tight traffic circles and busy city roads yet it is quite accomplished in tricky shopping centre car parks.
It is let down by a five-speed gearbox well past its prime and it almost forces the Challenger to take a breath and gather itself before the gear changes.
Take it off-road and the plodding elephant shows an agility and finesse that will surprise.
Our course was not that frightful but the Challenger still made short work of fussy inclines and rocky climbs and with a 36-degree approach angle and 24-degree departure angle it is quite obvious that this country faithful would stand up to a much more rigorous workout.
Four-wheel drive capability here is very real and is available courtesy of a Super Select 4WD system, which allows on-the-fly changes up to 100kmh.
There is also centre and rear diff locks and low range and a handy braked three-tonne towing capacity.
What do you get?
According to Mitsubishi the price increase of between $1000-$2000 on this model has improved standard features and inclusions in our entry-level edition listed amongst others cruise and climate control, 15.5cm touch-screen with reverse camera, rear air vents and Bluetooth with voice commands.
The LS adds leather seats, auto wipers, power adjustable seats, cargo blind, 17.7cm-inch touch-screen with 3D sat-nav and six speakers instead of four.
Safety is four-star rather than the preferred five but does include six airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, side door impact beams and a reinforced impact safety evolution body.
Diesel rivals number the Toyota Prado (from $55,990) or the Holden Colorado 7 (from $46,990), as well as the softer Ford Territory AWD (from $48,240), Subaru Outback (from $40,490) and Hyundai Santa Fe (from $41,490).
Losing the versatility of seven seats will hurt the Challenger's modest figures but it still presents as a family option with real-world off-road capability.
It is spacious, comfortable and fairly easy to manoeuvre and also offers good visibility and an accommodating price-point.
It is pretty awkward for kids and older people to get in and out of however while the stark interior may not be to everyone's taste.
Official figures have the manual at 8.3 litres/100km and 9.8 litres/100km for our auto. Mitsubishi offers a five-year/130,000km warranty with capped price servicing for four years.
The exterior of the Challenger has been spruced up a bit with new headlights and grille as well as restyled front bumper and tail lights. It can appear gangly and awkward but we like the height, rugged nature and proud nose.
What matters most
What we liked: Off-road performance, spacious cabin, large boot.
What we'd like to see: Five-star safety, seven-seat option.
Warranty and servicing: Five-year/130,000 kilometre warranty, four years fixed-price servicing. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km. Average price is $525.
Model: Mitsubishi Challenger LS.
Details: Five-door four-wheel-drive large SUV.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder common-rail direct injection diesel generating maximum power of 131kW at 4000rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 1800rpm.
Consumption: 9.8 litres/100km combined average.
Bottom line plus on-roads: LS $49,990.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.