It is all-change at Mitsubishi Motors UK, with fresh management, exciting initiatives and a brand new 7-seat Shogun model, writes Iain Robertson, which might be the most important remaining aspect of a much-loved carmaker’s product remit.

Replacing the aeons-old Shogun model in Mitsubishi’s UK line-up is said to have been the toughest decision that the company has ever reached, since its first models made their marks on British soil. It has been a stalwart of the entire range. While imports have ceased of the full-size off-roader, a light is on the horizon in the form of a much-improved, more spacious, better equipped and dramatic new Shogun Sport.

An intriguing statistic arose at the launch exercise for the latest #Mitsubishi mid-sizer; of the 18,000-plus prior generation examples sold in the UK, remarkably, in excess of two-thirds of them remain in daily use. It might not read like a ground-breaking statement but it does underscore both the admiration owners have for the car, as well as its unashamed toughness and indefatigability, values that are pinnacle automotive achievements.

Complete with ‘Samurai’ styling elements, the new Shogun Sport exhibits a masterful display of entrancing good looks, allied to ‘Old Skool’ engineering. While the firm’s recent and smaller Eclipse Cross is unitary construction and drops directly into SUV currency, the Shogun Sport utilises a separate body-on-chassis, as it happens belonging to the L200, which not only results in a car production rarity these days (only the Toyota Land-Cruiser and Ssangyong Rexton are assembled similarly) but also serves to highlight Mitsubishi’s recognition of traditional 4×4 values, at a time when they are being largely ignored and forgotten by other manufacturers desperate to shoehorn themselves into the runaway SUV sector.

The ‘cart-springs’ of old have gone, replaced by wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension on coils and dampers, a technical aspect that grants the car a better, more compliant, on-road ride quality, while simultaneously enhancing its off-road resilience. The Shogun Sport has always been the people-carrying alternative to the L200 pickup truck, after all it is based on its same unbreakable chassis. I can perceive either Farmer Giles using his Shogun Sport to trailer livestock to market, or a modern family towing a double-axle caravan on holiday, as they use its outstanding 3.1-tonnes towing capacity to the satisfying max. Regardless, there is a niche in the UK that needs to be filled and, anticipating a modest response, Mitsubishi expects to sell around 3,000 examples, or 10% of the total niche, this year.

As to that people-moving mode, the new Shogun offers seats for up-to-seven, the rearmost pair being far more practical and accessible than any rival products; for starters, they can accommodate two adults, to make shooting parties a less compromising affair and Saturday five-a-sides a one car delight. Yet, whether unfurled into use, or remaining below the boot floor, there is also a commodious 512-litres of boot space that can be expanded to 1,488-litres, when the middle row is rolled forwards.

Yet, leather-clad luxury is also incorporated within the cosy but airy and comprehensively equipped cabin. Occupants want for no other creature comforts. Electric front seat adjustment enables both supportive and commanding driver and front passenger positions, while two models, priced from an important £37,775 (3+), carrying a £2,000 premium (4) for the raft of electronic safety and convenience package, ensure that Shogun’s list price remains at a taxation-friendly sub-£40k, prior to dealer discounts being applied.

While many SUVs make easy meat of soft-roading, the 4×4 variants adding ‘boondocks’ off-road accessibility, the Shogun Sport devours off-road challenges in its 8-speed auto-only (with paddle-shifters) guise. Deftly engineered approach, departure and breakover angles (30, 24.2 and 23.1 degrees respectively), aided by 218mm ground clearance, make the car as indomitable as it has ever been on the least forgiving of terrains and a four-position, electronic driving mode selector (sand, gravel, mud/snow and rock crawler), supported by hill descent control, hill-start holder and 360-degrees camera-view, allied to manually switchable differential locks, ensures that self-extrication is always available. This is a proper 4×4, for serious off-roading potential, even though ‘fiddling’ with the various switches can be mildly distracting, until familiarity occurs.

Its power comes from an all-aluminium turbo-diesel engine that displaces 2,442cc. It develops a useful 181bhp but a humungous 317lbs ft of torque that peaks at 2,500rpm. With its Official Combined fuel consumption average of 32.8mpg and CO2 emissions pegged at 227g/km, it is not exactly running in the eco-friendliest league but, then, it does tip the scales at 2.1-tonnes, so it is not exactly a lightweight. It means that a first year’s road tax is a whopping £2,070, although subsequent years are at the standard £140 rate; by keeping the list price below £40k, Mitsubishi has saved its customers the £450 six years’ premium that might otherwise apply.

A 68-litres fuel tank also ensures a tank-to-tank range in excess of 500-miles. A mental balance does need to be established between indefatigability, a need for punchy off-road performance, ranginess and people-lugging. Yet, the car’s performance stats are impressive, Shogun despatching the 0-60mph benchmark in a moderate 10.7s, with strong mid-range urge taking the car to a top speed of 112mph (we did manage an indicated 120mph on test). It does not require much more and a decent turning circle makes its overall manoeuvrability a delight around town.

Careful attention to the body design has improved Shogun’s aerodynamic performance, while the lower body incorporating side-skirts also ensures that ‘splashover’ from claggier, or watery, terrain is minimised. Incidentally, its wading capability is excellent. The Shogun also looks pleasingly different to potential rivals’ products.

There are some minor trade-offs to its broader capabilities and, while overall refinement is excellent and the car cruises readily, quietly and securely at motorway speeds, the big alloy wheels and fat tyres promote a mildly compromising degree of secondary ‘squish’ in the suspension that is noticeable when coursing along country lanes, although stability and grip levels remain excellent. The bottom-line with cars in this category is that it does what it sets out to do and Mitsubishi supports it with a five years, 62,500-miles warranty and 12,500-miles service intervals. As traditional Mitsubishi fans are all too aware, while the Shogun Sport is a niche product, it is also a most important one.

However, fresh management impetus at Mitsubishi Motors, thanks to the arrival of the brilliant Rob Lindley, as its managing director, whose CV includes stints at Ford, Mazda and Harley-Davidson in the UK, allied to the firm’s recent strategic alliance with Nissan-Renault, does herald a new dawn for the brand. There is no fear of Mitsubishi being subsumed by the bigger group, because its lengthy list of positive brand attributes is being clarioned afresh, although it is inevitable that some practical platform and technology sharing will occur with mass-market models.

A good example of pertinent market development includes Mitsubishi’s first retail store opening at intu Lakeside, an immensely popular shopping and leisure centre in SE England. The move places Mitsubishi directly into its customer’s focus. A new Outlander PHEV due soon will enhance the company’s relevance in the important electric SUV scene and the range will expand organically in coming years, as it settles more comfortably into its well-established skin.

Conclusion:   A ‘brand in the ascendant’ is not some wild claim for Mitsubishi in the UK, as it is rediscovering its ‘mojo’, which will be a good reason for brand fans to celebrate. Relying on traditional engineering qualities, Shogun Sport is a major step in the right direction.