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January 31, 2006

Review: 2006 Mitsubishi L200 Strada GLX

I’ve got this soft spot when it comes to Mitsubishi off-roaders. Call them crude, but there’s something—either with their stance or look that simply makes them ruggedly beautiful.  This is especially true with the likes of the first L200 and Pajero that became Filipino favorites.  Even today, the amount of L200 that you still see plying the roads is a testament to their excellent durability.  As the years past through, these modern day workhorses soon became overfed and overweight.  Soon, the Strada (as what the 4WD model is now called), the L200 gained all sorts of fender extensions, needless interior knickknacks and other hefty accessories that simply penalized performance (if the 2.5-liter 4D56 engine wasn’t already being pushed to its limits).

Now on what could be its swansong year, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines has recognized the Strada’s rather substantial weight gain and decided that this pick-up needed to go to the gym.  The net result is the Strada GLX Double Cab.  From a glance, the Strada is a testament to simplicity—no more fender flares, sensors, automatic this and automatic that.  Even the rear bumper comes as an accessory.  And it’s beautiful.  It manages to bring back the days when pick-ups were simply pick-ups: modern day beasts of burden that’s supposed to haul lots of stuff—everything else is secondary.  Still, the Strada GLX Double Cab manages to be butch with its squared-off frame, large multi-reflector headlamps and the trademark turbo hood scoop.  There are some interesting details here and there such as the single pen stroke line that runs from the front fender all the way to the bed and the white-out combination lamps.  Being 2006 though, Mitsubishi still gave the Strada GLX some decisively modern (if not expected) cosmetic enhancements: chromed mirrors, fat 15-inch steel wheels with 205/80 R 16 all-terrain rubber and a built-in black sidestep board (improving ingress/egress too).

Like its exterior, the Strada GLX’s interior is a mix of the past and the present.  Overall though, the ergonomics is beginning to show its age with an awkward driving position (more of the steering wheel angle) and the lack of minute seating adjustments (it only moves in four directions).  Except for people with large frames, the seats themselves are quite comfortable with the perfect balance of support and bolstering.  The rubber/fabric combination and see-through headrests also lend the interior a degree of sportiness—perfect for those who’re dreaming of running the Dakar rally.  The beautiful seats aside, the Strada GLX’s interior is pretty basic with just the Kenwood Stereo/CD/MP3 sound system as the major highlight.  Again, the controls and switches are all basic but at least they’re easy to understand and operate.  The ventilation controls though could have at least benefited from rotary rather than slide switches as the latter’s clumsy to use.

Since the 2006 Strada GLX is still underpinned by the original L200’s platform, expect almost the same characteristics with pick-ups of yesteryear.  The ride is unforgiving even on paved grounds, even more so when the going gets rough.  Passengers will feel like being tugged up and down, like an airplane encountering turbulence (only worse).  Likewise, drinks stored on the center console mounted cup holders will find its way onto the dash and carpet in no time.  The rear passengers, who sit almost 90 degrees, will find the ride even harsher and bare metal b-pillar (as opposed to a plastic covered one) will surely cause more head lumps.

Handling is pretty much middle-of-the-road for the Strada GLX with the usual corpulent amounts of understeer and body roll.  However, with its narrower body, it’s actually easier to maneuver around in traffic and to park.  Visibility is quite excellent too with expansive greenhouse and side view mirrors.  Perhaps the Strada’s only weakness is its somewhat larger turning radius—a surprising fact given the Strada’s very manageable body size.

Under the hood, the Strada GLX is equipped with the 2.5-liter 4D56 engine with intercooler.  This guarantees that even though the Strada GLX is basic in comfort and convenience features, it doesn’t fall short in performance.  100 bhp and 235 Nm of torque are modest figures, but behind the wheel the Strada manages quite well.  It can easily keep up with most cars on the road, reaching 100 km/h in no time.  But like any other vehicle that’s built for hauling (i.e. acceleration) rather than top speed, a seemingly invisible barrier will heed progress beyond 120 km/h.  The 5-speed manual is easily likeable with refreshingly short stroke between gears and a relatively precise shifting action.  It’s still no sports car, but it will not cause any crunched gears or missed shifts.  The clutch too is easy to modulate, with just the lack of a foot rest the only problem.  The gearbox also incorporates Mitsubishi’s Easy Select 4WD system which allows shifting from 2WD to 4WD on the fly.

Even though there are far more technologically superior and larger pick-ups out there, there are still some people who find the simplicity of the Strada GLX appealing.  And I’m one of them.  I still find the ride too stiff and the turning radius too big, but beyond the bed liners and body kits, it’s the Strada’s mechanical soundness that makes it a winner.  It must be remembered that pick-ups aren’t mere status symbols but were designed and engineered for hauling and towing, and there’s no other pick-up out there that fulfills this singular mindset than the Strada GLX.

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