Mitsubishi is back in the van market after a six year hiatus, thanks largely to the fact that the company is now part of the Renault-Nissan- Mitsubishi Alliance, a factor which has given it access to Renault’s Trafic van as the basis for  the new reborn Mitsubishi Express. We take a look at the new van.

The differences between the Mitsubishi and the Renault vans is minimal and is pretty much confined to a new grille, bonnet and badging and a delete option on the steel bulkhead which separates the cargo area from the front passenger cockpit. Apart from  that the Mitsubishi has a distinctly French accent and Australia is the first market to get the Trafic rebadged as a Mitsubishi Express.

When the company became a part of the Alliance four years ago local Mitsubishi product chief Owen Thomson  was quickly putting his hand up for a version of the Trafic,  because since the demise of the Express in early 2014 the company has been hurting when it came to light commercial fleets. Mitsubishi does well with its Triton ute  in the fleet business and has found itself missing out on deals with out a van.

“Most fleets of less than 100 light commercials are made up of around 50 per cent light vans, so it is a reasonable slab of business that we wanted to be a part of again,” said Owen Thomson.

Mitsubishi was  always a very strong player in the light van market and so without one it has been missing out on a chunk of sales, albeit potentially a smaller slice of what has become an even more competitive market since it left.  With the arrival of a new version of the market leading Toyota HiAce van, the strong performance of Renault’s Trafic, Peugeot’s re-entry to the segment with its Expert, the surge in sales for Hyundai’s ever improving ad very capable iLoad models and Ford’s popular and extremely capable Transit and so on. Most of those models were either not there when the Express was last sold here or were bit players in the market.

Asked how it will differentiate  the Express from the Renault model it is sourced from and Owen Thomson says Mitsubishi has a much bigger and more established dealer network while the Express will carry a five year warranty compared with the three year warranty offered on the Renault.

While pricing will be very similar between the two brands, Mitsubishi says the total cost of ownership thanks to cap price servicing as well as that size and extent of the dealer network will be the main drivers to differentiate the pair.

The Express is sourced from Renault’s light commercial plant at Sommerville in Normandy, in the northern part of France, the same as the Trafic

Mitsubishi will offer the Express in four models with two short-wheelbase  versions and two long-wheelbase types, with a choice of four colours including the standard and very popular white as well as silver, red and black.

The Express, like its Renault sibling can be had with either a six speed manual or six speed AMT auto. The manual versions use a 1.6 litre four cylinder twin turbo diesel with 103kW and 340Nm of torque while the autos are coupled to the larger and more powerful two litre turbo diesel with 125kW of power and 380 Nm of torque and both are configured as front drive.

Mitsubishi is pricing the Mitsubishi Express at a slightly higher level than the French brand. This despite the fact that the Mitsi doesn’t get the benefit of the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto features in the audio system. Apart from that the two are pretty close in spec and appearance but of course the Express gets two years more warranty 100,000km warranty, and as one wag observed it also  gets three diamonds on its  badge as opposed to Renault’s traditional single diamond.

The entry level Express 1.6L twin turbo GLX SWB manual starting at $38,490 plus on road costs, which is $2000 dearer than the same spec Renault Trafic, the 85kW  L1 SWB manual 1.6L which has a tag of $36,490.

The rest of the Mitsubishi line up includes the 1.6L twin turbo GLX LWB Manual at $40,490, the 2.0L turbo GLX SWB Auto at $42,490 and the 2.0L turbo GLX LWB Auto at $44,490. By comparison the Renault equivalents are generally approximately $1000 to $2000 less than the rebadged version, except for the LWB 2.0L Auto Renault, which at $45,990 is $1000 dearer than the equivalent Express.

The Express is available standard with dual sliding doors across the range and  wide opening barn doors at the back.

Mitsubishi says the Express warranty demonstrates its commitment to providing business customers peace-of-mind, so that they can focus on running their business and not having to worry about vehicle problems.

As mentioned earlier, the Express will also come with  making capped price servicing for the first three years or 45,000km of ownership with service intervals set at 15,000km, consistent with other Mitsubishi vehicles and the company says the cost per service is $250, and the cost of servicing over the first three years totals $750,.

You will need to add about $3000  for drive-away price, and the line-up ranges from meaning the true on road pricing actually ranges from $41,490 drive-away to $47,490 drive-away.

There are indications however that Renault may have sharpened the pencils to match its new identical rival  in price and some stories that dealers are even matching the five year warranty to fight the Express’s market advantages.

One other thing that will swing in favour of the Express is the fact that Toyota’s HiAce currently has a three moth waiting list thanks to the $150,000 instant asset write off and its popularity, while  other vans are also in short supply because of productions hold ups due to Covid pandemic issues. So there is an opportunity for  Mitsubishi and given the sales volumes it has built in recent times with a relatively plain and glamour free model line-up, with a mix of ageing 4WDs, small SUVs and the utilitarian Triton ute, one would imagine they will be out to make the Express a market success as well.

The standard equipment list is reasonably impressive  with remote central locking , air con, cruise control, a digital dash display and plenty of charging ports.There is also a very convenient standard phone holder, however while it suited our iPhone 8, we have heard that users of iPhone X and 11 and larger Android models have a little trouble fitting the units in the holder

One other criticism is the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interface, however it is  standard on most of the rival Renault models, which is a strange delete option on the part of the Mitsubishi planners. We would have thought that the cost would have been minimal and for some it may be a game changer so why not just fit it.

All versions of the Mitsubishi Express come with rear parking sensors (as does the Renault Trafic, Hyundai iLoad and Volkswagen Transporter), but the Toyota HiAce and Ford Transit Custom have sensors front and rear.

In terms of safety the new Express like its  Renault sibling comes equipped with  five airbags including two front, two curtain, and one in the driver’s seat.

Neither the Trafic or the Express have undergone ANCAP testing  but the Trafic carries a three star Euro NCAP rating from 2015, and given not a lot has changed since then we would assume that the Express  being based on the Trafic would also be in the three star realm. Given most of its main opponents are either four or five star rated including the new HiLux and Ford Transit, both with five and Hyundai’s iLoad and VW Transporter both with four, it may colour the decision of some buyers.

When it comes to capacity and dimensions  the Express measures up well in most areas with an overall cubic capacity in the load area of the SWB model of 5.2 cubic metres  and six cubic metres in the LWB.  The SWB model boasts an overall cargo area length of 2537mm, an overall cargo area height of 1387mm and a width of 1662 mm, and 1268mm between the wheel arches. The LWB adds another 400mm to the load area length while all of the other dimensions remain the same.

The Express has a 1115kg payload in the auto SWB models and 1150kg on the manual models and a tow capacity with a braked trailer of 2000kg on the manual and 1715kg on the auto. The LWB models get the same 2000kg tow capacity on the manuals and just 1630kg on the auto and has a 1200kg payload for the manuals and 1150kg on the autos.

Short of delivering a turgid comparison chart, let us assure you that most of those dimensions put the Express/Trafic near the top or at least mid-pack in the van market and in most cases there are only a handful of millimetres in it. So it does measure up quite competitively against the opponents in the room and capacity stakes.

We like the way the Renault Trafic  chassis drives and while we are yet to sample the Express version, we feel confident the driving experience would be pretty similar given most of  the differences are cosmetic and revolve around adding two extra diamonds to the logo badge.

The van turns nicely with accurate and predictable steering feel, it sits well on the road and stops well, all of which instils a lot of confidence in the driver, a market of new gen vans, which are an eon away from  similar commercial models of just a generation ago. Vans of old teetered around with generally poor dynamics and handling, however that is no longer the case  and  the Trafic/Express is no exception. The turbo diesel engines are both strong and impressive and deliver good economy, so there aren’t many reasons why the Express shouldn’t be on the shopping list. A relatively low safety rating and the lack of CarPlay/Android may steer some away, but it is still worth a look, particularly given Mitsubishi’s extensive dealer network, strong warranty and cap price servicing offerings.

Its good to have Mitsubishi back in the highly competitive van market and we reckon they might do OK with this new ‘French-accented’ Express. Bon chance!