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Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian X review: the pick-up that's as uncivilised as its name suggests

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Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian X pick-up - tested November 2019

It isn’t hard to ‘get’ the Mitsubishi L200 in this Barbarian X spec. It sets out its stall from the moment you clap eyes on it. That nose, with its slim headlamps, writhing lumps of chrome and vast pods containing the indicators and fog lamps, is as in-your-face as those you’ll find on some modern American pick-ups. 

The theme continues when you open the door and find the sills are emblazoned with huge ‘Barbarian X’ logos, illuminated in blue and bright enough that you can read a book by them. 

This is a truck, then, that aims to out-brash the brashest of its rivals – and in our test car’s metallic orange paintwork, nobody’s going to be able to claim they didn’t see it coming. 

The Barbarian X is the top of the L200 line; if you’re not feeling quite so flush, your options start from the entry-level 4Life model, which looks rather less gaudy, and can be had either as a crew cab or a double cab. 

The rest of the range is double cab only, and starts with the Warrior, which comes with a few choice toys such as dual-zone climate control, then moves up to Barbarian, with its heated seats, ambient lighting and an off-road mode, which tweaks engine, steering and braking responses for use in the tough stuff. Barbarian X adds a heated steering wheel, a top-down camera system, and a suite of extra safety kit. 

Unsophisticated body-on-frame construction leads to a crashy ride and scant comfort - although most rivals are similar in this respect. At least it's smoother at cruising speeds

All L200s come with the same 148bhp 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel, which is fine in the lower-spec variants, but in the £32,000-odd Barbarian, on paper it looks a bit lacklustre, as does the six-speed automatic gearbox. 

The Nissan Navara N-Guard, Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Volkswagen Amarok Highline all give you somewhere around 200bhp at this sort of price, and in the VW that power comes courtesy of a mellifluous V6; what’s more, you get seven-, eight- and 10-speed gearboxes respectively.

If the L200 looks dated on paper, it feels it in the flesh, too. Climb aboard and you’re met with an interior that could have been lifted directly from a 1990s SUV. There are slivers of deeply unconvincing I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-metal, shiny plastic switchgear, and even a bright orange LCD readout for the climate control, of the sort you’ll have last seen on an old microwave. 

The L200 looks and feels dated inside, although its simplicity means that it's easy to use and the seats are comfortable

The stereo is at least relatively easy to use – save for the lack of a proper volume knob – but that’s partly because it doesn’t come with much functionality. You do at least get smartphone mirroring, but you may have noticed sat-nav was missing from the list of toys we mentioned earlier, which means if you want to know where you’re going, you’ll have to use your smartphone’s sat-nav app (and, of course, its data) to do so. 

On the plus side, while the L200’s big buttons might not look particularly sophisticated, they are at least large and easy to hit, even if those on the lower half of  the dash are scattered around in a slightly haphazard way.

Prod the one marked ‘Start’, and after a bit of a pause for the glow plugs to warm up, the L200 clatters into life. And clatter really is the word; so noisy is that diesel when it’s cold that it sounds like Mitsubishi has stuffed an air-cooled light aircraft engine into that gaudy nose. 

It's spacious inside, particularly in the rear, with large, wide-opening doors and well-placed grab handles to help you haul yourself up into the cab

Clack the automatic shifter through the old-school zig-zag gate and move off, and it sounds like you’ve just adjusted the mixture, set the prop pitch and eased forward the throttle. Acceleration is correspondingly glacial; the accelerator needs a good shove to get the L200 moving, and if it’s loaded up with people or stuff, you’ll need to prod it even harder to overtake or get up a hill, which will cause both revs and engine noise to soar. 

Their rugged body-on-frame construction usually makes pick-up trucks rather agricultural to drive; the L200 is no exception. In fact, around town it’s positively unpleasant, its body jolting, jiggling and jostling over even the slightest lumps and bumps. Churned-up patches of road have it all at sea; to say it becomes tiresome after a while is like saying Bill Gates is a bit handy with a computer. 

The steering, meanwhile, is heavy and slow at parking pace, but becomes oddly light once you’re up to speed, which is exactly the opposite way around to the way you’d like it to be. 

What pick-ups are supposed to be all about. The L200's load bed is slight smaller than rivals' but its maximum payload is comparable

As a result, while the L200 actually keeps its body in check reasonably well and there’s a decent amount of grip when you’re hustling it along a back road, the numb, over-assisted steering makes it quite hard to place, which is not a trait you really want on a narrow road in a vehicle the size of Christendom. 

The ride smoothes out somewhat on the motorway, and wind and road noise are actually reasonably well damped for such a big, bluff thing. What with the comfortable seats, this means the L200 isn’t a bad companion on a long-distance cruise, though you’re always aware of that engine droning away in front of you.

There’s a decent amount of space inside, especially in the rear where the double-cab L200 feels airier and more spacious than some of its rivals, and large, wide-opening doors and well-placed grab handles make climbing aboard a doddle. 

For such a large, bluff vehicle the wind and road noise are reasonably well muted so it's ok on a long journey - a shame the noise of the diesel engine isn't so refined

It makes a reasonable fist of pick-up duties, too. The load bed is a little on the small side, but maximum payload is there or thereabouts compared with the rest of the class, so if you can fit it into the L200, you can probably carry it. 

Running costs are important in a vehicle like this, too, and in this regard the L200’s five-year warranty is generous, although its mileage cap of 62,500 miles is less so; meanwhile, fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures are respectable, if not outstanding. 

That, really, is the story of the L200; a truck that keeps up with its rivals in some areas, but doesn’t really pull ahead of them – and falls behind them in others. Its positives, in other words, don’t fully mitigate its flaws; that underwhelming engine and the bouncy suspension, for example, which are perhaps its biggest failings.

Permanent four-wheel drive and separate-chassis construction makes the L200 and its ilk more adept off-road than most SUVs

As a result, the L200 feels like a chore to live with. And while you’d expect a pick-up to feel agricultural to a degree, the best of them offer smoother powerplants, greater performance, and a more comfortable ride than this one – not to mention a more capacious load bed, too. 

All of this would be forgivable were the Barbarian X cheap to buy, but it isn’t. In fact, like-for-like it sits toward the top of the class price-wise; most of its comparable rivals cost less – and get sat-nav as standard, it’s worth noting – and while the Amarok Highline, probably the benchmark in this class, is more expensive, there isn’t as much of a price difference between the two as there needs to be. 

And that leaves the L200, in this form at least, as something of an also-ran; a truck that’s rugged, but flawed – and one whose in-your-face styling hides some disappointing compromises. 

THE FACTS

Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian X Double Cab Auto

TESTED 2,268cc four-cylinder diesel turbo, six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £32,200*/now

POWER/TORQUE 148bhp @ 3,500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2,000rpm

TOP SPEED 108mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 13.5sec

FUEL ECONOMY 36.2mpg (NEDC Combined)

CO2 EMISSIONS 206g/km

VED £260 per year

VERDICT If you’re after something rugged for mainly off-road use, the L200 might be worth a look, but do pick a more utilitarian specification; on the road, it’s crude and noisy, and this top-of-the-line version struggles against the trucks with which it goes head-to-head on price. 

TELEGRAPH RATING Two stars out of five

THE RIVALS

Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI 204 Highline Auto, from £33,635*

If you’re planning to use your pick-up on the road most of the time, this is the one to have. The Amarok is comfortable, classy and good to drive, and its lusty V6 engine it’s smooth and even sounds pretty good too. Fuel economy where it falls down – and it isn’t cheap to buy, either – but it’s worth it. 

Ford Ranger 2.0 EcoBlue 213 Wildtrak Auto, from £32,006*

Good to drive, well built and good value, the Ranger is probably the pick of the pick-ups at the moment, so it should come as no surprise that it’s also Britain’s best-selling. With this potent engine, it’s also extremely punchy and surprisingly efficient – it’s no thirstier than the less powerful Mitsubishi – though its payload isn’t as high as it could be.

Ssangyong Musso Saracen Auto, from £27,245*

The Musso comes with the best warranty in the business; what’s more, it’s blessed with a reasonably smart interior and a smooth engine. Like the Mitsubishi, it has its flaws – but crucially it also costs significantly less, despite coming with more toys and better towing abilities. 

( * All prices shown are on-the-road, exclusive of VAT)

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