The market for seven-seat vehicles primarily falls into two categories.
On one side, you have near eight-figure SUVs that are both expansive and impractical for city use, on the other you have repurposed panel vans with windows and seats bolted onto the cargo bay. Between the two, there lies a small selection of purpose-built family wagons that, for one reason or another, share the same slab-sided profile.
Mitsubishi, nowadays best known for their no-nonsense practical cars, decided to change the formula with their boldly designed Xpander. But is the radical design made for a good family car? We took one out for a drive to find out.
A divisive look
Mitsubishi's new Wedge-y design language has certainly been polarizing, more so on the Xpander. With its inverted DRL and headlamps and large front wheel arches, the front fascia of this car looks different from everything else on the road. Opinions about the design have been split, with some in the Wheels team liking it and others do not. Personally, as a fan of science fiction, I quite like the design, as for me it looks somewhat like a small spacecraft with wheels stuck onto it.
The side of the vehicle is much more conventional, the sharp 16-inch alloy wheels lifting the car a respectable 205mm off the ground.
The rear of the car features a pair of Pajero Sports inspired taillamps and the now near industry-standard "floating roof" design element on the D-pillar.
Storage space, storage space, storage space
Compared to the exterior, the interior of the Xpander is very sensible and conventional, except maybe when it comes to storage space. A large family needs to keep a lot of stuff inside their vehicle, so the engineers at Mitsubishi made sure to make good use of every inch of available space. The dashboard alone contains eight different storage areas, while other interesting storage space includes a shoe tray under the front passenger seat and a storage tray under the rear trunk liner. That later however means the spare tire had to be relocated under the car, with users needing to undo two bolts inside the trunk to access it.
For hauling oversized cargo, both the second and third-row seats can be folded down, resulting in a massive 1,608 litre of cargo space.
Speaking of seats, their fabric upholstery is reasonably comfortable and can be had with optional Xpander branded seat covers. The middle row is adjustable, and on top of it is a massive four vent adjustable ac unit to make sure the rear occupants receive plenty of cool air. Front and rear passengers get their own cupholders and there are three 12-volt sockets spread across the car for everyone's charging needs.
The 4.1-inch infotainment screen located on the front centre stack is small compared to many other contemporary options but supports Bluetooth and comes with a CD player, a rare feature in new cars. The system is connected to a 6-speaker audio system that, thanks to extensive sound-deadening, performs rather well.
How does it drive?
The Xpander accelerates like pretty much any other car of its class, which is good since it is meant to move a large number of — including elderly and young— people. The surprise lies in the handling.
Mitsubishi takes great pride in Xpander's RISE (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) structure, which gives the car a rigid chassis and a 4-star safety rating. Combine this with the car's MacPherson strut/Torsion beam suspension, the vehicle almost behaves like a subcompact sedan when driven reasonably.
Seating on the driver's seat, the engineering reasoning behind the car's front design becomes clear as the extended A-Pillar greatly enhances front visibility and helps to give the interior a very open and spacious feel. That said, one annoying issue I discovered about the driving position is the lack of a centre armrest, which can become frustrating on long drives.
The Xpander is a decently equipped family wagon with an attention-grabbing front. If you're looking for a practical seven-seat family car with Japanese reliability that is also unmistakably unique, there are not many other options. It doesn't matter if the person in question is a petrolhead or a regular joe, the unique nose of the Xpander will cause most people to stop and think "what is that?" at least for a few seconds.