Back in the annals of motoring history, 1984 to be precise, Mitsubishi launched the Space Wagon on an unsuspecting British public.
Although it started the trend, it quickly lost the advantage, mainly because the market grew while its sales figures stayed the same, so that its starting share of 70% of the market is practically zero today.
But today, on July 1, almost 20 years to the day after the first Space Wagon hit the UK's streets, there is a new kid on the block, trying to change the way drivers and fleet decision-makers think about people movers.
In launching the new Grandis, Mitsubishi has spent more time telling people what the car isn't rather than what it is, in a concerted effort to distance it from the competition.
So, it isn't an MPV, it isn't quite a car either and it isn't quite an estate, Mitsubishi says. Quoting the regularly used mantra of new car launches – it reckons it is a cross-over vehicle.
The Grandis is smaller than most MPVs, but taller and longer than most estates. It offers a flexible seven-seat package, a car-like driving position and traditional rear doors, rather than the sliding variety.
It joins another Mitsubishi crossover vehicle already launched, the Outlander, which is neither an estate car nor an off-roader.
Although the Grandis won't fit into traditional segments, that doesn't mean it will be overlooked. One of its key selling points is its styling, both inside and out.
It is the first design to fully show off the firm's new design philosophy, particularly the treatment of the front end, with its distinctive badging.
Jim Tyrrell, managing director of Mitsubishi UK, who helped launch the Ford Galaxy when working for Ford nearly 10 years ago, said: 'We are a bit wary of saying 'it is not an MPV, it is a car', but it will appeal to traditional estate car drivers, as it drives more like a car than traditional MPVs do.'
At launch, the Grandis will come with a 2.4-litre petrol engine, offering 162bhp at 6,000rpm and 159lb-ft of torque at 4,000rpm.
In manual form, it reaches 62mph in 10 seconds, hits 124mph, achieves 30.1mpg and emits 223g/km of CO2, equating to a benefit-in-kind tax bill of 30% of Plld price this year.
The four-speed auto takes 11.7 seconds to hit 62mph, achieves 118mph, drinks a gallon of fuel every 28.2 miles and emits 237g/km of CO2, meaning a BIK tax bill of 33% of Plld price.
Prices start at £18,499 for the well-equipped Classic model, £20,499 for the Equippe and £21,999 for the Elegance. Add £1,000 for the auto. It is a simple pricing policy adopted by Mitsubishi to help both dealers and buyers.
A 2.0-litre Volkswagen-sourced diesel with about 138bhp will go on sale next year, but performance and prices are not yet available, while an LPG variant prototype is also being developed.
Standard equipment includes eight airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, climate control, remote central locking, electric mirrors, alloy wheels, cd stereo and the clever 'hide and seat' third row of seats, which fold flat to the floor and also flip over to create two picnic seats facing out of the rear hatch.
Equippe adds cruise control, dual sunroof (front manual, rear electric), traction control and six CD-autochanger. Elegance adds leather seats. Putting price and equipment together, it performs well against its chosen rivals, which include the Toyota Avensis Verso, Ford Galaxy, Peugeot 807 and Citroen C8.
This year, 1,000 car/MPVs should leave the forecourt, rising to 2,000 next year and 2,500 in 2006, with 80% retail and 50% autos, although Tyrrell said he would be 'disappointed' if Mitsubishi didn't beat its own predictions.
He added: 'Residual values are critical, especially in the leasing market. In markets where it has already been launched, they have been above the Renault Espace, which is the market leader, and we have been working with CAP and Glass's for the past six months.
'We are confident. During the launch, people have been making offers to buy our test cars and at Motor Show Live in Birmingham, we had as much interest in the Grandis as we did in the new Colt, which gave us a bit of a surprise.'
Behind the wheel
A CHRONIC case of crossover means that the new Grandis hasn't been put into a particular segment by Mitsubishi. But because fleet managers demand some context, I am going to do it for them. It is an MPV, Jim, but not as we know it.
Certainly the looks make it stand out from most rivals, both from the front and also from the rear, which is a great achievement. Driving up from behind, it looks like a traditional estate.
However, once you see the side profile it is definitely an MPV, which isn't a problem. It might well be the first cool MPV.
Stepping inside, its dual personality continues, as the seating position is very car-like, but the vast windscreen and gearstick set into the centre console are more like an MPV.
All the seats are comfortable, although getting into the third row of seats can be a tight squeeze and the low car-like roofline means there is little room for taller passengers in the third row either. However, it shouldn't be a problem for average-sized adults.
And if you have four or five children to carry, it is more than adequate. The flexible seating is easy to use, particularly the 'hide and seat' third row, which folds flat to create valuable load space.
On the move, the 2.4-litre engine is smooth and quiet until you get over about 4,500rpm, but lacks lowdown torque. Therefore, you really need to rev the engine to get it moving, even with just the driver on board.
This brings us onto the transmission choice. I expected the five-speed manual to be the best option, but it has a slightly clonky change and the ratios are poorly-spaced. No matter how much you rev the engine, changing up leaves it struggling to add more speed.
Furthermore, in third and fifth, the gearstick obscures the stereo buttons.
I rarely put the automatic option above the manual, but in this case it is much better suited to the 2.4-litre engine, transferring power much more efficiently and making for a more relaxed drive.
It can be indecisive about changing up, but there is a manual override to help you out.
In a straight line, the Grandis offers a very quiet, composed ride, soaking up imperfections in the road with ease and making you feel you invested your £19,000-plus wisely, despite the plasticky, but well-made dashboard and trim.
However, on corners, it wallows into MPV territory. There is little feedback through the steering wheel and it doesn't relish press on driving – but then again, neither will your passengers, so try to avoid it.
Instead, focus on cruising and chat to your six passengers about whether their mode of transport is a car or an MPV – it should help the journey pass more quickly.
Although high emissions mean some drivers will wait for the diesel, the Grandis is still a value for money proposition, particularly for user-choosers wanting to break out of the current jelly-mould world of MPVs.
Engine (cc): 2,378
Max power (bhp/rpm): 162/6,000
Max torque: (lb-ft/rpm): 159/4,000
Max speed: 124 (118)
0-62mph (secs): 10 (11.7)
Combined fuel consumption (mpg): 30.1 (28.2)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 223 (237)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 65/14.3
Service intervals (miles): 9,000 miles or 12 months
On sale: NOW
Prices: £18,499 - £22,999