MPVs are there to do a job, to get the occupants from A to B without fuss or fright. And although some MPVs have become a little less staid in the past few years – the Espace being the principle highlight – it’s fair to say that they are a long way off appearing next to Ferraris, Porsches and Carmen Electra on the bedroom walls of small boys across the land.
Mitsubishi has given it a good go with its new Grandis by offering a car that tries as much as possible to disguise its fundamental boxiness. At the front end, it’s sharp, taught features scowl at small children in pushchairs, while its long, curving side windows at least don’t make it look like a converted van.
Mitsubishi reckons the Grandis sits a good 10cms lower than many of its rivals, which also indicates that it wants the car to be a better handling beast than the others. A fact which is reinforced by its purpose-built steel platform with front McPherson struts and a 2.4-litre 162bhp four cylinder petrol engine.
As far as fleets go, a 2.4-litre engine returning 30.1mpg on the combined cycle is not exactly the perfect choice, as a diesel is nearly always a much more sensible option, but at least it keeps up with the energetic looks of the car. A 2.0-litre diesel should be along later in the year.
It makes a growly noise and gives the car some fair in-gear performance, while the 0-62mph time of 10 seconds for a vehicle weighing 1,700kg is not to be sniffed at either. It’s not quick but it’s more than adequate for a big MPV. The steering is decently direct without being twitchy and the gearbox is precise. For the first time ever, I found myself actually enjoying, rather than enduring, driving a big MPV. The Grandis, like all MPVs, is still more ladle than knife, but it is good for its sector.
However, there are a few downsides. The driving position is poor. Like many Japanese cars – of all shapes and sizes – the steering wheel doesn’t come out far enough for my liking and I ended up in a driving position where my legs were tucked up under the steering wheel column while my arms were at full stretch.
Some of the plastics are also on the cheap side and the lid on the dashboard box was very flimsy, but a feeling of quality was helped by the leather seats that come as standard on the Elegance. It also gets climate control, six CD player and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The interior is generally good and the third row of seats are less of a token effort than in some MPVs. The second row of seats flip forward easily and there is a footwell in the back. This makes the third row a more attractive proposition for full-sized people.
All in all, the Grandis is worth a look as an alternative to the more mainstream MPVs if a driver must have a petrol, but the lack of an economic diesel means its appeal is limited until one appears.
Three rivals to consider
JUST what makes MPVs attractive to company car drivers? The Grandis has leather seats as standard, but what if the kids get them mucky? The Avensis Verso has a smaller engine and is slower than the others, but has sat nav. Does this matter? The 807 and Espace have five Euro NCAP stars while the other two have yet to be tested. This could make a difference, although what are the chances of a Toyota getting the full five? All have seven seats though.
NONE of these cars are exactly parsimonious when it comes to saving fuel. The cheapest – the Avensis Verso – has the smallest, least powerful engine and is the lightest, so it’s no surprise it has the best fuel consumption. It would use more than £600 less petrol over 60,000 miles than the next best, the Grandis. The two French cars would cost more than £8,200 in fuel – £900 more than the Toyota. Of course, if the driver has a large family filling the seats on a regular basis, then they should expect to pay a lot more in fuel thanks to the extra weight.
DESPITE its position as the most expensive at the front end, the Renault does well in terms of residuals, thanks to the fact that the Espace brand is well-established and well-liked among used buyers. The Grandis suffers the most at 23ppm, although in pence per mile terms there’s little between them. The best, the 807, would lose £13,392 while the Grandis would shed £13,800. The Espace and Avensis Verso are in between.
THE Grandis, 807 and Espace are almost impossible to split on wholelife costs, with a paltry £324 between them after 60,000 miles of hard people carrying work. However, the Avensis Verso is a fair distance ahead, due to two major factors: it has low SMR costs and a lower than average fuel bill. This is the area that makes the biggest difference in the end and would make the Toyota £840 cheaper than the next lowest.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
IT’S the same story with emissions as it is with fuel. The Avensis Verso is a long way ahead, and for a 40% taxpayer would result in a tax bill of £2,257 in 2005. The next best is the Grandis with a cost to the driver of £2,703, then the 807 at £2,832 while the most expensive front end price gives the Espace a tax bill of £2,937. A saving of £500-£700 over the year makes the Avensis Verso look pretty attractive. You could take the family for a week’s holiday on the money saved.
UNFORTUNATELY, families don’t come in regular sized packages and this makes choosing a winner in this test very difficult. What one family might be looking for and need is totally different to another and there is no doubt that for many the funky Grandis and its performance will have plenty of allure. But in cold hard facts, the Avensis Verso wins on tax and wholelife costs and that makes it our winner.
WINNER: Toyota Avensis Verso 2.0 T Spirit VVT-i
Mitsubishi Grandis 2.4 MIVEC Elegance
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £21,801
CO2 emissions (g/km): 223
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 31%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 30.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,150/33%
Depreciation 23.0 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,800
Maintenance 3.08 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,848
Fuel 13.28 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,968
Wholelife cost 39.36 pence per mile x 60,000: £23,616
Typical contract hire rate: £428
At a glance