The old model had a distinctly agricultural feel and suspension so hard that no-one but a committed masochist would want to drive one on a day-to-day basis.
But the Japanese car maker believes the new L200, with a more car-like feel and a more powerful engine, will appeal to drivers of SUVs and big estate cars who are looking for something a little different. And the L200 is certainly that.
It is apparent that Mitsubishi’s designers have steered themselves in a different direction to those at Nissan and Toyota, whose new offerings are already on sale.
While the Navara and Hilux have a distinctly slabby look favoured by American truck makers, the L200 has been styled exclusively for Europe.
A spokesman for Mitsubishi Europe said: ‘We see our main opposition as the Navara, but it has an American take on the sector.
‘We have a separate truck for America – the Raider – and the L200 for Europe.
‘European pick-up drivers may dream about the American wide open spaces so often associated with pick-ups but fall for a more compact, technologically more sophisticated and more user-friendly design.’
The L200 is enormously important for Mitsubishi. It is the market leader, selling 9,759 models in the UK so far this year, as opposed to 7,144 for the Nissan Navara and Pickup, and makes up 30% of Mitsubishi’s total UK sales.
And by making its new offering smoother, quieter, roomier and more car-like generally, the firm believes it can tempt new fleet buyers to the sector. Mitsubishi hopes for around 14,000 sales in a full year.
Single cab, club-cab (two very occasional rear chairs) and five-seater double-cab versions will be on sale from March, unlike the new Navara, where the single-cabs will still be based on the old model.
Entry-level L200 spec starts at 4Work and rises through 4Life, Warrior, Animal and up to a new luxurious Elegance, which will be specifically aimed at SUV owners.
The L200 is slightly smaller than the new Navara – five metres long as opposed to 5.2 – as Mitsubishi believes befits Europe’s smaller roads.
It also has a good turning circle of 5.9 metres as opposed to the Navara’s seven – a valid point for anyone who has had to park an old-style double-cab in a small parking space.
In the cabin, the L200 boasts best-in-class dimensions for the double-cab – rear legroom is up 60mm over the old model – and there is a completely new car-like dashboard to replace the workmanlike version in the previous model.
A new chassis provides a smoother ride with less noise and vibration and the L200 has the best drag coefficient in its sector, helping its fuel economy to a claimed 32.9mpg on the combined cycle.
In the back, the load-bed for the double-cab is slightly smaller than the old model at 1,325mm long by 1,470mm wide, as opposed to 1,500mm by 1,470mm. Payload is down from 1,065kg to 1,045kg.
Under the bonnet is a new 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine, offering 136bhp and 231lb-ft of torque, well down on the Navara’s 297lb-ft, but up from the old L200’s 115bhp/177lb-ft. However, an optional power upgrade is available for the L200, lifting peak power to a more Navara-like 165bhp.
Both a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic gearbox will be offered.
Driver and passenger airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard and traction control will be available – another sector first.
Prices will be announced nearer to its March on sale date, but expect it to be on a par with the Navara.
Fleets are very much a target for the new L200. Mitsubishi believes it will appeal to farmers and small business users who want a more sophisticated vehicle than those currently offered.
And there are a number of car drivers who wouldn’t turn their noses up at a model like this. At present, the benefit-in-kind tax loading for a car driver choosing a commercial vehicle is just £500 a year, meaning a 22% taxpayer will have to pay just £110 a year.
The loading increases in March 2007 to £3,000 a year, but even that will still equate to a BIK bill of just £55 a month – not bad for such a head-turning vehicle.
Max power (bhp/rpm): 136/4,000 (165bhp upgrade option)
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 231/2,000
Max speed (mph): 97
0-62mph (secs): 14.6
Combined fuel economy (mpg): 32.9
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,910
Max payload (kg): 1,045
On sale: March 2006. Prices: TBA