The chunky styling and keen pricing should see the three-door Pinin pose a threat to Suzuki's Vitara, Toyota's RAV4 and the Honda HR-V in the sports utility vehicle market. With sales of this type of vehicle exceeding 41,000 units last year, Mitsubishi is confident of selling 4,000 Pinins during 2000 and it estimates that as many as 40% will go to fleets and in particular user-choosers.
Mitsubishi is aiming its sales pitch at women (the company estimates 60% of Pinin buyers will be female) and successful young professionals who want a lifestyle vehicle that stands out in the company car park. There are three trim levels - i, GLX and GLS - at on-the-road prices of £13,995, £14,995 and £16,995 respectively.
Standard equipment on all models is good, with the entry-level i model featuring a pollen filter, power steering, central locking, engine immobiliser, driver and passenger airbags, colour digital screen display in the centre of the dashboard and a radio-cassette system. GLX versions add electric door mirrors and electric front windows and sunroof and a height-adjustable driver's seat. The range-topping GLS also features 16in alloy wheels, air conditioning and an under-floor storage compartment in the boot. Optional equipment includes a satellite navigation system and a four-speed automatic gearbox, both of which cost £1,000.
Apart from the higher driving position, the Pinin feels much like a conventional saloon car, offering a smooth ride and nippy performance around town. On the open road, the GDI engine is eager to be revved and cruises quite happily at motorway speeds. There is also a surprising lack of wind noise and tyre roar at these speeds. The four-speed automatic version is less impressive. Around town, the gearbox works well, but on the open road the ratios do not seem to be well matched and kick-down is needed to tackle hills.
Visibility all round is excellent, thanks to the high driving position, and the cabin is light and airy due to the large glass area. For road driving power is sent to the rear wheels, but four-wheel drive can be selected at speeds of up to 62mph if conditions get tricky. The gearbox offers two other settings - a high-range four-wheel-drive for use on rough roads and in snowy conditions, and a low-range setting for use in off-road mud-plugging.
While the majority of Pinins will never venture off-road, the vehicle is capable of tackling relatively rough terrain. On a test route across Scottish hills, the Pinin, riding on standard road tyres, capably dealt with boggy conditions and deep ruts. While it will have its limitations, the Pinin can provide amateur off-roaders with plenty of fun.