It is aiming to challenge the legendary Land Rover Discovery with a new Shogun, now in showrooms, boasting more features, greater refinement, better looks and higher value. Even though Solihull's go-anywhere car outsells its Japanese rival by a margin of three-to-one, Mitsubishi Motors UK sales and marketing director Lance Bradley believes the time is right to mount a bid to lure customers away from Land Rover.
He said: 'The Land Rover may have just been freshened up, but this is a car that is only 18 months away from reaching the end of its life. I'm the first to admit that the latest Discovery is a lot better than its predecessors, but the only reason it is selling so well is because people regard it as the only car of its type.
'We are setting ourselves the task of persuading buyers there is an alternative that is just as competent when the going gets tough and is more than a match as far as regular driving is concerned.'
Already on sale, the restyled Japanese car is offered in higher-value packaging and costs up to £2,500 less than its predecessor when specified in petrol form as Colt, the Cirencester-based importer, seeks to build on the total of 3,800 Shoguns it sold last year. The new strategy has been formulated to correct overpricing of the outgoing range, admitted Bradley.
'When the old car was introduced two years ago, it was overpriced by £3,000,' he said. 'No matter how good a product is, you can't do this and it was clearly a mistake. And as well as being too expensive, the way it looked was too stylised.
'From being in a shaky position in the past, our business is now on a more secure footing and we have worked hard to get this new car at the right price. I believe our business does well when the Shogun does well, and we've done a lot to attract more people to this product, including winning back those customers who were not keen on the current car.'
Bradley said the company was developing a programme that would involve owners of Land Rovers and other rivals being invited to attend events where they can experience the capabilities of the Shogun.
'Existing Shogun owners will also be asked to attend because our researchers have found that in many cases, they are so enthusiastic about their vehicles that they do a better job of selling them than the sales staff,' he said.
Survey findings have also revealed that 60% of Shoguns are bought by previous owners, 38% of buyers use their vehicles for towing and 25% use them in the course of their work.
More than 70,000 aficionados of off-roading have bought a Shogun since Mitsubishi first introduced the model in Britain 20 years ago. Sales peaked in 1996 when 6,693 examples were registered, but with better specification across the range and by eliminating the premium it used to charge for petrol engines, the company should achieve its target of 5,000 sales here in 2003.
Behind the wheel
LITTLE things mean a lot in the new Shogun, and a series of subtle cosmetic alterations by styling chief Olivier Boulay add up to making a big difference in the overall appearance of this big and chunky off-road model.
Although most of the bodywork is carried over from the previous model, new bumpers, headlamps and front grille give the car a fresh face and the fluting on the side panels – a feature of the current car not liked by everyone – has been dropped in order to promote a more European look.
The results are pleasing in a range that now features significant upgrades in equipment including a mechanical anti-theft device that is claimed to make the door locks tamperproof, side airbags for front seat occupants, central door locking and anti-trap electric windows.
Equally pleasing is the fact that no price rises have been applied to the three and five-door line-up of nine models, which includes a new diesel-powered Elegance flagship costing the same as the V6 petrol model (now offered at £2,500 less than the outgoing version).
This addition looks to be a smart piece of marketing. The car is as plush as you would expect as you clamber up and on to its deep leather seats, complete with heaters at the front, and the turbocharged diesel engine is so muted that you could be forgiven for thinking it runs on petrol.
The lusty engine is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission and shifts between ratios with silky smoothness, but also allows the driver to make clutchless manual changes.
And the result is quiet, unruffled progress at all speeds. Like its predecessor, the 2003 car boasts a huge digital centre display that gives the wide-screen treatment to information about air conditioning and audio equipment operation.
In five-door form, the Shogun was the first off-road car to offer seven seats as standard and all provide a good amount of legroom. There is also plenty of space for luggage – even more when the third row is folded away in an under floor compartment.
Though the car's prowess off-road calls for long-travel springs, suspension is surprisingly taut for brisk motoring without compromising comfort, and the way the Shogun copes with corners without undue body roll is impressive, considering the sheer bulk of the car.