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MOTORING: MULTI-TALENTED; Roadtest: Mitsubishi Grandis.

Byline: Adam Stevens

AMULTI-purpose vehicle is usually bought through need rather than desire - style doesn't really come into the equation.

But now there's a new kid on the block that wraps up first-class accommodation for seven in a sleek bodyshell.

Mitsubishi's Grandis - the firm's fourth new release of the year - brings a fresh approach to the people carrier.

It combines clever packaging with a decent driving experience, striking style and unparalleled levels of practicality.

Mitsubishi are no strangers to the MPV segment. Although they have always lacked the high profile of the benchmark Espace, the first Space Wagon was launched in the early Eighties and the model remained a steady sales performer.

The Grandis, however, is indicative of the brand's new design direction. Like the Outlander and new Colt, it stands out from the crowd, yet is built with the legendary levels of precision for which Mitsubishi vehicles are renowned.

It's the sort of machine that feels as though it will still be providing trouble-free motoring after 100,000 miles.

By comparison, I suspect after three hard years of family life, an Espace would be a rattling wreck.

Unlike most rivals, with seats needing to be removed, the Grandis features a unique 'Hide & Seat' concept. This takes the form of a third bench row with two individual seats that recline and fold flat into the floor.

The middle row, which slides to enhance access, also folds to reveal a massive 1545 litres of cargo capacity.

But what surprised most was the Grandis' genuine ability to accommodate seven adults in comfort. It may not look like the largest vehicle in its class but, thanks to ingenious packaging,the levels of head and legroom in the back are superb.

Importantly, the Grandis also looks after the driver. Despite a steering wheel adjustable for rake but not reach, it's easy to find a comfortable driving position.

The dashboard design is a mix of quality plastics and tasteful common-sense design.

There is also a lengthy array of standard kit. Even the entry-level Classic boasts climate control, four electric windows, electric door mirrors, remote central locking, ABS, eight airbags, fog lamps, alloy wheels and remote locking with alarm.

The Equippe, at pounds 20,499, adds cruise control, a twin sunroof, six-CD autochanger, rear cargo shelf and stability/traction control.

Opt for the range-topping pounds 21,999 Elegance and full leather trim is also thrown in.

A decent four-speed automatic with manual override function is offered on all versions for pounds 1000.

Initially offered as a petrol-only model - a two-litre diesel will be added next summer - the Grandis doesn't drink as much as you might expect.

Opt for the five-speed manual gearbox and, on average, you should be able to travel up to 30 miles on each gallon.

And considering the sprightly nature of the 2.4-litre engine, this is quite astonishing.

Work the extremely-enthusiastic engine hard and it'll power the Grandis to 62mph in just 10 seconds - and then on to a 124mph maximum.

The combination of decent economy and lively performance is achieved though MIVEC - Mitsubishi's Innovative Valve life and timing Electronic Control.

This alters the profile of the double overhead camshafts dependent on driving style.

MPVs will never be bought by driving enthusiasts, but the Grandis delivers a surprisingly agile behind-the-wheel experience. I tested the car on challenging country lanes and found it leaned less through the corners than most of its rivals.

There's also a lot of grip and the traction control system only once intervened on a section of mud-covered road.

At motorway speeds, the sleek wind-cheating shape ensures a quiet cabin environment.

Few seven seaters are as good to drive, cleverly packaged and as solidly built, while none are anywhere near as stylish.

factfile

Model: Mitsubishi

Grandis Engine: 2.4-litre 16-valve

Power: 162bhp Fuel economy:

30.1 mpg combined

Warranty: Three years/unlimited miles Price: From pounds 18,499

On sale: Now
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 30, 2004
Words:652
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