In 2017, Mitsubishi showcased a one-off L200 built in conjunction with Top Gear magazine. Code named “Project Swarm” it is a heavily-modified vehicle designed to take on some of the biggest sand dunes in the world.
This got Mitsubishi thinking, and the result is the first vehicle to come out of their Special Vehicle Projects (SVP) division. Limited to just 250 models, they called it the L200 SVP. It started life as an L200 Barbarian, but has been reworked to pay homage to the Project Swarm.
There are two colours available. Cosmos black offers a stealth look, but for me it would have to be the Electric Blue. Not only is this the same colour as the Top Gear special, but it creates a striking contrast against the black exterior features.
The front grille, headlight and fog light surrounds, roof rails, wheels, wheel arch extensions and rear bumper step are all finished in black. What puzzles me is why Mitsubishi decided to leave the mirrors and door handles in chrome, as these would have looked better in black.
The wheel arch extensions are aggressive, but their credibility is hindered by the presence of indents for bolting on, when in fact they are stuck on. Thankfully most people will be too busy looking at the BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres, which make the L200 SVP stand out from the crowd, to notice this.
LED daytime running lights and HID Bi-Xenon headlights complete an aggressive exterior image. The SVP is certainly intimidating when barrelling up behind you, filling your rear-view mirror. You can’t help but look at your reflection in a shop window, and will find that it turns heads at the supermarket car park and petrol station forecourt. Considering there are a lot of L200s on the road, that’s some achievement.
Higher spec L200 models, such as the Warrior and Barbarian, have much plusher interiors than the 4Life and 4Work. The SVP goes a step further, bringing some unique styling touches to the inside too. The first thing you notice the SVP logo and limited edition number embroidered onto the front headrests. Our test car was the last; number 250.
The seats are a delightful blend of leather and suedecloth, with light grey stitching. With the pattern on the base and seat back, these seats look like they have a six pack; fitting nicely with the muscular exterior image.
Admittedly, some of the plastics are a bit naff. But that can be forgiven in a commercial vehicle. The SVP benefits from gloss black finishers, and the two-tone black and light grey plastics create a light, airy cabin. At night time you will notice the illuminated ‘Barbarian’ door plates (SVP would have been better, no?) and blue footwell lighting and puddle lights.
Behind the chunky leather steering wheel is a relatively simple instrument cluster. But look a little closer and you will notice the carbon-effect backgrounds to the dials, which is a subtle but effective touch.
It’s not all rosy in the L200 SVP. The 7-inch multimedia screen still looks a little like an aftermarket Halfords special. The heated seat buttons are a little awkward and cheap-looking, and some of the other switchgear seems to have placed at random.
Ultimately, the touches of luxury in the SVP do enough to elevate the cabin beyond that of a commercial vehicle. It feels premium, but not in a way that erodes its rugged usability. It’s a nice place to be, yet you don’t feel bad for climbing in wearing muddy boots.
There is a choice of one engine for the L200 SVP: a 2.4-litre, turbocharged diesel unit. It is a relatively unstrained engine – producing just 181PS – but that makes for better reliability and longevity. Instead it is optimised for torque: offering 430Nm.
You’d be correct in thinking that it won’t set your hair alight: 0-62mph takes a coma-inducing 11.8 seconds and the top speed is 109mph. But let’s be honest, how many people are looking to do a standing quarter mile in a pickup truck anyway?
The engine itself is a conventional diesel. Stick in the 1,500rpm – 3,000rpm range and you’ll find it pulls well and quiet enough. Stray above 3,000rpm and the forward progression seems to disappear in favour of exasperating rattling.
The automatic gearbox is a 5-speed, and is agricultural to say the least. But at this point it has proven itself to be robust and reliable, so why fix what isn’t broken? Changes are smooth and the revs are kept low enough on the motorway.
You can even change gears via paddles behind the steering wheel, although I don’t see why you would. An automatic L200 is not an engaging car to drive, but that’s exactly the point. It doesn’t feel like you have to work hard behind the wheel; simply put it in ‘D’ and away you go.
And while we’re on the note of not working hard: I have to say that the 2.4-litre engine never seems like it’s trying. Whether it’s just a lone driver, or a full house with a car trailer in tow, the L200 pulls away exactly the same.m
The leaf-sprung rear suspension on the L200 is clearly visible from the outside, and it does little to inspire confidence in the ride. But the truth is that it is an ideal setup for the carrying and towing responsibilities bestowed on the versatile pickup truck.
From the driving seat, the ride is a little bouncy. But somehow, and I don’t know how, Mitsubishi have managed to minimize wallowing tendencies; even with an empty load bay. Which means that you can drive along safe in the knowledge that your lunch won’t be making a reappearance.
The steering ration in the latest L200 is lower than it has been previously, but it isn’t what you’d call direct. There still feels a lot of turns to apply full lock, and you can wiggle the steering wheel a fair amount without the direction changing.
This woolly steering can be unnerving when running in rear-wheel drive mode, particularly in slippery conditions. With no weight over the back axle the L200 can actually become a little tail-happy, not helped by the slushbox changing down at inappropriate moments.
All things considered, the L200 SVP is comfortable. It cruises well on the motorway and – importantly on our shoddy roads – absorbs potholes and speed bumps with ease. Sure, there’s lean and body roll; but this is, after all, a pickup truck not a hot hatch.
With a big diesel engine, four-wheel drive and a good old-fashioned slushbox, I wasn’t expect great things of the L200 SVP.
On paper Mitsubishi claim that on a combined cycle the automatic will return 37.7mpg versus 39.8mpg in a manual. I’ve driven an L200 manual, and actually that figure isn’t far off. But in the automatic I was doing well if I achieved above 30mpg.
CO2 emissions of 196g/km don’t exactly scream “saving Peter Polar Bear”, but as a Light Goods Vehicle (LGV) they have no effect on the VED rate, which is currently fixed at £240 per annum, and more than the £140 paid for cars.
These days we dub large, luxury SUVs as ‘Chelsea Tractors’ for their superficial purpose. The most off-road action most will see is when the driveway gets full of leaves. That’s where the L200 SVP comes in.
For the most part, only the rear wheels are driven. However, at the twist of a dial you have four-wheel drive with two additional modes: low-range and differential lock. Those BF Goodrich tyres are not just for show, the L200 is a really capable off-road vehicle.
And it is a workhorse in every other respect too. Climbing aboard in rigger boots doesn’t feel wrong. The braked towing capacity of 3,100kg and payload of 1,050kg means you can haul some serious kit around behind you.
In order to make the most out of the L200, a load cover is recommended. Mine came with a Mountain Top Roll cover, but if you want to maximise space you can opt for a full hard top. Either way, it keeps your shopping safe from the local chavs.
All L200s come with a decent specification. Air conditioning, brake Assist, selectable 4WD, Bluetooth and USB connectivity is standard across the range.
Being the flagship model, the L200 SVP gets so much more than that. Mitsubishi has tried to give this commercial vehicle a luxury edge. There are no optional extras available to creep the price up; only accessories such as load covers and roof boxes.
Not like you need optional extras though. Amongst the standard kit is keyless entry and go, satellite navigation, heated front seats, lane departure warning system, a reversing camera, HID bi-xenon headlights, privacy glass and dual-zone air conditioning.
This goes a long way to make the L200 feel a little more sophisticated. It may not be the most refined animal, but it is civilised. The creature comforts make it much more usable, and family friendly.
Value For Money
There is no escaping the fact that the L200 SVP is still, at heart, a commercial vehicle. And that is particularly evident when you start to talk money. The L200 range starts at £19,000 + VAT. By the time you get up to the Barbarian SVP it’s £29,330 + VAT.
If you are VAT registered and can reclaim the VAT, then the L200 seems like a reasonable buy. But for a private user the SVP works will cost £35,196 which, despite being generously equipped, seems a little on the pricey side.
So what about company car drivers?
Well, your employer being able to reclaim the VAT, so they’ll be happy. Better yet the L200 is, in HMRC’s eyes, a ‘van’. That means it has a fixed P11d benefit of £3,230. If you are provided with private fuel, that’s a fixed benefit of £610. Both of these figures make the L200 significantly cheaper than most cars, where the benefit is based on list price and CO2 emissions. So you’ll be happy too.
Facts and Figures
|Engine||2.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel|
|Max power||181PS at 3,500rpm|
|Max torque||430Nm at 2,500rpm|
|Drivetrain||5-speed automatic gearbox with low range, selectable rear/four-wheel drive with differential lock|
|Fuel tank size||75 litres|
|Fuel consumption||37.7mpg, combined cycle|
|Towing capacity||3,100kg braked / 750kg unbraked|
|Luggage capacity||1,050kg payload|
|NCAP rating||4 stars|
|Base price||£29,330 (ex. VAT)|
|Price as tested||£30,730 (ex. VAT)|