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Twin test: Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian SVP II vs Nissan Navara AT32

We hit the green lanes of Surrey in two of the most rugged off-roaders you can buy today

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What are they?

Pick-up trucks are big business in the UK – seemingly against popular convention. While the passenger car segment constantly chases electrification, efficiency and round-town proficiency, pick-up trucks are morphing from rugged farm vehicles into luxury family buses.

That’s because trucks with a payload of over a tonne and registered as a business vehicle don’t attract VAT, giving customers a welcome price cut. However, the two trucks we’ve gathered today are less about luxury and more about ruggedness.

What’s new?

First, there’s the Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian SVP II – and you certainly can’t miss it. It’s a glitzed-up version of one of the UK’s best-loved pickups, and it gains a seriously eye-catching orange makeover inside and out.

Mechanically, nothing’s changed, but you can’t miss the new grille, the orange alloy wheels or the premium leather interior in – you guessed it – black and orange.

This is actually a run-out special edition for the current Mitusbishi L200, with a substantially upgraded version unveiled earlier this month. It is based on the chassis of the current model, although very few technical details have yet been made public. It’s expected to arrive in UK showrooms next summer.

There are more changes afoot with the Nissan Navara, which as the name suggests, has been to off-road specialists Arctic Trucks for a going-over. The AT32 indicates that it’s been fitted with 32-inch off-road tyres – making it slightly less beefy than its AT35 siblings in the Isuzu and Toyota ranges, but striking a better compromise for everyday use.

The Navara’s suspension has been raised and beefy skidplates fitted to protect vital components. There are also plastic wheel arch extensions and a rear differential lock – all good things. On the options list, you’ll find a front differential lock and, for the waders, a snorkel which increases the depth the Navara can handle by 20cm.

How do they look?

Nissan Navara AT32 and Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian SVP II
Neither is a shrinking violet, but that orange is definitely a standout

It’s actually difficult to decide which of these cars is the more eye-catching. You see, the Navara may have those enormous wheels and tyres, plus blistered arches and a general aura of ‘don’t mess with me’ – but the L200 tested here is an SVP II model. This is Mitsubishi’s special projects arm, and it seems they were given free rein to make the L200 as orange as it’s humanly possible to make anything.

While the main body colour is – thankfully – silver, it’s bolstered with orange highlights on the roof bars, around the foglights and taillights and most eye-catching of all, in a wide bar across the grille. Even the wheels haven’t escaped treatment – they’re chunky black-and-orange six-spokers.

The Navara is comparatively staid in its navy blue bodywork with black wheels. There is quite a lot of chrome going on – it features on the grille, foglights and door mirrors – and perhaps most interesting is the massive snorkel, which sits on the A-pillar and looks completely badass. It also increases the AT32’s wading depth.

What are they like inside?

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Both of these vehicles were originally designed for work, not play, so they’re not exactly plush. The Navara is especially utilitarian – the leather seats are wipe-clean rather than cossetting and the dashboard is unyieldingly hard.

Once again, it’s the Mitsubishi that ticks the ‘look at me’ box – its leather seats are two-tone black and orange, and there are illuminated sill plates too. Both vehicles have touchscreen infotainment systems, but the Mitsubishi’s is more up-to-date with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Both trucks have simple layouts which put all of the functions close to your fingertips, with chunky buttons suitable for gloved hands.

What’s under the bonnet?

The Mitsubishi receives a beefy 2.4-litre diesel engine, putting 180hp out to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission – though there’s also a manual available.

The Navara makes use of a twin-turbocharged 2.3-litre diesel putting out 190hp, though in this case it’s paired to a six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional seven-speed auto.

Both vehicles feature an identically-operating four-wheel drive system – staying in RWD for normal road use, with switchable four-wheel drive, low-range gearbox and differential locks when the going gets tough. It’s all operated by chunky dials inside.

The two trucks are pretty well aligned when it comes to power output, then, but it’s the Nissan which feels the more car-like. The engine revs more cleanly and feels less agricultural, especially under load. The Mitsubishi just feels old-fashioned. Both provide oodles of torque, though – plenty to get out of sticky situations.

The Navara’s manual gearbox isn’t exactly the cream of the crop thanks to an absurdly long throw and vague action, but plenty of drivers will appreciate the added control it gives over an automatic.

The Mitsubishi’s six-speed torque converter is old-fashioned and takes an absolute age to respond to the gearchange paddles on the wheel.

What are they like to drive?

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Let’s get this out of the way at the outset – neither of these trucks are particularly good to drive on-road in their standard forms, and the off-road additions don’t really do much to help that. By the standards of the class, they’re not awful, but anybody coming to these from a family-sized SUV will be sorely disappointed.

The Mitsubishi’s biggest issue is its super-knobbly off-road tyres, which patter along the road surface at any speed. They combine with its unsophisticated suspension to make for an unrefined at times uncomfortable ride.

The Navara’s beefed-up underpinnings actually help proceedings, as do those enormous, squashy tyres. It’s still far from comfortable, but by pickup standards, it’s not half bad.

Where all those modifications come in handy is when you head into the rough stuff. There’s little the British countryside can throw at these two that will stop them, and it’s certainly within their capabilities to deal with rutted farm tracks, overflow car parks and even some greenlaning should you desire.

Verdict

If you’re buying a truck for serious off-road use, both of these will serve you admirably. However, the Navara is the only one with meaningful mechanical upgrades over its standard model – the L200’s changes are mainly cosmetic, short of those chunky off-road tyres. That’s why, despite its higher price, the Navara AT32 feels like better value.

When it comes to a truck for daily use, the lines are a little more blurred. The eye-catching orange Mitsubishi will certainly attract some admiring looks, but there’s a brutal ruggedness to the AT32 which means it stands out in any crowd. Combine that with the Navara’s slightly better manners on the road, and it’s our winner today.

Tom Wiltshire
Tom Wiltshire
Articles by Tom Wiltshire are provided for The Van Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association), including news, new LCV reviews and other automotive features.

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