motioncars
Empty Space: Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)
 
The streets of Manila aren’t paved with red prancing horses, or even luxo-SUVs; it’s filled with refrigerator vans. Although this type of van design has been either retired or reduced to delivering flowers in other parts of the world, it continues to be the number one people transport of choice in the Philippines (with the exception of AUVs). It doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to notice that almost every vehicle entering schools are vans even if they’re carrying just one or two kids, plus a driver and probably a maid. Nonetheless, people have come to see this as a case of ‘more metal for your money’, a case where their 900,000 pesos was well spent on something that could carry ten to twelve people.

Of course, sooner or later one of the local manufacturers would find the initiative to enter into the new era of troop transportation. A kind of van that is supposed to change the people’s perception on kiddy carriers. Unfortunately, the Mitsubishi Spacegear didn’t do this. The Spacegear had all the right ingredients: acceptable looks, a beefy engine, seating for nine and the company’s reputation for bringing out quality products. Unfortunately, the flaw is all in the execution. The magic formula seems to be missing to justify this car’s absurdly high price of 1.1 million pesos.

In terms of looks, the Spacegear breaks the mold of the Kelvinator vans—it’s a given because it has a hood. The car looks sleek, futuristic enough to be considered as a design of the 90s, compared to the Volkswagen-Minibus look of other full-sized vans. If there’s anything that’s good about the Spacegear, it has to be its looks. Much like the Mitsubishi Galant, the Spacegear has been given an aggressive look with those light clusters and grille. Most people carriers often have bland looks, probably as not to offend the chauffeur (the politically correct term) driving the vehicle. The two-tone paint job (standard on all Spacegears) as well as the rear lamp treatment successfully hides the real bulk of the van, an illusion only ruined by the car’s flat sides (lacks fender arches or body creases).

Although hiding the bulk does make the Spacegear look sportier, it does decrease the look of stability that even its Korean brother, the Hyundai Starex has. Come to think of it, a car with this much height has to look stable enough, to be able to be driven properly. The Spacegear has none of this, but rather it looks unstable especially with its thin tires and towering overall height. Moreover, Mitsubishi seems to have forgotten to put in alloys, opting for hub cabs—something that is more suited to appliance delivery vans. Moreover, for a price tag nearly 400,000 pesos cheaper, the Mitsubishi L300DX has dual sliding doors, a feature the Spacegear lacks.

There's a lack of safety devices on the Spacegear as well. Although the rear passengers have three-point seatbelts, the van lacks ABS or even any airbags. Again, this really doesn't say much where your 1.1 million pesos goes since the top of the line Hyundai Starex has dual airbags, ABS and even limited slip differential.

Cosmetically, the Starex is has better specifications as well with a rear back-up mirror (for the 1999 models) and back-up sensors (2000 models), tusk bumpers, luggage rack and ladder. In short, the Koreans have put everything but the kitchen sink in their van.

Don't fret however. Somewhere, the Spacegear also has its advantages. What the Spacegear has in volume are cubby holes to place stuff in. Like the Toyota Echo, this has two glove boxes, numerous map holders plus some utility pockets for the rear passengers as well.

Dual ventilation controls are also standard with the Spacegear, but they are actually kind of weak in removing the Manila heat compared to its other competitors. Moreover, though the Spacegear has two general areas where the cool air would come out: the front vents and the rear roof vents, the Starex has three areas that cover a wider area: the front, the roof and even the floor area. The Koreans seem to have the advantage in the comfort department.

Inside, the van says corporate Mitsubishi. There’s nothing spectacular about it, except probably if you count in the number of cup holders (a total of six). The dash, although ergonomically efficient seems to look dated especially the ventilation controls, which require slide operation. Moreover, the switchgear looks hodgepodge, like they were simply taken from older 1980s cars, the biggest culprit of which is air conditioner compressor button.

For the important part, does the Mitsubishi Spacegear keep the family entertained and comfortable on a long trip? Well, frankly, it doesn’t. In the showroom, the interior looks quite roomy; there’s no denying that, but the seat fabrics don’t seem to look like it belongs in a million-peso car. In fact, it seems that it came from the Mitsubishi Adventure: absolutely lacking any sense of softness in them. Moreover, the passenger seats lack tilt adjustment-making people sit more upright than usual, and could be a source of strain especially on long drives. However, the seats do give surprisingly ample body support. The car also lacks any sort of entertainment system relying only on a stereo cassette with a single CD player and 4-speaker system to entertain the family. This is absolutely a rip-off compared to the Hyundai Starex’s 6-disc CD changer with 6-speaker system!

In driving the Spacegear is where we get the extent of the damage. On paper, the 2.5-liter turbo diesel looks to be a more than adequate engine, especially when taking into account that other vans such as the Toyota Liteace uses a 1.8-liter petrol. In reality it’s a different story. The engine starts up in the typical diesel type of way with the entire ruckus involved. With this boomy sound in mind, one would suspect power to accompany it—not a chance. From idling the engine behaves deadpan all the way to its 5,000-rpm redline. It gives all the noise that indicates acceleration, but the pace (and the speedometer) says otherwise. Moreover, the Spacegear is only available with a 5-speed column mounted manual transmission that should be operated with a health warning that reads: CAN CAUSE CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME. It takes contortionist to properly shift the Spacegear. It’s a good thing that the easy-to-modulate clutch and gas pedals make the work a bit easier. Braking has a similar story: bland all the way, but at least it stops.

In terms of ride and handling, the Spacegear behaves the way designers intended it to do so: like a van. The ride is not particularly amazing, but its not that bad either. Compared to the Starex, the Spacegear is the softer rider, meaning long distance travel is extremely comfortable even for those sitting over the rear axle. However, the softer rides results in wallow handling, a problem that was solved in the Spacegear's Korean cousin.

The lack of structural rigidity is felt easily even after just five minutes of driving. Creaks, squeaks and some other noise are easily audible inside the cabin. Handling is fuzzy, but on the good note, the steering gives a lifeless but precise response. A piece of advice though: beware of the car’s bulk—this is no minivan!

Ownership proposition of the Spacegear is answerable in two questions: first is, do you need to carry around nine to ten people at a time? If the answer is yes, then the Spacegear could be a good consideration, but there are other nice choices out there. For a few hundred thousands less, the Hyundai Starex, essentially a twin of the Spacegear offers better value for money and is more refined to boot. If you want the appearance to come with the convenience of people carrying, then add two hundred thousand pesos more and go for the Mitsubishi Pajero or Isuzu Trooper instead, as both can carry nine people as well. The second question is: do you have a driver? Unfortunately, for everything that the Spacegear has promised that 20th century father, it still drives like a 19th century carriage, and probably the only person willing to take a whole day’s punishment of driving this thing would be someone you actually have to pay: a driver. Beyond that, it is impractical to carry so much bulk and you’ll have to suffer in driving it.

The Mitsubishi Spacegear may have the looks, but it doesn’t have the refinement or the amenities expected from something that costs so much. Family men out there who are looking for a proper transport for nine should look elsewhere.

Perhaps a Hyundai Starex is in order?

By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Jason Ang & Ulysses Ang
Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000) Empty Space:  Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)

 

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Civilized Monster: Ford Explorer (2000)
December 18, 2000
Empty Space: Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)
November 18, 2000
First Class Effort: Hyundai Starex (2000)
November 18, 2000
Service Please! Nissan Cefiro Classic Long-Term Test Update (1998)
November 18, 2000
Astra La Vista: Opel Astra (2000)
September 18, 2000
Old World Brute: Nissan Patrol Safari
September 18, 2000
Newly Hatched: Toyota Echo (2000)
September 18, 2000
Goodbye Beetle: Toyota Echo (2000)
August 15, 2000
Steer Flick'n Good: Audi A4 (2000)
July 9, 2000
No Lucky Stars: Ford Taurus GL (1998)
June 11, 2000
Simply Bulletproof: The Honda Accord VTi-L Long-Term Test Update (1998)
June 11, 2000
Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998