The Shogun Pinin may sell largely to trendy city types, but it's no duffer when the going gets tough. On the contrary, it's one of the most accomplished cars in its class when conditions get rough, thanks to a gearbox that allows power to be shifted from rear to four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 62mph. Should things get truly tricky, there are also high and low gear ratios with a centre differential lock. As a result, this car will ford a river, find its way through a boggy forest - or indeed scale the up-ramp at your local multi-storey carpark. Mitsubishi has designed it to do all three but knows that on-road performance is all that will really matter to most customers.
For the time being, only a single three-door version is being made available, though a five-door variant isn't too far off. Equipment is pretty much as you'd expect from a Japanese car of this kind: dual airbags and central locking on the base model, electric windows, sunroof and mirrors on the GLX and air conditioning and ABS on the GLS.
Inside, there's nothing particularly remarkable about the dash layout, though some effort at uniqueness has been made with silver textured strips that divide the facia. There's also a dash-top screen for the radio and trip computer display which can also be used for the satellite navigation system (check first to see if your prospective purchase has it fitted) - unusual in this class of 4x4. Since the car is just 3735mm long and 1695mm wide, you shouldn't be expecting too much in terms of rear passenger or luggage space. Sure enough, rear legroom is nominal, while the luggage compartment can just about handle a couple of slimline briefcases. Still, supportive height-adjustable seats mean that front seat passengers are much better off, even if the driver has to do without the adjustable steering wheel that would have bought complete comfort.
The Shogun Pinin is a hardy little beast, capable of some quite accomplished off-road antics. Like the even smaller Suzuki Jimny, the Pinin is a car whose voguish appearance belies its true ability. Nonetheless, check the underside of the car for damage caused by rocks, tree stumps or speed humps. The four-wheel drive selector should work smoothly and there should be no whining or graunching noises emanating from the differential. Most Pinins won't have been subjected to this sort of treatment, and parking knocks and paint scrapes are far more likely occurrences. Check the load bay and rear seats for damage as well and look for a full service history.
(approx based on a 1999 Pinin 1.8GDi) Spares prices for the Pinin are agreeably diminutive. A new clutch assembly retails at around £200, front brake pads at £80 and rear pads at approximately £30. Alternators range in price from £80 for the most inexpensive up to around £200 for a heavy duty unit. Similarly a starter motor can be bought for around £100, or £220 if you want an industrial strength number. A replacement headlamp will set you back something in the region of £110.
The Shogun Pinin's on-road performance credentials are underlined by the provision of the punchy 120bhp 1.8-litre GDi engine. Though barn-door aerodynamics limit the top speed to 104mph, rest to sixty takes just 10.2s - which is almost as quick as some hot hatchbacks. The importers think that GTi customers will be particularly attracted to a car of this kind - with good reason. Sales of the Pinin's two closest rivals (Land Rover's Freelander and Toyota's RAV4) have - in three-door form at least - been mainly to the kind of people who ten years ago would have bought a Golf GTI. Since dynamically, there's nothing particularly sporty about either of these two 4x4s, it's easy to see why Mitsubishi see a place for a faster, fresher and less compromised competitor.
Nevertheless, many customers in this sector will like it, particularly if they're coming out of cars like Suzuki Vitaras or Daihatsu Fourtraks. Moreover, after these vehicles (and many like them), the suspension of the Pinin will be a revelation, smoothing out all but the nastiest surfaces just like a family hatchback. Only the extra bodyroll (and slightly greater wind and engine noise) reminds you that you're in a 4x4.
On paper, the little Mitsubishi's hi-tech GDI petrol engine is extremely frugal. However, a combined figure of just over 30mpg is a testament to the fact that it's been tuned more for performance. At least it's environmentally sound. No other rival gets close in terms of clean emissions. There's a choice of five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions, neither of which feel particularly sporty. Both however, are well suited to urban use, where the responsive rack and pinion power steering and the great all-round visibility make the Pinin feel nippy and manoeuvrable.
The Mitsubishi Shogun Pinin makes an interesting alternative to used choices such as a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra. No, it won't be as relaxed on the motorway or as fun on a twisty B-road, and you'll probably have to put up with three doors only. Nevertheless, a Pinin is great fun in the urban environment, can carry a fair amount and adds a completely different dimension by being genuinely good fun off road. It also looks chunky and modern, is reasonably cheap to run and benefits from the Shogun brand values. Tracking down a used example may require patience, but if the Pinin appeals, it'll definitely be time well spent.