No manufacturer can now hope to satisfy the budget-conscious, the family buyer and the luxury-led executive in one model range as this car did when it was first introduced. Three very different approaches were required, hence Mitsubishi's provision of three very different 4x4 Shogun line-ups. While the Shogun Pinin appeals to the compact, affordable Land Rover Freelander-style market, the Shogun Sport (previously badged Challenger) aims to satisfy the family-sized Discovery/Isuzu Trooper set. All of which at last leaves the real fully-sized Shogun free to concentrate on the role its designers always intended for it: that of a go-anywhere luxury express - a true Range Rover rival.
Unless you consider plusher versions of more family-orientated models like Land Rover's Discovery or Toyota's Land Cruiser Colorado (or somehow squeeze into the back of an M-class), you'll struggle to find anything on the market with seven seats - or, for those without families, a sportier three-door bodystyle option. Like its predecessors, the latest Shogun offers both - and manages to do so without resorting to bland, boxy looks. Instead, purposeful curves dominant at both front and rear, almost as if someone had taken a bicycle pump to the shape of the second-generation model. The long wheelbase five-door model's seven-seat layout works better too, with a forward-facing third row that folds completely away in an underfloor compartment or can be removed completely.
Inside the well-equipped cabin, almost everything has been redesigned giving a much smarter, if still rather plasticky feel. There's a centre digital panel for most of the driving information you might need and a chunkier four-spoke steering wheel that feels good to hold. Whether the latest Shogun will feel good to own depends on your buying priorities. Those wanting a 'proper' 4x4 will want to try one.
A full service history is desirable especially on turbodiesels which like fresh oil and filters served regularly to prevent wear. If this has been neglected, walk away, no matter how much you like the colour or CD player - there'll be plenty more to choose from.
Otherwise, there's very little to watch out for, apart from the obvious checks that you should subject any 4x4 to. Listen for whining gearboxes and differentials; look for leaky power steering, engines, gearboxes and driveshaft joints, off road abuse, tailgate and underbody corrosion and theft or accident damage. The Shogun is very well protected from rust, but the lack of a hose-down following exposure to salt water and constant mud wrestling may eventually cause the rusty red peril to attack. Mechanically, these cars are very durable.
(Based on a 2001 3.5GDI Equippe) A replacement exhaust (front to the catalyst) will set you back roughly £265, while a new clutch will be £185 or thereabouts. An alternator should be around £185 and a starter motor about £155. A new wing mirror is in the region of £240, while a headlamp is a steep £220.
Just two engines are now being offered to 'real' Shogun buyers - and both are considerable improvements on their predecessors in terms of power, emissions and economy. Most customers will opt for the 3.2-litre DI-D (Direct Injection Diesel) producing either 158 or 162bhp - either way a big improvement over the 128bhp of the old 2.8-litre unit. Petrol people meanwhile, will prefer the auto-only 3.5-litre direct injection GDI petrol V6 with its 200bhp output. Prices, which are a little higher than most rivals, ranging between £21,995 and £34,995, depend on your choice of engine, bodystyle and Classic, Equippe or plush Elegance trim levels.
On the road, the adaptive five-speed automatic gearbox (optional on the turbo diesel) is one of the car's best features, smooth in its changes and endowed with the ability to learn your driving style and adapt accordingly. The new re-circulating ball steering system is more direct too, while redesigned multi-link suspension improves the ride. When you do get to go off road, you'll have to work hard to get stuck, thanks to the uprated Super Select four-wheel drive system - though unlike many rivals, it won't give you permanent all-wheel drive. Instead, you've to use an electronically-controlled transfer lever to switch from 2WD at speeds of up to 62mph. That takes you into high-range 4WD, a mode that varies power to the front and rear depending on grip. You deal with trickier situations by shifting down to low range and locking the viscous coupling unit. Thus set, you can tackle almost anything.
Despite its unitary body construction, you still can't expect this Mitsubishi to handle like a Lexus saloon - or like a Mercedes M-class 4x4 come to that. The Japanese say this was entirely intentional given their refusal to compromise the Shogun's status as an accomplished off roader first and a luxury saloon second. They talk contemptuously of "the current industry fad of putting a saloon car on steroids, giving it a 4-wheel drive system and adding on big wheels". While off road alternatives like the Mercedes and BMW's X5 might use this approach to create 4x4s that really do handle like the saloons on which they're based, buyers have also to accept that nothing comes for nothing. In really tough off road conditions, this Shogun would leave such rivals standing - and probably stuck. All of which might seem pretty irrelevant if, like many luxury 4x4 buyers, your only intended purpose for the car is the school run and the odd trip to IKEA. Fair enough, but why buy a 4x4 at all if you're not going to buy a proper one? A luxury estate or an MPV would do the job just as well and there are plenty of models with the option of all-wheel drive in case you should ever get stuck in a muddy carpark.
The Mitsubishi Shogun has never been the aspirational choice of the green welly set, a factor that endears it to the majority of buyers who want a truly purposeful vehicle. Effortlessly reliable and tough as old boots, the third generation Shogun is every inch the 'proper' 4x4. Now more luxurious than ever, the Shogun represents one of the best compromises between quality and go anywhere ability. Recommended.