There's an MPV metamorphosis going on
Stylish seven-seater Happy evolution: the new Grandis is sleeker and more wagon-like, with a profile akin to that of a large estate

MY dream car is a stylish MPV, with enough space for my three children, the maid, and my dear old mother. My wife can join us, too, if she feels like going to the Sengkang mall. It won't be a problem because my dream MPV has seven comfortable seats, a large boot for all that shopping and a powerful engine to zip us happily down whatever expressway it is that takes us to the Sengkang mall.

Oh wait, there's something wrong with the first line. No, not the bit about my numerous offspring or geriatric mother. It's the words 'stylish MPV'. Isn't that an oxymoron?

It would have been a decade ago but, thankfully, things do change. A little. I'm not quite dreaming about an MPV yet but the MPV itself is changing. The metamorphosis from boxy minivan to sleek wagon may be slow but it is getting clearer. One example is the new Mitsubishi Grandis.

In its previous life as the brilliantly named Spacewagon, Mitsubishi's mid-sized people carrier performed its function adequately albeit sedately. It had an innovative 2.4-litre GDI direct injection engine and interesting faceted nose. But it was also upright and squarish, and very conservative-looking.

The new Grandis is eminently different. It is sleeker and more wagon-like. Its profile is akin to that of a large estate. It has a rounded nose, in the mould of the new Mitsubishi identity. Together with the relatively short front overhang and attractive factory-fitted 17-inch wheels, they reinforce the sporty image.

All new models feel 'modern' when they first arrive but the Grandis seems particularly trendy. The vertical rear lamps are jewel-like and distinctive. Inside, the cabin trim comes in a choice of two colours - grey or beige. Both are contrasted with a rich burgundy on the dashboard and door armrests, and the effect is especially striking. Little wonder authorised distributor Cycle and Carriage says that out of the seven body colours available, many buyers pick 'Medium Purple' because they think the violet shade of the exterior is a nice match for the burgundy inside.

The cabin details include a metallic accent on the pod-like extension for the gearstick, half-wood steering wheel and door panels. The dashboard itself is pretty slick. With its pleasing proportions and functional storage compartments, it can pass for a pretty Italian credenza. The good quality materials used also enhance the futuristic design. Sink into the soft, comfortable leather seats with their individual armrests in front and a fat centre one for the second row, and the Grandis cabin feels like a well furnished sitting room.

The third row has two seats which fold and flip neatly to form a flat cargo area. When up, they can take take two adults comfortably because of adequate headroom and adjustable legroom, but taller occupants will find the seatbacks a bit shorter than normal. With this last row of seats in use, the boot area remains relatively decent and should easily accommodate two golf bags.

The utility of an MPV ultimately rests on the versatility of its interior and the Grandis offers the usual range of options. Apart from the third row, the second row of seats can fold to maximise cargo space. As each seat is individually adjusted, myriad permutations are possible.

The seats in the middle row also have a 'relax mode'. What this means is in addition to the reclining seat back, the seat squab can also be tilted for greater comfort when lying back.

The front passenger seat squab can also be pulled up to reveal a locker. When left in the upright position, a shopping bag or briefcase can be hung on the hook provided. Various cubby holes, pull-out tables and cup holders in front and at the side complete the list of required MPV cabin features.

Up front in the driver's seat, the view is like the old Spacewagon's - commanding. The Grandis offers a good driving position with gear lever, turn signal stalk, ventilation controls and radio all within easy reach. But despite the 165 hp from the quiet 2.4-litre Mivec engine with variable valve lift and timing, the Grandis isn't quick. Its sluggishness is accentuated by the four-speed Invecs-II automatic transmission's occasional reluctance to change down. To get anything resembling alacrity, you will have to manually work the gear shift yourself.

Despite the lack of oomph, the Grandis has excellent manoeuvrability. The light steering is accurate and it feels smaller than its actual size. All the easier to pretend it's a sporty bullet-like estate rather than the spacious people carrier it really is.

SPECS

Mitsubishi Grandis 2.4 Mivec

Engine: 2,378cc

Gearbox: 4-speed Invecs-II automatic with manual shift

Max power: 165 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Max torque: 217 Nm @ 4,000 rpm

Price: $116,988 (with COE)

Distributor: Cycle & Carriage

Tel: 6473 9722