Mitsubishi's designers lost their touch, not to mention their eyesight, when they penned the Dion's body. But its shoe-boxiness makes for space
This Dion is as fat as Celine is slim Mitsubishi Dion

SEVEN is the magic number for MPVs these days.

No matter how much noise a car manufacturer makes about its new MPV, if it does not have seven seats, it stands about as much chance as an earthworm on the Padang during the National Day Parade.

More specifically, this is increasingly the case for the midi-MPV category. All full-size MPVs can swallow seven people, anyway.

Their smaller siblings, on the other hand, require some help from creative engineers, who have to package their cabins more innovatively to create space for seven.

For that, you can thank (or blame) the Opel Zafira, which started this trend and has since put a tremendous amount of pressure on everyone else to follow suit.

Need proof? How about the fact that, after the Zafira's introduction, Volkswagen and Ford both decided to push back the launch of their own midi-MPVs, in order to give their engineers time for a redesign to come up with the space for seven seats.

The Japanese, too, have been cracking their heads over the same problem. Mitsubishi's answer is the Dion, which is not as bulky as a full-size MPV, but promises to accommodate, you guessed it, the magic number of people.

Coming from the creator of some of the most handsome-looking passenger vehicles like the Lancer, Galant and Chariot, the Dion looks like an illegitimate member of the family.

Mitsubishi's designers somehow lost their touch, not to mention their eyesight, when they penned the Dion's body.

Compared to other current MPVs, the Dion resembles something from a museum. The shoebox shape went out with the first-generation Renault Espace.

But boxiness makes for space, and underneath that squared-off shell is a two-plus-three-plus-two seat configuration.

With its gear lever at the steering column and the parking brake at the footwell, access between the front and second rows is easy for the petite.

Passengers more than 1.8 m tall will find limited legroom in the middle and last row of the cabin, although the seats have been configured to maximise the available space. On the plus side, headroom is excellent everywhere.

The other test of an MPV is its versatility, and in the Dion's luggage compartment, there is about enough room for your weekly grocery shopping when the backmost seat bench is up.

If more space is needed for big items, the headrests can be removed, the bench stowed into the underfloor compartment.

Mitsubishi has included thoughtful cubbyholes for storing the headrests and seatback extensions, too.

With an underfloor tray, underseat drawer, double glovebox, seatback and door pockets, and lidded accessory box, there are so many points of storage in the Dion that you may start to lose things unless your memory is very good.

In the engine bay lies Mitsubishi's two-litre gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine, producing 135bhp and 183Nm of torque. It is as smooth as the other GDI units, but gets a little raucous above 3,500 rpm.

The Dion's mass of 1,415 kg seems too lardy for the engine, though, and you tend to notice this during overtaking. You can hear the motor working overtime when the pedal is buried to the floor, while your vehicle creeps ahead only at a leisurely pace. Around bends, the experience is just as discouraging. The softly-sprung suspension induces substantial body-roll, and the tyres lack grip.

Stopping power, however, is among the best for the class, with progressive brakes and a nice, firm feel to the pedal. At a price tag of $119,800, the Dion is appreciably cheaper than Mitsubishi's own, larger Chariot.

For less money, however, a full-size MPV can be had in the Hyundai Trajet. If you feel like doing without the bulk of a proper MPV, the Mitsubishi is worth a look.

Otherwise, the Dion could use a more attractive price to offset its less-than-attractive looks.

FAST FACTS

Mitsubishi Dion

Price: $119,800, including COE

Engine: GDI 1,997 cc 16-valve in-line four

Gearbox: Four-speed automatic

Power: 135 bhp at 5,800 rpm

Torque: 183 Nm at 3,500 rpm

Top speed: 180 kmh

0 - 100 kmh: 13.5 seconds (estimated)

For enquiries: Contact Cycle & Carriage Automotive on 473-9722