MOTOR MOUTH: Toying with our emotions

MOTOR MOUTH: Toying with our emotions - Koala bears are vicious, bad-tempered little bastards, but there is something in their morphology - the big eyes, the pudgy fluffiness, the muted colourways - that we instinctively find agreeable. The koala design b

by STEPHEN BAYLEY, an author and design consultant
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Koala bears are vicious, bad-tempered little bastards, but there is something in their morphology - the big eyes, the pudgy fluffiness, the muted colourways - that we instinctively find agreeable. The koala design bypasses rationality to punch the button in the hypothalamus marked 'cute'. It is the same with cars. Some - the Morgan, for instance - are operationally ridiculous but emotionally irresistible. Mitsubishi is in this territory with the Shogun: its visceral desirability is intense and out of all proportion to any sane audit of its attributes.

We are, after nearly 20 years, now on the third-generation Shogun. Mitsubishi's designers always understood the ludic quality cars like this must have. From the first (which was orthogonal) to its successor (more organic) to the third (a completely bonkers mixture of banzai styling motifs), Shoguns (or Pajeros, as they are known elsewhere) have had a toy-like appearance that exerts an ineluctable appeal. The tyres are almost balloon-like, the wheels inset into the black doughnuts like coruscating jewels; the daylight openings (designerese for window) have just the right proportions; the nose-down stance is keen; well-judged plastic bulges, fillets and external trims add to the wanton effect. It is Tonka for adults. See a Shogun and your cupidity patch itches. You want to scratch it, touch it, use it ... even - for Goodness' sake! - buy it. If Mitsubishi could isolate this mystical commodity, it could give up on its corporate day job.

On the consumer map, Shogun territory is not quite the same place as other popular four-wheel-drives. Black girls in Brixton who wear pastel duvet jackets drive Suzuki Vitaras; white male windsurfers and mountainbikers go for Freelanders; landscape architects and site managers have Land Rovers; people who tend to live in Hampshire or London SW6 have M-Class Mercedes, while rock stars and landowners inevitably choose Range Rovers. Shogun types are more modern in their way. Personal trainers might drive the short-wheel-base three-door; television types might use the much larger five-door. I get the impression they are smart urban cars, not country casuals.

This is because they have always been unusually good to drive. Most powerful four-wheel-drives are amusing: you get the high seating position and stacks of wuffling power. Shoguns have this, but go like real cars. This is more than ever the case with the latest model: Mitsubishi has abandoned the old ladder-frame chassis and given the car a stressed monocoque. This depresses the centre of gravity, so the new Shogun can be hustled accurately like a nervous hatchback. Well, not q-u-i-t-e, but you get my point. In a category where Suzukis crash and jiggle, Discoveries teeter and Range Rovers waft, Shogun has easily the best dynamic characteristics.

Mitsubishi must have been confident about this to have made it look so odd. That same low centre of gravity makes Shoguns appear to be sitting on suspension that has collapsed. The oddness is enhanced by Appearance Decisions (this bizarrerie cannot be called 'styling') that include wheel arch extensions so engorged beyond the polite norm that they dominate the sculptural effect of the car, creating a giddy fore-and-aft sine wave of look-at-me musculature. And from the front the new Shogun seems to ape the features of a samurai made very cross because you're standing on his toe.

Against such a wacko exterior, the cabin has been executed by individuals on a strict regime of mind-controlling drugs. It is very spacious and comfortable, but artistically humdrum. One concession to cultural interest is a large range of knobs, switches and tumblers, including one that demonstrates Japanese genius for understanding the role of redundancy in stimulating consumer desire: the antenna is automatic, yet you can lower the aerial while the radio is still on. This is exactly what my daughter (14) would call cool.

Problems include rear visibility close to zero and, a subset of this, a sacrificial rear-door-mounted spare wheel. And that's about it. Shoguns command attention, drive very well, are comfortable to sit in and last for ever. They are the perfect plaything. Which is more, in truth, than you can say about koala bears.

Mitsubishi Shogun, costs from pounds 22,000 to pounds 33,995.

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