A good car, but the diesel's better.

Mitsubishi is pushing its new Grandis as the MPV for people who don’t want an MPV. It’s making a big play of the car’s styling and handling, and wants the Grandis to break through some buyers’ reluctance to own such a family-orientated machine.

And it certainly looks good. Sharp, crisp lines, a low roof and shallow windows give the Grandis real attitude and an attention-grabbing presence often lacking in the people-hauling sector.

The Grandis also previews the new Mitsubishi family face with its narrow mesh grille, and it’s a success – I caught a bloke in a supermarket car park taking a second look.

From the front, especially, it’s a looker; the rear three-quarter view is a little less effective. But, as a whole, it’s an engaging and interesting design. Well made, too – the door handles feel chunky and are satisfying to use, and the doors close with a heavy, solid feel.

Shame the quality doesn’t continue inside. The handbrake and cigarette lighter are perfect examples – they feel spindly and cheap, more suited to a mid-’90s Korean car.

The plastics, especially on the dash, are hard and brittle, but the swooping, curvy dash design, while not to everybody’s taste, is at least different, and the silver inserts are more welcome (and more appropriate) than fake walnut. Twin sunroofs are standard on this top-of-the-range Elegance model, but the one over the front seats is of the old-fashioned tilt ’n’ slide variety.

It also has plenty of space and seven seats. The two in the very back are full size: they fold flat into the floor and are capable of accommodating two adults. Seats folded, there’s a sizeable boot on offer – significantly bigger than in most of its rivals. There are no sliding doors or electric tailgate, but the doors are long and deep, giving good access to the middle row of seats.

The Grandis’ 2.4-litre petrol four and four-speed auto make for brisk progress around town, and the ’box’s changes are respectably smooth, but extend the engine and you get a lot of noise with little extra performance. The engine has to work hard to shift the car’s 1655kg kerbweight, and becomes harsh and coarse over 3500rpm.

Fuel consumption isn’t too bad despite this – Mitsubishi claims a reasonable 28.5mpg for the auto, and we averaged just 26mpg over a mix of motorway and town driving. The diesel doesn’t come until 2005, although there is a five-speed manual ’box available for the petrol which may help boost economy.

Sadly, the driving experience lacks the sparkle Mitsubishi claims, with over-assisted steering that is accurate enough but offers little in the way of feel or feedback. The Grandis lurches about when dealing with tight corners – a result of less-than-adequate body control that makes tackling twisty roads uncomfortable.

And there’s a tendency to transmit the shocks from potholes up through the sides of the body in a shudder that feels uncannily like scuttle shake. Speed up to a motorway cruise, though, and the ride improves, the Grandis feeling composed and stable.

It’s a shame that the Grandis’ striking shape isn’t backed up by a similarly stimulating drive, and you’ll have to wait another year for the 2.0-litre diesel. However, while the £23,299 top-spec Elegance looks expensive, the entry-level car, at £18,499, is a cheap way in to a seven-seat MPV. And for many buyers, that pretty face may be enough.

Dan Stevens

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