It was not long ago that the distinction between cars and commercial vehicles is anything but inconspicuous. Ride quality is the first and foremost trait that separated them. In the time when the resurgent local auto industry is still on its knees, a motorist with limited choices would have to reluctantly succumb to a bone-jarring, utilitarian nature of a van if space and people conveyance are paramount concerns. Again, in the name of utilitarianism, commercial vehicles of that time would more often than not possess lesser road manners especially on the highway, due to taller gear ratios and inherently narrow power band of the engines that powered them.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and we now notice that the distinction between cars and commercial vehicles are indeed blurred, yes, blurred to the point that no one will be able to quickly identify the differences between different vehicle types. Nowadays, a vehicle may have a ride height similar to a van or an SUV, but step inside it and you will notice car-like comfort and features, and so on. Welcome to the MPV-cum-SUV-cum-car millennium.
Mitsubishi's latest MPV offering, the Fuzion, is more than qualified to be in the list of those blurring the distinction between a car, a van, and an SUV. Technically the next iteration of its long-serving Adventure AUV, the Fuzion here in the Philippines is marketed to cater to the upscale MPV community: those that either had an Adventure or a similar vehicle and would like to upgrade to it, or those who are in the market of compact SUVs but their bank book says otherwise, or those who simply like to upgrade their current van or sedan to something much larger and versatile.
And versatile the Fuzion is. Upon further research, we find out that the donor chassis of this svelte MPV is the Mitsubishi Challenger, or otherwise known as the Montero Sport of the previous generation. If the name doesn't ring a bell, then think of a smaller second generation Pajero, with similar accommodation as found in the Strada/L200 pick-up of the same vintage. Model naming jargon teeming? Then trust us as we say that the Fuzion's chassis came from a Mitsubishi vehicle known worldwide for its off road prowess and durability. End of story.
The sleek and streamlined exterior carries the modern design that Mitsubishi is propagating into its line-up. The large headlamps, flared wheel wells, the high mount stop lamps, the Fuzion mostly takes it cues from its Outlander stable mate, which is honestly a value-added trait in favor of the Fuzion. Quite honestly, I sometimes mistake the Fuzion for an Outlander, if not for the extra height that the former possesses. ‘Nuff said about the distinction between an MPV and an SUV.
Looking at the interior, the distinction is blurred even further with leather appointments for all seven passengers. Sliding second row seats provide extra room for occupants that might need it, but is otherwise hampered by the presence of the third row jump seats. Removing the jump seats will reveal more passenger space and will add a point or two to cargo flexibility, for the second row seats fold and tumble to give way to it. A maroon-cued dashboard is an unconventional yet welcome addition to the beige seating scheme, breaking the monotony of flesh hues. Other creature comforts present in the Fuzion's interior is a JVC single DIN DVD player with USB connectivity complemented by an LCD screen in the center of the dashboard, dual air conditioning controls, and power-adjustable driver's seat. Add cruise control (wishful thinking) to the equation and one will be confusing this with an upmarket van or an SUV.
Speaking about the mechanical attributes of the Fuzion, its engine is shared with, you've guessed it right, the Outlander, well at least the previous generation. In rear-wheel drive guise, the 2.4 liter 4G64 engine is devoid of any valve timing or similar trickery, so on paper, one might conclude that the output of 136 Ps and 203 Nm as maximum power and torque, respectively, is somewhat lacking. But couple this with a smooth shifting 4-speed automatic transmission and one will not notice the numbers. For the Fuzion delivers and it delivers well. Credit partially goes to the slightly taller gear ratios of the transmission and the smooth, torquey characteristic of the engine, a trait of Mitsubishi gasoline engines. Springing duties, on the other hand, are administered by front double wishbone suspension and three-link coil spring rear suspension. The suspension setup, at least from my perspective during my one-week stint with the Fuzion is perfect for what the vehicle will be used for: for carrying people, cargo, or both at the same time. The suspension is accommodating, but firm, and will sometimes border on the hard side, but the somewhat longer suspension travel, increased interior insulation, and accommodating seats will more than make up for it.
In terms of ergonomics, the Strada's instrumentation inside the Fuzion is more than enough to garner more than a handful of points in this area. Personally, I like the blue-faced instrumentation with white backlight and the simple yet stunning use of LED technology to accentuate the blue face gauges especially at night, for the white backlighting is complemented by blue LED lights aimed directly at the gauge. Worth mentioning also is the fact that LED bulbs last longer than conventional filament ones; if the white lights give way due to age or otherwise, at least the blue lights will illuminate the gauge cluster, thereby making instrumentation lighting fail-safe. Larger side mirrors also provide an extra ounce of safety during maneuvers, and is a constant reminder that despite the car-like accommodation, it is still a commercial vehicle. In terms of safety, the Fuzion will also win more points as dual airbags are standard (for the GLS Sport variant) as well as the brake alphabet of ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist. A Tire-Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is a welcome novelty for those who would like a bird's eye view of how much the tires have, including the spare.
And, to further blur the distinction between cars even more, the Fuzion exhibits very good road manners, not only on city streets, but also on highway thoroughfares. Steering and braking is taut and precise, exuding driver confidence. Throttle control is predictable thanks to the throttle cable mechanism, which can be easier to troubleshoot and fix should the need arise. Air conditioning is powerful and gives one complete control of cabin temperature, thanks to additional louver settings and combined cooler-heater operation, although at first the controls are somewhat cumbersome to operate. City driving fuel consumption resulted in an acceptable 6.4 kilometers per liter while highway fuel consumption is pegged at around 8-9 kilometers per liter.
Summing up, the Fuzion is indeed one of the signs of the upcoming excitement for the entirety of the local auto industry. Global financial crisis notwithstanding, the Fuzion will ensure one's money is well spent by being either your next car, err, wagon, err, SUV. Whatever type you may call it, the Fuzion is indeed here to stay and will deliver more than it is expected to.