Tangerang, Indonesia—I’ve been to the Detroit, L.A., Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Beijing Motor Shows several times. Together with Frankfurt and Geneva, these are the major global auto shows. On the regional level, I have been to auto shows in Melbourne, Bangkok, and Singapore—smaller in size to the global shows but impressive and relevant in their own right.

But I have never been to an auto show in Indonesia. Which is why my inaugural attendance at this month’s GIIAS 2017 was an eye-opener. First of all, the venue (the 220,000sqm Indonesia Convention Exhibition or ICE, a 90-minute drive from Jakarta) was spectacularly huge—bigger even than the sizable convention center in Bangkok and easily double the size of our World Trade Center or SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

GIIAS stands for GAIKINDO Indonesia International Auto Show, GAIKINDO being the Indonesian equivalent of our own CAMPI (Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippine Inc.). In contrast to our usual four-day local auto shows, GIIAS is a long 11-day one, opening on August 10th and stretching all the way to August 20th. As luck would have it, GIIAS 2017 was the 25th GAIKINDO exhibition, which made the event that much grander.

With the theme “Rise of the Future Mobility,” GIIAS 2017 represents the spirit of GAIKINDO in building and growing the Indonesian automotive industry into the future. And grow it did, with no less than 40 new vehicle launches, three world premieres, plus various Asian and ASEAN premieres and concept car launches.

GIIAS 2017 boasted the presence of 32 GAIKINDO-member car and truck brands, including 24 brands of passenger vehicles, namely Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Daihatsu, Datsun, Dodge, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Jeep, KIA, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Suzuki, Tata, Toyota, Volvo, VW, and Chinese brand Wuling.

Still, in the face of the many luxury and premium car brand launches, it was Mitsubishi that stole the show with the official launch (its XM Concept car progenitor was revealed in last year’s GIIAS) of its flagship new MPV, the Xpander, in its world premiere.

The Xpander will be produced in Indonesia—local reservations started at the show—with a planned annual production of 80,000 units, including export models to ASEAN and other markets.

Mitsubishi Xpands its lineup

It’s no secret that the Adventure, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation’s evergreen 10-seater MPV, will finally end its 20-year production run at the end of 2017 as the more stringent Euro 4 emissions regulations come into effect in the new year.

This leaves a gaping hole in Mitsubishi’s Philippine product lineup, one which the company hopes to plug with the upcoming all-new and vastly more modern Xpander.

While the Adventure soldiered on for two decades on an almost primitive ladder-frame rear-wheel drive chassis with leaf springs and a rigid axle at the rear, the new Xpander follows the path of the popular Honda Mobilio and Suzuki Ertiga compact MPVs in having unit-body (monocoque) construction, front-wheel drive, independent coil spring suspensions (front MacPhersons struts/rear torsion beam), and transversely mounted gasoline engines.

But while the Xpander is notably bigger in every dimension compared to the Suzuki and Honda, it nonetheless remains a seven-seater—albeit the roomiest in its class. Once the Xpander hits the Philippine market (a date Mitsubishi officials were tight-lipped about), only time will tell how much Filipino buyers will be willing to forego the Adventure’s inherent ruggedness, fuel-efficient (but bog-slow) diesel engine, and 10-seat capacity in favor of the Xpander’s less rugged (but much more sophisticated) chassis, smaller seven-seat seating capacity, and lack of a diesel engine option.

Having said that, Mitsubishi seems to be targeting an audience far removed from the Adventure crowd. For one thing, the futuristic styling of the Xpander is the polar opposite of the Adventure’s. Viewed from the front, it looks almost exactly like its concept car forebear, the XM. Razor-thin LED signal lamps flow into a sleek metal louvre-like grille that opens up to a boldly gaping lower air intake to form Mitsubishi’s X-shaped “Dynamic Shield” front end. Further accentuating the very compelling front end design are huge side openings that house the headlamps, while the foglamps are mounted even lower at the bottom edge of the bumper. It’s a visage that closely resemble that of the Montero Sport’s, but rendered in an even sharper, sleeker and more futuristic way.

The side and rear views are more grounded compared to the front. It’s a typical two-box MPV design, highlighted by strong character lines that run across the front fender and from the front door all the way to the rear light clusters—the latter sporting the now-popular scalloped look. Flattened, flared out, and squared off fender openings give the Xpander a muscular SUV-like feel. The partially glazed-in rearmost pillar is a nice touch, adding visual interest to the rear three-quarters.

The rear end looks very upscale, thanks to L-shaped LED taillamps that wrap around to the side of the vehicle, go up towards the roof, and spreads inward to the tailgate. Subtle sculpting of the tailgate, a nicely curved and shaped backlight, and the de rigueur rear spoiler with third brake light complete the stylish rear end.

The Xpander rides on a generous 2,775mm wheelbase—the longest in its class. The very car-like front seats, flowing dashboard and console project a spacious and luxurious feel—especially in the show cars’ light beige colors (expect easier-to-maintain black and/or gray interiors for the Philippine version). The cars on display had two grades of fabric seating with leather used only on the steering wheel.

The seatbacks in the second and third rows easily fold down in 60:40 and 50:50 splits, respectively, to create multiple people and cargo carrying configurations. Both can also be folded flat to create a large, flat cargo area without bumps or gaps. The center backrest of the second row can also be folded down to create a wide armrest or to clear space for long and narrow items like a rolled carpet or a ladder. Needless to say, there is an abundance of large and small storage spaces to accommodate everything from oversized suitcases to smartphones and coins. There is even a concealed box in the dashboard. The Xpander has a total of 16 bottle holders in the door trims and center console.

Refinement comes from a hushed ride, and the Xpander achieves this thanks to a special windshield made from thick, high-quality soundproof glass laminated with an extra sound-absorbing layer to block out noise. Even the airconditioner (eight positions in the front and four in the rear) is designed to operate silently even at max setting.

A very modern-looking (that word again) multi-info LED display works with an Eco-Drive indicator to keep the driver fully informed. Infotainment, at least for the primary Indonesian market (and can be changed when the car ships to the Philippines), is a 2-DIN-sized touchscreen affair with AM/FM/CD/ MP3/Aux/Bluetooth/USB and internet connectivity and four or six speakers. High-end versions add a DVD player and a rear reversing camera. A smart key lets the doors be opened and engine started with the key in the driver’s pocket.

Under the Xpander’s sleek hood is a 1.5-liter 16-valve DOHC MIVEC four-cyliner engine developing 105ps and 141Nm of torque—not overwhelming but par for the course compared to its similar-engined compact MPV rivals. We weren’t able to test drive the vehicle yet but expect peppy performance from the engine and five-speed manual (a four-speed automatic is available) when the vehicle is unladen and just adequate performance when filled to its seven-seat capacity.

The advanced body construction (we were able to tour the Xpander’s manufacturing facility in Mitsubishi’s brand-new factory in Bekasi Prefecture in West Java Province) uses high-tensile-strength steel and the company’s advanced RISE (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) monocoque body structure for high levels of rigidity and collision protection. It even has a built-in strut bar connecting the front strut towers—something usually seen on sports or racing cars. There are dual airbags for the front as well as three-point seatbelts for all seven occupants.

Depending on the variant, the cars on display at the show sported either 185/65R15 or 205/55R16 tires on alloy wheels. Other electronic safety features include ABS for the front disc/rear drum brakes, ASC (Active Stability Control), Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist, and Emergency Stop Signal System. The Xpander, which measures 4,475 x 1,750 x 1,700mm, boasts an SUV-like 205mm ground clearance.

We don’t have to drive it to say that, based on specs, styling and initial build quality, the Xpander will create a big commotion in the fast-growing seven-seat MPV/crossover segment.