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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - 380 - GT sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Responsive, smooth drivetrain, finish, comfort, interior space
Room for improvement
Not cutting edge in passive safety - no curtain airbags, no stability control, one-way adjustable steering column

21 Jul 2006

NO other Australian-built car in recent history has been subjected to the heat applied to Mitsubishi's 380.

Its critical role in Mitsubishi's manufacturing future, not to mention its part in maintaining a healthy local supplier industry, have brought a lot of focus onto the all-new car that came to Australia late in 2005.

The fact, so far, is that the 380 has come nowhere near the targets set at launch, which anticipated 32,000 sales a year. By May 2006 total 380 sales for the year were just over 5000 - about a quarter of Ford Falcon and not much more than a sixth of Commodore sales in the same period.

However some pricing adjustments have been reflected in a bump in monthly sales figures, which has improved the percentages. But the 380 has a long way to go before meeting its initial (then seen as conservative) targets.

None of this has anything to do with the product.

The 380 has been widely hailed as an exceptionally good local car, probably the best-built ever and, thanks to recent NCAP announcements, the safest we've yet seen. That, on top of running costs findings published in an Australian motoring clubs survey, have placed the Mitsubishi in good stead.

While the base 380 model has been the focus of attention aimed at lifting sales via aggressive price restructuring, the top-end aspirational LX and GT models, which aim at spreading the Mitsubishi's influence into Calais-Fairmont Ghia territory, have had their prices adjusted too.

The GT that is the subject of this test opened at $47,990 in September 2005 but dropped to $44,990 in April 2006, while the LX dropped from $46,990 to $42,990.

Both GT and LX are aimed slightly differently, with the LX targeting conservative prestige buyers and the GT the mature but more sportingly inclined types.

The buyers might be different, but under the skin GT and LX are pretty similar, with standard five-speed automatic transmission, sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and a sportier suspension with a strut brace connecting the two front suspension towers.

But only the GT gets standard leather trim and a 10-way adjustable driver's seat with three memory settings.

It's far from being a GT in the true sense of the word but it's a nicely active package with crisper handling than lower-level 380s.

Visually it's identified by clear rear stop lamps and an integrated rear lip spoiler containing a high mounted stop lamp. The rear bumper is different to other 380s as well, deeper and incorporating a garnish insert as well as providing space for the oversize exhaust.

With its leather trim and multi-adjustable driver's seat it speaks a more luxurious language than even the LX and, consequently, offers a smaller range of options. Satellite navigation, at $3824, is about it for the GT.

Like the LX and the also-sporty VRX, the GT favours the firmer-riding, sharper-steering end of the spectrum.

And even though the quoted power figures for the 3.8-litre, single-cam-per-bank, 24-valve V6 aren't astronomical for its capacity, there's enough torque there to lift the 1700kg car along very briskly.

The maximum 343Nm doesn't come in until a highish 4000rpm but there's clearly plenty below that because the GT feels quite gruff off the line and is able to keep the traction control system busy (What a pity Mitsubishi's all-wheel drive development for the Magna didn't carry over).

The 380 is capable, when sipping 95 octane-plus fuel, of reaching 100km/h from a standstill in a quick 7.6 seconds and will cover the standing 400 metres in 15.5 seconds. Not so long ago the sort of times you'd expect of a V8, and underlaid by a deep bass engine note that compliments the 380 GT's sporty nature.

The five-speed Invecs II 'Smart Logic' sequential automatic offers regular and sports modes and is a smooth-shifting delight - although when left in full-auto mode on a dipping, diving and winding road it can hunt around a little. The conventional-pattern (forward upshift, backward downshift) sequential changer comes into its own here.

The steering is quite accurate and goes from lock to lock in a reasonably quick 2.8 turns but this is partly due to the fact the wheels don't turn all that tightly. The turning circle is no better than 11.2 metres.

With its 215/55R17 tyres the 380 GT offers good grip to match the firmly-controlled ride and, although not quite an Audi in terms of driving dynamics it's better than any other similar-size local front-driver we've experienced. Torque steer is minimal, although maybe a little more steering weight would be appreciated in the GT.

The handling is front-drive fail-safe, which means it favours understeer when pushed to the limit. But this is set at levels beyond what you'll normally experience, so the general sensation is one of quick, sharp responses in just about all conditions. Electronic stability control has yet to find its way into the 380 so that inherent stability is welcome.

The all-ventilated discs brakes, with four-channel ABS and EBD, are very good too, said by Mitsubishi to be more effective than, say, the Falcon in bringing the 380 to a stop from speed. In-house testing showed the Mitsubishi pulls up from 100km/h in 43 metres compared with 47 metres for comparable current Ford Falcons.

From a passive safety perspective the 380 faces demerit points as it has dual front and front side airbags, but as yet there is no mention of the full-length curtain airbags that are rapidly becoming universal. That hasn't shown up in recent NCAP testing though, which gave the 380 the best rating yet managed by a local car.

In terms of driving comfort there are no qualms, what with the multi-adjustable sports seat, lumbar adjustment and extra lateral padding - but some reach adjustment for the steering wheel would have been nice. And we have yet to experience the 380's ability to deliver a comfortable long-distance driving experience. Previous Mitsubishis haven't managed all that well here.

The GT's back seat is the same as all 380s - generous in legroom, shoulder room and headroom - but the downside is that there's no split-fold backrest giving access to the boot, which, at 437 litres, is actually smaller than the Magna's 470 litres.

This is a small niggle concerning a car that raises the bar on local quality, dynamics and general all-round appeal. The Mitsubishi 380 GT is about as good a locally built family-size, front-drive experience as you are likely to get.

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