Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Colt - 5-dr hatch range
Strong engine, assured handling, flexible interior
Room for improvement
Cheap dash, wooden steering, no tacho on base LS
4 Aug 2004
By BRUCE NEWTON
SMALL cars with a definite character aren’t all that common. Price rather than personality tends to be the defining characteristic at the bottom end of the new car market.
So it’s pleasing to say that Colt impresses not only for its competence but for its ability to bring a smile to your face.
It’s a case of overwhelming honesty and competence allied with cheeky good looks that make it a winner.
From most angles this is a well executed look with real character, perhaps at its best from three-quarter rear.
It’s not quite so impressive from directly behind and to our eye the European face is more striking than the Japanese original we get.
On a day when the heavens opened and Noah would have been quite happy sailing his ark in the hills around Adelaide, the XLS Colt we sampled displayed excellent manners.
Perhaps the most contentious point is the CVT. Traditionally they are not a hit in Australia because of their unnerving characteristic of always seeming to make the engine work hard as they seek the torque sweet spot.
But in this case that effect is less noticeable. Sure, the engine is working, but the level of noise damping in the cabin means it is never intrusive. Instead, when the throttle is pressed the Colt jumps forward eagerly.
Hills are conquered, overtaking manoeuvres made achievable, forward progress rapid. And all this with two blokes and their luggage on board. There is a sports mode for the CVT but the dash-mounted pistol grip shifter makes that a clumsy feature to use.
Nevertheless, if all CVTs were as well thought out as this one and combined with such a good engine, it’s hard to imagine any buyer resistance. Plenty of small car shoppers will be converted by a Colt test drive.
Similarly impressive is the chassis. With suspension settings adjusted for Australian settings by Mitsubishi Australia’s engineering arm, MRDAus, it rides with fluency that belies its 15-inch wheels.
The stretched wheel-at-each-corner stance helps as well to make this a car suited to country roads as well as our pock-marked city streets.
There are limitations though - the electric power-assisted steering is wooden and is too heavy at low speeds. It frees up as speeds rise but there’s never much in the way of feel. Mitsubishi should have another look at this aspect of the car.
Also, the torsion beam rear end can crash down off significant obstacles like speed bumps, although the front end constantly displayed good manners.
There were plenty of opportunities for chassis, tyres and brakes to act up in the soaking wet conditions, but they consistently behaved well.
The wonky weather also helped demonstrate just how quiet the Colt is. It’s not only engine noise that is damped out, but wind and road noise as well. Some small hatches can simulate the inside the of a tin can when it comes to noise, vibration and harshness, but this car isn’t one of them.
The interior design is similarly impressive. Access is via wide-opening doors and there is more space than you would expect, with elbow-swinging room up front for two adults and legroom in the back for two more. The mini-van styling means there’s plenty of headroom all round.
The plethora of storage areas, hooks and gymnastic rear seats means there’s plenty of luggage carrying options.
There’s also enough adjustability for drivers of most sizes to make themselves comfortable with reach and rake on the steering wheel and height adjustment on the supportive bucket seats.
The problem will come when trying to see around the enormous A-pillar when turning right.
That’s a design issue that can’t be overcome in the short term, but one that can is the crappy old radio head unit in the dash. It’s been in Magnas since the year dot and, allied with a basic air-conditioning set-up and hard plastics, gives this part of the car a cheap look.
The jury is also out on the foot-operated hand-brake and dash-mounted gearlever. Sure, mounting them where they are frees up walk-though space but Mitsubishi Australia spent plenty of time at the launch telling us how most cars would rarely carry more than two people.
The XLS we sampled actually had a couple of groovy sliding cupholders mounted between the seats which seemed like a good idea, while the blue meters looked funky mounted together within the instrument binnacle.
Overall, it’s pretty easy to be impressed by Colt. There’s some real quality in the fundamental engineering, some impressive thinking in the cabin and its exterior is crafted with an eye to pleasure as well as purpose.
There has not been a lot of opportunity to say this lately, but with Colt Mitsubishi Australia is on a winner.
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