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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Colt - XLS 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Style, space, economy, value (if it’s an auto you want)
Room for improvement
Dull handling and ride quality

Mitsubishi logo9 Feb 2005

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

"THERE’S movement at the station for word has passed around – the new Mitsubishi Colt is in town!"

ALMOST a quarter-century after Mitsubishi’s ad men tried to buck the all-conquering Ford Laser small car with this sorry take on The Man From Snowy River, it’s back.

No, not the TV commercial, nor the RA-RD Colt series bought mainly by nurses and nanas, but the name.

And this time Mitsubishi is gatecrashing the light car class. But it hasn’t been easy.

With apologies now to Sergio Leone, and regardless of price and positioning, you have three categories of light cars ... the Good, the Fab and ... the old-school South Koreans.

The latter (outgoing Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent) are lame, while the former – filled by the Citroen C3, Daihatsu Charade, Holden Barina, Hyundai Getz, Peugeot 206, Renault Clio, Toyota Echo and VW Polo – aren’t excitement thoroughbreds either.

Which leaves the fabulous Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz and Mazda2. All offer something special – namely athleticism, efficiency and a combination of the two respectively.

Yet the Mitsubishi filly trips at the starting line due to a price folly. Or does it?

Its $18,990 ask for the LS – and $2K more for the better-equipped XLS – looks lame against the $14,490, $15,390 and $15,990 openers asked by the Fab Three. The old Mirage the Colt usurped was $15,000.

But if you were to add to these what is standard in the Colt (like automatic, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, five-doors and a larger engine), then the Jazz jumps to $21,690, the Fiesta cost-a $20,990 and the ‘2’ $19,730.

Perhaps Mitsubishi needs to bring in a more basic manual, perhaps with three-doors, a 1.3 and no air, call it Mirage and stick $13,990 on it.

Alternatively, since the Colt is the lovechild of Mitsubishi and Mercedes-Benz, and shares DNA with the all-new A-class MkII due soon, Mitsubishi should charge the same $34,990-plus DaimlerChrysler does. Or at least the $25,900 Smart wants for its related ForFour 1.5.

And can’t you see that A-class influence in the one-box silhouette, six-glass profile, wheel-at-each-corner stance, tall-boy styling and sharply truncated tail?

Still, Mitsubishi deserves full marks for making the Colt shine with distinctive and clever detailing, particularly around the nose. With the XLS’ attractive alloy wheels fitted, the test car won many admiring glances.

There’s a similar A-class philosophy inside, with an abundance of space in all directions. It feels roomy in here, supported by tall seating, offering commanding views out.

The smartly styled dashboard continues the efficient Germanic theme inside, with simple audio and ventilation controls, nicely integrated metallic accents and quite funky instrumentation.

All outboard seating is fine, with the front buckets offering excellent comfort and support. The passenger’s cushion flips to reveal a handy little compartment for hiding cameras and CDs.

There’s also a useful 4kg shopping bag hook behind that same seat, a deep map pocket and your usual assortments of slim door pockets and a smallish glovebox.

Meanwhile, the (noticeably more elevated) rear bench is split, reclines a few degrees and slides to increase luggage space behind from a paltry 225 litres to a more accommodating 317 litres.

But while the Colt scores extra points because the bench also double folds forward for a deep cargo area, it loses them because it forces the front occupants to sit too close to the dash.

Plus the bench-folding is fiddly and heavy. Where’s the Jazz’ one-lever operation brilliance here?

And Mitsubishi apparently forgot to fit a rear parcel shelf, a hand-operated park brake (a ‘60s-throwback and always-annoying foot pedal suffices) and rear centre lap-sash seatbelts.

People seem divided about the effectiveness of the (optional) sliding cupholders between the front seats – the idea being it services rear as well as front occupants. What a waste of space! A bin, armrest or – better still – regular handbrake would be better.

It’s also a sign, this no-handbrake business, of what’s not to come. It means keen drivers shouldn’t really bother hooning around in the Colt because it’s just not that type of fiery Fiesta ... err, filly.

This is immediately obvious once the properly propped driver grips the spunky little wheel. Like a breakfast-radio weather check, steering information is delivered in a light and breezy manner.

And there’s a similar professional competence about the way the car responds to the driver’s inputs.

Equipped with an electrically powered steering system, the Colt corners briskly at slow velocities. But then it leans messily into them when speeds rise, resulting in heavy heaving and overly wide turns. Safe? Sure. Fun? Never.

Best then to forget about trying to fly with the Fiestas along winding coastal roads, and see how the Colt handles the whole city/economy car thing – which is what it was designed to be after all. After all, it’s got electrically retractable exterior mirrors just for it!

This attitude adjustment instantly pays off once you shift the well-placed but very people-mover-like auto gear lever into ‘D’.

It’s a CVT gearbox, so off it goes, whooshing you forward with a distantly rising (but never disconcerting) thrum, on a cushion of seamless smoothness.

But the ‘Ds’ (for Drive Sport) ratio directly below ‘Drive’ is an oxymoron. While it keeps the engine working at around 3500rpm for maximum oomph outlay, it doesn’t at all feel sportier or faster. A ‘D-Low’ indentation offers engine braking down steep descents.

Kept in Drive, the Colt can feel a tad languid off the starting line but will then swiftly streak forward with impressive refinement, spirit and vigour once the revs have risen and all 72kW of power have kicked in.

It’s powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine which, thanks to variable valve technology called MIVEC, will happily rev up to 6000rpm while providing a decent 132Nm of torque maximum (at 4250rpm) across a wide rev-range.

Two areas where the 1.5/CVT combo really shine is on the highway, where the tall gearing means that the motor is hardly working hard, and at the bowser. Averaging less than 9.0L/100km is easy – and Mitsubishi’s official 6.3L/100km figure seems achievable.

Backing all this up is a solid big-car hush from all the outside elements, and ABS brakes that bite with brute force. They’re ventilated discs up front and drums in the rear, as per the class norm.

It also rides the rutted urban roads with a strong and solid stride, although it can be a bit crashy over some surfaces and doesn’t really take to speed humps with too much aplomb.

So does this little hatchback make it a Fab Four?

With its designer looks, accommodating cabin and outstanding economy, the Colt is clearly better than merely ‘good’.

But it isn’t as efficient inside as the exceptional Jazz, while a Mazda 2, let alone the Fiesta, is much more fun to drive.

So while the Mitsubishi isn’t the best, it’s still a standout package that runs close to the heads of the pack anyway. Like that colt from Old Regret, I guess.

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