Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Magna - Executive sedan
Smoothness, value for money
Room for improvement
Lacks the real space of full-size family car rivals
22 Feb 2001
By BRUCE NEWTON
THE Magna has been like the nerdy smart kid at school. Quick and clever but with no fashion sense.
But as it matures Magna is trading in the short-sleeves and brown cords for a bolder, more contemporary look.
The transition is borne out of necessity - a need to attract more people to a car that was big on rationality and low on emotional appeal.
Why? Because the success of Magna is the key to Mitsubishi surviving as a manufacturer in Australia. More cars must be sold.
With the August, 2000, TJ update, Magna went through a $30 million overhaul that centred around the biggest sheetmetal changes since the Magna's launch in 1996.
The neutral front-end has been replaced by a far more aggressive raised beak and twin nostrils complete with egg-crate grille.
The rear deck lid has been redesigned into a one-piece outer unit, with a depressed centre top section and a flat rear panel.
The number plate garnish has been changed to body colour, the tail-lights completely redesigned to incorporate round lenses and the Mitsubishi badge name eradicated from the outer sheetmetal, replaced by the company's "three-diamond" logo.
The effect is quite striking. Magna now has an attitude, even the "fleet fodder" Executive we were testing here has an aggression about it that previous models lacked.
The interior has been addressed too with all Magnas now coming with a classy two-tone interior lifted from the upmarket Veradas.
There is also a significant lift in equipment with a driver's airbag now standard and in-dash single-CD player part of a new stereo system.
All Magnas and Veradas also get a storage box under the front passenger's seat.
Standard equipment already included air-conditioning, eight-function trip computer, immobiliser and alarm.
But Executive does not have power windows or anti-lock brakes while the four-speed adaptable automatic transmission is optional.
Also optional at a very affordable price is the 3.5-litre V6 engine which boasts an extra 10kW over the 3.0-litre unit found standard only in Executive these days.
It was a 7kW advantage but the extra power has been found via a more advanced engine computer unit and mildly revised camshaft profile.
The bigger engine is worth the money.
While the boost from 140kW to 150kW does not sound significant, the climb from 255Nm to 300Nm worth of torque certainly is.
The extra go transforms the car. Where the 3.0-litre struggled to hang in with the Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore and Toyota Camry, it now is right in the hunt when it comes to passing power, towing capability and fuel consumption.
Where it gives the Falcon and Commodore a hiding and heads the Camry more narrowly is the smoothness of that engine.
The response from low revs to high is strong, quiet and impressive.
The downside is that it can overwhelm the ability of the front wheels to transmit that power without going up in smokey, chirping wheelspin.
That can happen accelerating from the lights without the driver really trying and when negotiating tight corners there is a tendency for the inside front to wheelspin. Wet or slippery roads simply add further complications.
All that power through the front wheels means there is also some torque steer - or steering wheel tug - under acceleration.
The standard five-speed manual transmission is not an outstanding example of the breed, being a bit notchy and lacking in feel.
But it certainly guarantees outstanding acceleration and excellent fuel economy, both of which Mitsubishi claim are at the leading edge of the class.
But it is doubtful the manual does a much better job tapping the engine's potential than the optional adaptive four-speed auto, which courtesy of its excellent INVECS II software is significantly better than what Ford, Holden or even Toyota can offer.
Unfortunately this transmission or the manual does not come equipped with Mitsubishi's excellent TCL traction control system.
Also at the top of the class is the Magna's ride quality, which is set up to be soft and compliant, although the trade-off is a little bodyroll when cornering.
That is nothing new because Mitsubishi has not touched the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension for this upgrade.
Feedback through the over-sized steering wheel is low but the Executive steers accurately enough and has a very forgiving nature tending toward understeer, which makes it a confidence-inspiring car to drive on dirt roads.
The brake performance of the Executive is strong on feel and power - a trait we have found not all Magnas shared in the past.
Another of the Magna's assets is its quietness.
The muted engine is matched by excellent under-body sound deadening and lack of suspension noise.
Only some tyre rumble and wind whistle intrude on a very civilised environment, which is further improved by the revised two-tone interior treatment.
The darkness has been lifted. With its high window sills and cockpit surround, the Magna always felt a bit bath-like to sit in despite its height adjustable driver's seat.
The optional new brown/sandstone treatment made the car feel lighter and brighter, although it did tend to show up stains and marks easily.
The new stereo unit is the other change in what is a user-friendly interior with plenty of storage points and cupholders.
The stereo's controls are large and easy enough to use but the lack of a radio scan function means you are unable to rotate through stations. It is a small but annoying omission.
Other annoyances are long-term ones which cannot be alleviated by a mid-life facelift like this one - limited rear seat capacity compared to its half-size bigger rivals like Falcon, Commodore and Avalon and the lack of a split-fold rear seat, which reduces flexibility for carrying big loads.
But overall there is no doubt an image change is being wrought here -recognition that being smart is not good enough these days. You have to look good to.
If it works, this will truly be the revenge of the nerd.
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