Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Magna - Sports sedan
Powerful engine, smooth and smart gearbox, well behaved, quiet
Room for improvement
Unconvincing brakes, limited rear seat space, dark and plain interior
6 Feb 2001
By BRUCE NEWTON
MAGNA Sports has almost seemed a contradiction in terms in the past. Take the most sensible car built in Australia and dress it up ... a bit.
No more, apparently. With significantly improved Magna sales a vital ingredient in the company's survival plans, Mitsubishi Australia is relying on some good old-fashioned sex and sizzle to get people into the car.
With the TJ upgrade, Sports has received a more powerful engine, a more sophisticated gearbox and gained a performance-oriented brother in the VR-X.
While the Sports lacks most of the VR-X's imposing body kit and a passenger airbag inside, it still gets the same outrageous rear wing, alloy wheels and quad head lamps.
Like all other Magna models, Sports also gets the TJ facelift which comprises the twin nostril grille, one-piece boot and revised badging which eradicates the Mitsubishi name from the exterior sheetmetal altogether.
The changes work. The beak gives the Sports a menacing bird of prey appearance that drops years off its previously middle-aged look.
In engine terms the Sports and VR-X are identical, sharing the 163kW/317Nm version of the SOHC 24-valve 3.5-litre V6, while the rest of the range makes do with 150kW/300Nm, or in the case of the base Executive, the 3.0-litre V6 with 140kW and 255Nm.
That means compared to the old TH, the Sports is up 16kW and 17Nm, while the "normal" 3.5 goes up three kW only. The 3.0 is unchanged.
The gains are made courtesy of a more radical camshaft profile that retards inlet valve timing and advances exhaust valve timing. Net improvement? Three kilowatts.
The other part of the equation which is exclusive to Sports and VR-X is the free-flowing exhaust, which includes improvements to the centre pipe and a new main muffler assembly and tailpipe. The net improvement? 10 kilowatts.
Do your sums and you'll see that the cam and exhaust individually contribute 13kW, yet the Sports engine is up 16kW. The extra three kilowatts are found when you combine the two components together.
The result is an engine in which peak power actually kicks in 250rpm lower at 5250rpm, although peak torque is now 500rpm further up the rev range at 4500rpm. It's also a car that's extremely competitive against its Ford, Holden and Toyota opposition when it comes to power-to-weight ratio.
But Mitsubishi is also making substantial fuel economy claims for the range, particularly in highway cruising mileage, where it says the 3.5-litre engine records better mileage than a 2.2-litre Toyota Camry four-cylinder.
The engine mates to the carry-over five-speed manual transmission, or the Sports Mode auto with Tiptronic semi-manual shifting, which has grown from four to five speeds.
The transmission was sourced from the Magna's four-wheel drive equivalent in Japan, the Diamante, and developed by Australian and Japanese engineers. The INVECS II intelligent auto has been set up for acceleration with a cluster of three short gears, while fourth and fifth match the old third and fourth. To top it off the final drive ratio is shorter too.
The result is the quickest Magna ever - outdoing the VR-X because it is lighter. Mitsubishi claims a 0-100km/h of 7.6 seconds and 0-400m in 15.5 seconds (7.1 and 15.1 for the manual), which is pretty impressive for something that is based on an average Aussie-made sedan.
It is a believable claim too. The Sports revs strongly to its 6200rpm redline, without being harsh or noisy, or giving an impression of overwhelming power.
The noise you get is mainly from the sports exhaust, which Mitsubishi tuned for a more aggressive rasp. It sounds good but it is still somewhat muted.
The transmission is typical of an INVECS II adaptable semi-automatic transmission, working almost imperceptibly with the engine. Such is its intelligence, it is less needy of a fifth gear than most.
In auto mode it is a case of set and forget. Knock the lever across to the left and you have to pay more attention - it will let the engine bounce off the rev limiter, for instance.
The only real jarring note comes when you change back into second gear because it is normally accompanied by a painful thump that can not be good for the driveline.
Perhaps surprisingly considering the extra outputs, the chassis remains unchanged from the previous Sports. Yet, for the most part, it copes very well.
The overall tendency is for mild understeer with only moderate amounts of kickback through the large leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Yes, the chassis can be tied in knots if you try hard enough with the TCL traction control system off, but torque steer is not a usual state of affairs for this car.
Keep the traction control switched on and you'll find progress is that much easier and enjoyable. The system - which has been further refined for this model year - is noticeable without being overly intrusive, a claim Holden's system certainly can't make.
Overall, there is no doubt this is a well tied down chassis, sacrificing only a little of the Magna's normal plushness for a firmer, flatter ride which is by no means uncomfortable.
The weakest part of the dynamic package is the brakes, which are unchanged despite the power boost and do not feel to have a good ABS set-up on dirt or to be overly-resistant to consistent hard work, something we have noticed before.
Inside the cabin is familiar and the overall impression is surprisingly sombre, with the black/grey two-tone theme continuing from the previous model. The darkness is only relieved by the white instrument dials with Sports badging.
The enclosed feeling is accentuated by the low seating position - although the supportive driver's seat is height adjustable - and high window sills.
The main change inside is the addition of a driver's airbag and the new stereo, complete with single slot CD player. While the buttons are large and easy to operate, it seems a rather basic head unit, lacking a "scan" function for the radio, for instance.
The old bugbear remains as well: limited rear seat space which means you are restricted to two shorter adults in the back if you expect them to survive in any comfort over a distance. The upside of that is a huge boot.
Overall, TJ Magna Sports is a substantial improvement over its predecessor.
More focused, more refined, more enjoyable and much more attractive, it is an entirely competent car that now appeals to your heart as well as you head.
Mitsubishi's fastest Magna yet is also the best Magna yet.
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