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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Magna - VR-X AWD sedan

The Car

25 Jun 2004

MITSUBISHI’S long-awaited Magna VR-X AWD will be Australia’s first fully fledged all-wheel drive sports car when it goes on sale August 1. Or will it?

Launched last week alongside the new Lancer Evo VIII rally rocket - another major plank in the quest by beleaguered Mitsubishi Australia to reform its brand image via its off-road success – VR-X AWD will be introduced as part of a reshuffle across the Magna "sports" range.

In simplest terms, VR-X replaces VR – formerly known as Sports – as the sportiest Magna AWD, and VR is deleted from the regular, front-drive Magna range. As the new "sports" flagship across both AWD and 2WD ranges, VR-X also scores a significant pricing shift and minor cosmetic upgrade.

Good news is the price goes down, by some $3600 or eight per cent for the standard VR-X (now $37,990 manual, $39,990 auto), while the auto-only VR-X AWD is $42,490 - just $500 more than its VR AWD predecessor - which lacked its VR-X bodykit, six-stacker audio, revised trim and tail-lights and leather handbrake grip.

Mitsubishi believes the more brightly coloured, more boldly badged and body-kitted VR-X AWD concept will appeal 35 to 64 year-old XR, S/SS and Sportivo buyers who also want to go around corners.

But given Mitsubishi released Australia’s first locally built AWD passenger sedan range in January 2003 – yes, the Magna AWD has been with us that long – and these are the few items that separate VR AWD from VR-X AWD in the final year of the current Magna’s life, one hopes it’s not too little too late.

Indeed, Mitsubishi says 200 VR-X sales per month is "very achievable", with AWD expected to account for 40 per cent of that, or just 80 a month. Mitsu Oz’s original Magna AWD sales forecast was 300/month – 40 per cent (120 units) of which would be VR-X AWD (nee Sports AWD).

More than 18 months on, potential customers may be disappointed to find the much anticipated VR-X AWD range-topper, which was expected – along with a Ralliart Magna AWD – to appear within months of the facelifted TL/KL Magna’s August 2003 launch, lacks its front-drive sibling’s 17-inch wheels, manual transmission and full 163kW output.

Worse still, instead of being acclaimed as Australia’s first true all-wheel drive sports car, the lacklustre performance leader of Australia’s only all-wheel drive sedan line-up will be beaten to market by HSV’s (limited edition) 270kW Coupe 4.

Which begs the questions: what constitutes a sports sedan and what has Mitsubishi been doing?

Mitsubishi says development of the sportiest AWD Magna’s ride/handling deliberately concentrated on bumpy and slippery surfaces and that, as proven by Ross Dunkerton’s debut rally winning pre-production car, 16-inch wheels/tyres are better suited when road surfaces deteriorate.

And granted, the cost of redesigning Magna AWD’s (more circuitous) exhaust just for VR-X was always going to limit engine performance to the 159kW peak of the other AWD variants. Cost also prevented engineering a manual transmission for VR-X AWD.

VR-X AWD does, however, get wider 7.0-inch rims (10-spoke with 215/60 R16 Bridgestone Grid II rubber) even if its misses out on the 2WD VR-X’s 17x7.0-inch five-spoke alloys with 225/50 R17 tyres.

But the cash-strapped Adelaide company admits prohibitive costs also indirectly prevented VR-X AWD from wearing 17-inch boots, because of the Japanese company’s stringent 12-month durability testing policy, which would have put VR-X AWD over time and over budget.

For the record, both 2WD and AWD MY2004 Magna VR-Xs are distinguished by body coloured headlight bezels, a platinum coloured rear bumper insert, extended chrome exhaust outlet and other VR-X bodykit changes, including badging.

Finally, an "AWD" badge appears on the back-end of Magna AWD, along with "QuadTec" and a bright "VR-X" badge opposite. An AWD decal is also located on the lower rear doors, so now at least this AWD will be a little less inconspicuous.

Inside, new black cloth trim is standard on both cars, and black leather trim now extends to the steering wheel, gearshifter and handbrake, the dark and sporty look broken up by titanium centre console panels.

An electric glass sunroof remains optional for $2000, as does leather upholstery including contrasting silver seat and console lid stitching and a perforated leather steering wheel. VR-X AWD picks up the front-driver’s AM/FM 10-speaker six-CD sound system.

Magna VR-X will be available in eight colours, including new hues Platinum (replaces Pewter), Zen (replaces Pacific Blue) and Fusion. A Platinum rear bumper insert is standard with all colours except Platinum, which gets a Sable insert.

Under the skin continues Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo-based AWD system with Evo open front differential, a viscous-coupled centre diff and rear LSD – described as "the best non-electronic AWD system made in Australia right now" - coupled to the Magna’s 3.5-litre 24-valve SOHC V6 and silky five-speed semi-auto.

But like its all-paw siblings, in AWD guise VR-X develops 159kW at 5500rpm (down 4kW on the 2WD at an extra 300rpm), although with 318Nm at 4000rpm it’s up on torque, by just 1Nm at 500 fewer revs.

Increased rebound and compression damping, especially at high speed, retuned jounce bumpers, stiffer spring rates and further refinement of the last year’s new steering complete the VR-X AWD’s suspension and steering changes.

On area the all-paw car outdoes its 2WD sibling is braking, with VR-X AWD continuing with the uprated package introduced with the AWD range. That means twin-piston front callipers with 294mm/284mm ventilated front/rear rotors instead of the regular model’s single-piston callipers all round with 276mm/258mm (solid) front/rear discs. ABS and EBD is standard on both.

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Did you know?

Official fuel consumption for VR-X AWD auto is 13.0 litres per 100km combined, compared to 11.6 and 12.3L/100km for 2WD VR-X manual and auto respectively.

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