Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Verada - GTVi sedan
Fresh face, improved controls, better rear seat room
Room for improvement
Steering kickback, tiresome exhaust rumble, intrusive boot hinges
26 Aug 2003
By TERRY MARTIN
THAT the current-generation Magna/Verada has for some time now had the best Australian-built engine and auto combination, excellent refinement and first-rate ride and handling – to utter a few main attributes – and still struggled on the sales charts, tells us great deal about Australian consumers and Mitsubishi’s station here.
Concerns about closure, general disinterest in the model range and specific misgivings about interior presentation, rear-seat accommodation and equipment levels have all been consequential.
So what do we have here, then?
The answer to all that, a Verada GTVi which embodies Mitsubishi Australia’s determination to change attitudes, improve its standing, give image-enhancing models permanent status and, well, to survive until an even more radical new-generation car arrives in 2005.
While the $70 million face change is controversial, the TL Magna and KL Verada series is not a blunder like Ford Australia made with the AU Falcon. This is chutzpah. A car that is shameless, audacious. An entrée to approaching designs. And one that deserves to succeed.
A combination of chrome detailing and sporting enhancements – unique 17-inch wheels and a plank rear spoiler among them – mark the Verada GTVi as the prestige sports sedan in the range.
However, the most striking visual elements are found across the board.
That whalebone slicing the bonnet into two. Those enormous triangular headlights. That conspicuous three-diamonds logo within the twin-nostril grille.
The interior does not break new ground in the same manner, choosing instead to make prominent similar features to those used on the previous limited-edition Verada GTV, including backlit instruments, fake wood veneer and leather trim.
Continuing irritations include the low-rent switchgear below the instrument binnacle, the absence of steering reach adjustment and good-for-nothing pockets in the front doors. Steering audio controls would be welcome. And there is far too much in common with lower-series Magnas.
But in the driving position, and looking across the dash and centre console, one soon sees improvements in amenities and presentation.
The three-dial temperature controls are well-positioned, modern and simple to use, the premium stereo is likewise mounted high on the centre stack and designed for minimal effort, and the main instrumentation is well laid out.
Down on the centre console, metallic paint highlights are used to good effect and lidded storage boxes make the area more cohesive in design and practical in use. The padded console box is positioned higher for more comfort and includes a power socket.
The driver has most needs attended to with electric seat movement in the usual directions (lumbar, too) and excellent seat comfort over long distances. More seat bolstering is needed, however, and the front passenger is short-changed with no electric seat movement at all.
Rear seat occupants, on the other hand, are now provided with rear air-conditioning vents and greater legroom thanks to reshaped rear seats and some whittling of the rear seatbacks.
The attention to detail found on the centre console does not extend this far back – no lids across cup holders here, no centre headrest, no discreet positioning of the child seat anchor bolt and still no split-fold rear seat.
Seatback pockets, map lights, a thick-padded centre armrest and a manhole through to the boot are at least provided.
The boot is an excellent size for this class, with a floor 1100mm long from bumper to seatback and up to 1500mm wide. It can consume a large amount of luggage but needs to dispense with the big, intrusive boot hinges. A full-size alloy spare wheel lies under the floor.
Besides some important improvements made in crash protection – thicker panels and higher-strength steel is used, plus an additional front door anti-intrusion bar, that sort of thing – the other major reform with TL Magna is related to equipment.
All models feature dual front airbags, front side airbags, anti-lock brakes, climate-control air-conditioning, cruise control, a power-operated driver’s seat, trip computer, CD stereo, remote central locking and an alarm. It’s quite a list.
Yet what that does to Verada is water things down. Chrome, cowhide, a premium audio unit, auto-dimming rearview mirror and not a great deal more are not enough.
Dual-zone to the climate control, satellite-navigation, steering wheel audio controls, electric adjustment for the passenger seat, driver’s seat position memory, a sunroof - you can see what we’re driving at. More should be included as standard items to better distinguish this premium model.
Little has changed on the mechanical front, with most emphasis being placed on the chassis. A more sporting ride and handling balance has been sought with spring and damper rate changes to the strut front/multi-link rear suspension – sports models including GTVi have received a little less attention in this area – and rear stabiliser bars are now fitted to sedans.
Steering gear input characteristics have also been changed to improve on-centre feel and balance between steering responsiveness and effort.
For all this, the GTVi feels similar to the former GTV with the firm suspension providing good control and reasonable absorption, though at times crashing across large potholes.
Harshness does not tend to enter the cabin and, indeed, overall refinement levels are high – save for intrusive exhaust noise on the GTVi that rises whenever the throttle is touched. It sounds a treat at first, and during short trips, but soon wears thin on longer tours.
Traction on bitumen and dirt roads is excellent, the 17-inch Bridgestones hanging on well through tight corners as adhesion wanes toward understeer.
The (switchable) traction control is calibrated not to meddle too much with the driving experience, though it – and the driver – must contend with the front rubber scrabbling for grip under acceleration on wet surfaces. Fast, flowing roads are where the sports tourer impresses most.
The steering is accurate and now feels a littler meatier than the previous model, though is still prone to kickback through a corner with road irregularities. The brakes rein in the car from higher speeds without problem but do not have the same power or feel as the Ralliart brakes used on the all-wheel drive Magna/Verada, for example.
This might, of course, all be sounding familiar – and more the of same can be found with the engine and transmission. Other than larger catalytic converters used to improve emissions, the drivetrains are unchanged with the TL/KL series.
And that is no bad thing.
Verada GTVi uses the higher-output version of the familiar 3.5-litre V6, which increases power to 163kW (and torque to 317Nm) through a re-profiled camshaft and a more free-flowing exhaust. It is mated to the five-speed INVECS II adaptive automatic transmission using, in this version, a tighter cluster of ratios between first and third.
The combination is second to none among Australian-built cars, providing strong acceleration from a standing start, revving with great strength and refinement through to its 6200rpm redline and never leaving the driver longing for more low-down or mid-range pulling power.
A pseudo-manual mode gives the driver ultimate control, allowing downshifts that send rpm towards redline and refusing to move up a notch even when the tacho needle reaches the rev limiter.
Fuel consumption, averaging 12.8L/100km on our test, isn’t bad either.
Modern in its design, attentive with its interior improvements, excellent in its performance. This car should be generating more interest among consumers than it appears to have done thus far. Not to mention more sales.
It could be that Mitsubishi now has to wait for its all-new model before the message gets through.
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