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First drive: Mitsubishi Colt heads upmarket

No Mirage: An edgy new look wraps the premium-priced, Benz-based Colt.

Mitsubishi re-enters the light car category, but the all-new Colt is no Mirage

4 Aug 2004

WE can’t say we weren’t warned. Mitsubishi has made it consistently clear for some time that the Colt hatchback is no direct replacement for the Mirage mini.

One look at the price tag confirms that. You’ll pay $18,990 for the base model LS and $20,990 for the top-spec XLS.

If you find that a bit of a mental adjustment compared to the now vanished Mirage’s $13,990 run-out pricing, then consider it could have been worse.

Originally Mitsubishi Australia intended a $19,990 and $21,990 price list, but only last week reached agreement with the factory to introduce Colt here in September at pricing that reflects the five per cent drop in import tariffs due on January 1, 2005.

Mitsubishi has tried to soften the blow with a specifications list that includes standard air-conditioning, power windows/mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, a CD player and dual airbags, while the top-speccer also gets alloy wheels, sports bodykit and a splash of leather.

But there’s a couple of jarring notes, like no lap-sash safety belt for the middle rear seat, a temporary-use spare wheel/tyre - and isn’t it a bit cheap to omit a tachometer from the base model?So now, instead of jousting with the likes of the Toyota Echo, Hyundai Getz and Holden Barina for big sales volume, Mitsubishi is heading into the premium light sub-segment to take on the likes of the Honda Jazz and Mazda2, as well as traditional European players like the Reanult Clio, Peugeot 206 and Volkswagen Polo.

It’s less by choice than circumstance, of course. The only specification of Colt available for Australia is a five-door, with a 1.5-litre MIVEC four-cylinder engine mated to a constantly variable transmission (CVT).

So no three-door, no manual transmission, no 1.3-litre engine. All omissions that conspire to drive the Colt upmarket.

In fact, Mitsubishi forecasts the car will nab sales from both the light and small segments, where cars like the Toyota Corolla and Holden Astra sell by the thousands per month.

It might sound a bit fanciful, but remember that Mitsubishi now only sells a Lancer sedan, with the coupe having ceased production.

Not that Mitsu Oz boss Tom Phillips and the crew at MMAL are being overly ambitious, forecasting 400 sales per month, split between 240 for the base model LS and 160 for the top-spec XLS.

21 center imageCompare that to the heady days of Mirage at its height in 1998/99, when it averaged close to 800 sales per month. Of course, Mirage had its bad times too, but then Mitsubishi could always drop the price to $13,990, add driveaway or air-conditioning, or bundle all three for a sales boost. With the Colt, such drastic actions are simply impossible.

Nevertheless, this Colt stacks up well on price and mechanical specification against its closest opposition, as our comparison chart (below) demonstrates.

But this Colt should also be seen as part of a bigger picture. It’s the fourth new car Mitsubishi has launched in weeks as it seeks to turn around a dramatic sales slide. It follows Grandis, Lancer Evo VIII and Outlander MIVEC to market.

The sales cavalry is coming in the shape of the production Colt three-door being launched at Paris in September, a range topped by the CZT turbo hot hatch which Mitsubishi is desperate to annex for Australia.

And there are other cars coming down the pipeline that could bolster Mitsubishi’s stocks at the bottom end of the market, but they are yet to be revealed, let alone discussed in detail.

So for the moment, Mitsubishi must make do with this Colt. One thing in its favour is the name, which first appeared in Australia in 1964. The Colt was also manufactured in Australia between 1980 and 1990 and was well regarded.

This generation went on sale in Japan back in late 2002. It earned some notoriety because it was the first car to break cover that had the styling imprimatur of new styling chief Olivier Boulay, a Frenchman appointed at the behest of then controlling shareholder DaimlerChrysler.

Of course, DaimlerChrysler has departed and so, consequently, has Mr Boulay. His twin-nostril look with central Mitsubishi diamonds is already said to be on the nose as far as Mitsubishi’s new Japanese leaders are concerned. So it’s questionable how long this look will remain in vogue.

It’s not ugly though, unlike the other styling job Mr Boulay is best known for in Australia, the latest Magna facelift.

The Colt we see here is actually an amalgam of the Japanese and European version of Colt, picking up interior and exterior touches of both, although the changes are in the detail rather than to what Mitsubishi calls the "one motion form" that means its 3870mm body flows from front to back in one uninterrupted arc.

It’s a look that shares much with the Honda Jazz, a car that has proved a sales hit in Australia. Colt provides the same sort of flexible interior.

Features include height adjustment on the drivers’ bucket seat, a theatre-style raised rear seat with 50:50 split-fold, 150mm travel and a backrest that reclines 20 degrees. The rear seat also folds and tumbles to create 594 litres of luggage space.

Then there’s the numerous storage areas – glovebox, steering column undertray, front cupholders, front door bottle holders, front door pockets, passenger seat side and rear pockets, convenience hooks and under-seat storage on the passenger side. The gearshift lever is column-mounted to keep it out of the way.

Colt is powered by a 1.5-litre DOHC 16-valve engine that employs the MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control) variable valve control system - the first time it has been seen on a DOHC engine in Australia.

It delivers 72kW at 6000rpm and 132Nm at 4250rpm. While no performance claims have been issued, there’s another stat that will please in these time of $1-per-litre fuel prices – a combined fuel economy average of 6.4L/100km.

The INVECS III CVT is also a first for Mitsubishi in Australia, but any challenge that delivers is at least eased by the fact that the Jazz has been selling here with the same sort of seamless transmission since October 2002.

However, there’s no ‘semi-manual’ mode for this car which gives the computer-induced simulation of gear changing in the Jazz.

Underpinning all this is a front-wheel drive platform shared with the DaimlerChrysler-built Smart Forfour hatchback (another hangover from the DCX days). Underlining Colt's premium direction, Mitsubishi confidently predicts Colt will score a creditable four out of five stars in ANCAP crash testing.

MacPherson struts perform the suspension duties up front while at the back there’s a compact H-shaped torsion beam with compact springs and outboard shock absorbers for a flat loading area in the rear.

Completing the package is power-assisted rack and pinion steering and a combination of disc and drum brakes, working with the assistance of ABS and EBD. The LS offers 14-inch 175/65-section rubber, while the XLS is on 15-inch 185/55 tyres.

At the head of a short options list are side and curtain airbags for $1200 (not available until the last quarter) and a sunroof in XLS for $1600.

There are seven paint colours, two of which are metallic and will set you back an additional $240.

Mitsubishi Colt LS (a) $18,990
Mitsubishi Colt XLS (a) $20,990


Colt LSJazz GLiMazda2 Neo
Base price $18,990 $19,990 (with AC) $19,210
Capacity 1.5L 1.3L 1.5L
Power 72kW @ 6000rpm 61kW @ 5700rpm 82kW @ 6000rpm
Torque 132Nm @ 4250rpm 119Nm @ 2800rpm 141Nm @ 4000rpm
Wheelbase 2500mm 2450mm 2492mm
Length 3870mm 3830mm 3925mm
Kerb weight 1020kg 1035kg 1089kg

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