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4WD Magna leads high-performance charge

Magna muscle: The recently unveiled Magna VR-X is a taste of things to come as Mitsubishi flexes its muscles.

Mitsubishi plans to take on HSV and FTE with Ralliart-badged Magnas

16 Aug 2000

MITSUBISHI Australia is contemplating a tie-up with its motorsport arm, Ralliart, as it seeks to distinguish future hot versions of the Magna from lesser variants.

An all-wheel drive Magna with a 180kW V6 is tipped to lead the charge as Mitsubishi strives to inject some passion into the brand.

Mitsubishi officials yesterday suggested this Magna and other go-fast versions could wear Ralliart badging in lieu of Mitsubishi insignia.

The plan could be interpreted as Mitsubishi's answer to the performance-car arms of Holden and Ford - HSV and Tickford respectively.

Sydney-based Ralliart Australia currently runs Mitsubishi's local rallying program, but it is yet to play a role on the retail front.

The launch of the Ralliart Lancer Evolution 6 in November will signal the motorsport-oriented company's debut as a retailer.

Ralliart officials admit the company may play a role in the development and marketing of hot Magnas but they remain tight-lipped about details.

Meanwhile, an all-wheel drive Diamante - the name by which the Magna is known in Japan - has recently arrived at Mitsubishi Australia's Adelaide headquarters.

Company spokesman Mr Kevin Taylor says local Mitsubishi technicians have been pouring over the car to determine how it can best be adapted for the Australian market.

In Japan the all-wheel drive Diamante is marketed as a luxury flagship and comes loaded to the hilt with features. It is offered with a 3.0-litre engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

By contrast, Mitsubishi Australia wants to position it as a performance leader priced around $55,000 - in line with entry level HSV Commodores and T-Series Falcons.

The all-wheel drive Diamante differs from the Magna in that it has multi-link front suspension - in lieu of MacPherson struts - and a different floorpan to accommodate the propshaft that relays drive to the rear wheels.

One of the options available to Mitsubishi Australia is to import the car in CKD (completely knocked-down) form and shoehorn in the 3.5-litre engine.

This presents some engineering challenges as the local engine has different mounting points to the Japan-spec engine.

Other options include homologating the Diamante as a whole and selling it as is or grafting the all-wheel drive hardware to the local Magna platform.

"To do a proper all-wheel drive Magna would cost $20-30 million and the limited volumes don't justify that, so it's a case of making do with what is available," Mr Taylor says.

Mitsubishi Australia's senior product planner for recreational vehicles, Mr Paul Unerkov, says the 3.5-litre powerplant could be tuned to produce 180kW - compared with 163kW for the recently launched VR-X and Sports models.

Given that the VR-X can cover the standing 400m in a claimed 15.1 seconds, it is likely the 180kW stormer will crack the 15-second barrier - bringing the Magna into genuine musclecar territory.

Meanwhile, Mr Unerkov says Mitsubishi is still awaiting the outcome of proposed revisions to the low-volume import scheme, which would enable the company to bring in 100 examples of a variety of niche models from Japan.

Products under consideration include the Lancer Evolution 6, Pajero Evolution, Galant VR4 and FTO Coupe - of which there are several grey imports on Australian roads.

Mr Unerkov says Mitsubishi plans to unveil its high-performance armoury at the Sydney motor show in November.

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