This article was first published in February 2001.
I'd always wondered why someone would pay 30k for a Mitsubishi FTO MIVEC V6 - especially when they can buy something like a twin turbo Zed for similar money. And those automatic FTOs? What a mishmash of pretences they must be - or, at least, that's what I'd figured... However, not long after picking up one of these Japanese-imported beasties, I had changed my opinion of them q-u-i-t-e a bit. Forget any ideas that this is merely a high-fashion boulevard cruiser - the Mitsubishi FTO MIVEC V6 is a 100% self-indulgent sportscar.
Light on its Feet
Barely five minutes after first jumping into this '98 FTO GP (supplied by Adelaide's Japco Auto Wholesalers) it becomes obvious that its spring and damper rates are super-firm. Already, I begin to wake-up to the FTO. This isn't the sort of suspension set-up reserved for an everyday commuter car, that's for sure! Driving over what I thought was a relatively smooth road, I can feel my head bobbing in unison with every slight imperfection. And potholes? These are best avoided...
But here's the good bit.
Moving onto one of my favourite stretches of winding road, I soon forget about that stiff ride and become totally involved with the FTO's front-wheel-drive MacPherson strut/multi-link chassis. Keeping the engine on-song, this is one insanely quick point-to-point conveyance. Turn-in is precise, body roll is minimal, mid-corner stability is exemplary and acceleration out of the apex is beautifully progressive. It's a shooting match that encourages you to keep pushing the envelope harder and harder. To a point... When you do eventually carry too much entry speed into a corner, the nose moves into a mild understeer - until you back off (or dab the ABS four wheel discs) and provoke a slight oversteer transition. If you can excuse the expression, the FTO GP is a car that's piss-easy to drive fast - on a dry road, anyhow.
The power assisted rack and pinion steering is wonderfully direct. Small wrist movements are all that is needed to keep everything pointed true, and it's s-o accurate you can focus on a painted line through a corner and follow it to within a millimetre. Well, maybe two...
An Automatic Sportscar?
Now it is true that the MIVEC V6 needs to have a few revs onboard to get the train steaming - but it's never what you'd call "lacking". Especially not when it's teamed with the Mitsubishi INVECS II automatic trans - a Sports-mode 5-speed. Driving in traffic at a constant 60 kays, the 2-litre six is happy to potter along at an amazingly low 1500rpm in 5th (Drive mode). Squeeze the throttle, though, and the torque converter flares to around 2500rpm - placing the engine right at the foot of its strong torque zone. It's instant. Of course - alternatively - you can move the transmission lever across into Sports mode and have full +/- style control over the ratios. This function performs exceptionally well when you're tackling a series of corners and you're chasing maximum throttle control.
Hmm, I've gotta say, that automatic trans does work well in the FTO MIVEC after all...
Boy I love this spinning-top motor. As mentioned, the FTO's MIVEC DOHC, 24 valve 2 litre V6 is slightly off-torque below around 3000rpm - but, to be fair, that's only in comparison to the rest of its fat torque-band. Over and above that 3 grand mark, there's reasonably strong torque on tap - culminating with 200Nm at a lofty 6000rpm. Dare to spin the crankshaft to 7500 rpm though, (which it will very willingly do) and you've got a full 150kW whack of power. 150kW - not bad for a naturally aspirated 2 litre, eh? And - largely thanks to Mitsubishi's MIVEC system - the 6A12-labeled engine isn't a bad mannered bit of hot-rod gear either. At idle, there are absolutely no vibration or stutters and - a little further up the tacho scale - the MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve and Lift Electronic Control System) operates almost seamlessly.
If only some of the so-called "brilliant" Euros has an engine this good...
With a healthy 150kW on tap, the 1190kg automatic FTO is a quick runner. Nah, it won't out-drag - say - an equivalent power/weight Nissan 180SX turbo though. Still, our test vehicle could accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in around 8 seconds flat, and felt good for mid-15 quarter miles. FWD torque steer and wheelspin along the way are also virtually non-existent due to the progressive torque delivery. I get the impression that Mitsubishi have done a lot of homework in getting all that MIVEC power down effectively. A+.
Our FTO's fuel consumption over the test equalled around 11 litres per 100 kilometres - not too bad considering the predominant driving style...
Oh, She's a Beauty
Everyone agrees; the FTO looks sensational. Its overall shape incorporates a stumpy, low front/high back design together with a high sill line - and, aerodynamically, it looks very slippery indeed. At the front, the guards gently flare out over the rims and give the car a look that - together with those dual parabolic headlights - is a bit "small Ferrari-ish". Well, I can see the resemblance anyway... The rear end also features some more guard styling, which sees a crease line breaking up what would otherwise be a slab-sided rump. Nothing outlandish - just good, clean styling. Onya again Mitsubishi.
Some of the complementing trick-bits on our '98 test car include dual exhaust outlets, FTO-stamped rear bumper, side skirts, updated front bumper/spoiler and a sizeable rear wing. Without doubt, the aftermarket industry must despise the Mitsubishi FTO. I mean, how could they possibly improve on a look that's this sexual? Mitsubishi Japan were also generous enough to include 16-inch alloy wheels clad in 205/50 rubber as standard - though ours was equipped with aftermarket 16s with 225 low-profile Falkens. Perhaps these wider tyres have something to do with our car's high levels of grip.
All those body aesthetics have indeed created a few practical trade-offs on the inside. For a start, the high sill line makes the interior feel a little on the claustrophobic side, and visibility around the thick B-pillar is appalling. Still, I've become an expert at making Italian lane-changes now... Close-quarters reversing is also further challenged by the rear vision hindrance of the boot wing. Certainly, when you're attempting a delicate reverse parking manoeuvre in an FTO, the guidance of someone standing outside becomes extremely helpful...
Not surprisingly, the GTO GP does come with a fair trolley load of fruit. Power windows, mirrors, air-conditioning, adjustable steering column, leather wheel and (get this!) green illuminated FTO badges on the rail scuff plates. Dual airbags had also been installed in this particular vehicle. Looking back atcha from inside the instrument binnacle are a Japanese-spec 180 km/h speedo, temperature and fuel gauges and an impressive 8000 rpm redlined tacho. Ah, that killer motor...Transmission gear position is also indicated at all times - regardless of whether you're in the automatic Drive mode or using the Tiptronic-style feature. Front centre stage sees a clock, voltmeter, AC and ventilation controls and - not fitted here - the sound system.
Unless you're Stevie Wonder, the biggest focal piece of the interior must be those wicked blue front seats. These are supremely comfortable and offer good support - though I think they are more a necessity than a luxury with that super-firm suspension. Leg and headroom in the front seats is ample - around 8 centimetres is left above the head of this 6-foot (183cm) tall driver.
The rear seat - well, the rear seat might as well not be there! With the front passenger's seat set in a fairly typical position, I could j-u-s-t squeeze three fingers between it and the lower cushion of the back seat... Still, the back seat is a handy place to throw things when you're heading out in a hurry. Open the strut-supported bootlid and there is a reasonable amount of storage available, given the proportions of the car. However - despite the use of a space-saver spare wheel - the depth is quite shallow. The rear seat also does not fold forward.
Yes sir, the FTO qualifies as a true sportscar - complete with essential trade-offs!
A Little More Interested Now?
After being pleasantly surprised by the Mitsubishi FTO, I've become much more interested in their pricing. Frank Russo - proprietor of Japco Auto Wholesalers - tells us that our particular 1998 test car is being offered for sale at $32,000. That may seem like a lot - until you realise that this car's only travelled 4000kms... So that 32k sees you getting into what is an essentially a brand new sportscar - not like those cheap-but-old 300ZX twin turbos...
In terms of tweak potential the FTO is limited. In the same way as extracting more power from a Suzuki Swift GTi engine is difficult, the 6A12 is a real stubborn thing. The problem (if you can call it that) is that the factory has already done a fantastic job. With multi-point EFI, a 10.0:1 CR, MIVEC and 24 valve heads, there's not much more left for the aftermarket tuner to do. Of course, an intake and exhaust should release a little more power (maybe 5-10%) - but that's about it. Personally, I'd also be very inclined to fit a set of road-legal semi-race tyres to a beast like this.
God knows; if it's quick from A-to-B in standard form, sticky tyres will have it arriving at its destination before you've even dug out the keys!
Japco Auto Wholesalers
+61 8 8347 3599