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New Car Test - TL Series Mitsubishi Magna VR-X

With no more power, suspension or brake upgrades, the new TL VR-X Magna just manages to stay alive in the performance family car segment...

By Michael Knowling

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Ever since we were first bowled over by the 163kW motor in the TJ Mitsubishi Magna VR-X (see "New Car Test - Mitsubishi Magna VR-X"), we've been quiet admirers of the go-fast Magna and Verada range. That first VR-Xperience is now three years behind us, though, so it's time to take a look at the newly introduced TL series Magna VR-X...

Truth be known, the new TL series Magna is simply a model update - albeit a fairly significant one. Changes across the entire Magna range - and which apply to the VR-X - include standard front and side airbags, improved safety cell strength, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, prismatic interior mirror, emergency door unlocking, rest reminder, improved multi-parabola headlights, climate control and power windows. Certainly, improved passenger safety is the main focus of the update.

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But there's no overlooking the styling...

The first thing that either attracts or repels you from the VR-X is its new front-end styling - the TL Magna is amongst the first Mitsubishis to adopt the company's so-called "global styling." The nose now incorporates a divided grille (with a unique trim for the VR-X), a large Mitsubishi emblem, "swoopier looking" front guards, new front bumper and large triangular headlights. The VR-X also scores "shark eye" fog lights. We haven't acquired a taste for the styling yet, but it's good see Mitsubishi taking a plunge...

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From side and rear angles, the TL Magna is universally admired. The inoffensive lines carried over from the TJ series have been smoothed and simplified, creating a very attractive look. Compared to lesser models, the VR-X also scores a subtle body kit and a large chrome exhaust tip. The VR-X's unique 17 x 7-inch 5-spoke alloys look great and the 225-section width of the standard Bridgestone rubbers are obvious from front and rear.

Now let's look beneath that new-look skin...

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Mechanically, the new VR-X is effectively the same as it was three years ago. The faithful 6G74 3.5-litre, SOHC, 24-valve V6 maintains a 9.0:1 compression ratio and ignores trends towards variable cam timing or electronic throttle control. The engine has always been a sweetie, though, with neck-snapping throttle response, great torque at all revs and a genuine willingness to rev. Peak outputs remain pegged at 163kW at 5250 rpm and 317Nm at 4500 rpm - a relatively small 8kW and 1Nm up on today's base model Magnas.

As before, the VR-X is available with either a 5-speed manual or 5-speed INVECS-II Sports Mode sequential auto. The 5-speed auto is certainly a popular choice - and with good reason. Left in Drive, the auto is always in the right gear and willing to kick down. Its sequential shift mode (push forward to upchange, pull back to downchange) is good for mountain assaults or simply when coasting down.

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Weighing 1571 kilograms (slightly up on the previous model), the new VR-X auto can still manage to grunt its way to some decent 0 - 100 km/h times. With two people onboard, in the auto we averaged in the mid 8-second range with no prior practice.

Fuel consumption during our test (which involved mainly aggressive urban driving and a bit of open-road cruising) averaged just over 12-litres per 100 kilometres - reasonable given the car's mass and performance. A 71-litre tank provides a good touring range - especially on the open road, where the Magna's excellent aerodynamics pays dividends.

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Drive is to the front wheels, of course, and a LSD remains exclusive to the 5-speed manual Ralliart Magna. The Sports Mode auto VR-X (and pretty well all the new automatic models, for that matter) gets just a standard open-centre diff with TRC - TRC is Mitsubishi speak for traction and trace control. Like previous Magnas, the natural handling bias is toward understeer but the chassis is quite well balanced. Lifting off the throttle mid-corner is a guaranteed way to resume your desired cornering line.

The suspension layout remains the same with "sports tuned" MacPherson struts, lower A-arms and a swaybar at the front and an independent multi-link rear with upper and lower control arms and a swaybar. Note, though, even base model Magna sedan now scores a rear swaybar (previously exclusive to sporty models) plus slightly stiffer spring rates and damping; on paper, it seems the VR-X is no longer a mile ahead in chassis dynamics.

One aspect we criticized on the first VR-X model was its steering vagueness at the straight-ahead position. This has been remedied on the KL with "changed steering gear input characteristics" and, no doubt, thanks to the VR-X's lower profile 225/50 17 Bridgestone Grid II tyres. The steering is now very good - you can now hold a constant steering angle through a corner with no need for small corrections.

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The braking arrangement uses ABS and EBD controlled four-wheel discs. The ventilated front discs measure 276mm in diameter and are clamped by a single-pot caliper, while the rear gets solid 258mm discs with single pot calipers; only the AWD models get the upgrade brake combo derived from the Ralliart Magna. Whatever the case, though, we had no problems with the VR-X brakes during our road test - they provided good feel and progression with ample stopping power time after time.

So - dynamically - the VR-X is pretty much what it has always been. Sure, it has put on a few kilograms, but its improved steering and a lift in overall refinement have made some noticeable changes for the better; just don't think of the TL as 'the all-new Magna'.

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Onboard, accommodation remains generous except - as in previous models - rear passenger headroom is a little marginal. A reshape of the front seat backrests and the back seat have, however, yielded noticeably more knee room - 25mm more according to Mitsubishi.

The VR-X's new embossed front and rear seats are firm yet comfortable and revised interior fabrics and surfaces give the cabin a more modern feel. Cabin noise levels are very low, except for a sporting exhaust growl (with the occasional resonance).

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The VR-X cabin is a comfortable place to be. The new model gets spoilt (not literally) with a Premium double-DIN tuner/in-dash 6 CD stacker that's wired to a total of 10 speakers. Unlike many Magnas of the past, the sound is rich and there's plenty of bass if you want it; a big improvement.

A nice leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, together with a red-on-white instrument cluster (comprising a tacho, speedo, fuel and coolant gauges) are also exclusive to the VR-X. A remote alarm and immobiliser system is also installed and, according to the NRMA, the TL Magna is the most theft-resistant vehicle in its class.

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All of this comes in addition to the changes made throughout the entire Magna range - a 6-way electric driver's seat, rearranged dashboard console incorporating easy-to-use climate control, a new floor console featuring air-con ducts to the rear passengers and adjustable driver's lumbar support. You also get standard cruise control, electric windows, mirrors, central locking and aerial and a trip computer (giving average speed, speed alarm, instant fuel consumption, average fuel consumption, total fuel used, distance to empty, time travelled, total distance travelled, rest reminder and a service reminder).

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The boot is plenty large enough for family car duties, there's a ski-port to accommodate long, skinny cargo and load access is quite good. A full size 17-inch spare wheel can also be found beneath the chipboard false floor.

If you're into towing, we'd probably pass up the VR-X in favour of the AWD models that have greater traction and larger brakes - but the VR-X is rated to tow up to 1500kg wherever trailer brakes are used.

Okay, so why would you buy a VR-X over the competition?

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Well, if safety and an overall feeling of refinement are high on your priorities the VR-X auto is an attractive buy - at $42,990, though, it's amongst the most expensive vehicles in its league. The atmo versions of Holden's Commodore S and Ford's XR6 - both with auto trannies - manage to under-cut the Mitsubishi by nearly $5000 and $4000 respectively, while the Toyota Camry Sportivo V6 auto is dead-on $4000 cheaper. Offsetting some of this price margin, however, are the VR-X's standard four airbags, 17-inch wheels and much improved sound system - it just manages to stay alive in a very tough field.

Certainly, (like its predecessors) the TL Magna VR-X is a good, honest, full size performer - but we would like to see a few grand dropped off its price tag.

Note - the same 163kW driveline and chassis can also be found in the TL Magna VR (which replaces the previous Sport model). The VR auto comes in a shade under $40k and gets 16-inch alloys with 215/60 Turanza rubbers, fewer speakers than the VR-X and some fairly minor body and interior trim differences. The VR is nearly 30kg lighter than the VR-X as well; worth keeping in mind if you can't go past the performance for dollar equation.

Why You Would...

  • That sweet 163kW V6 always inspires
  • Better audio system than in previous models
  • Much improved safety features
  • Still a very refined all-round package

Why You Wouldn't...

  • Front-end styling still trying to gain acceptance
  • No recent driveline developments (eg variable cam timing or electronic throttle control)
  • Expensive in its class

The Magna VR-X was provided for this test by Mitsubishi Motors Australia.

www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au

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