Has time finally caught up with one of our favourite performance sedans? It’s been eight years
since we first saw the TE-series Magna body and with no major mechanical changes
in that time, well, it’s starting to get left behind.
But there's one notable exception.
The AWD version of the Magna VR (formerly known as the Sports model) is the
only locally-built all-paw performance sedan. And it’s a cracker. From a
half-arsed flick through roundabout to an all-out assault on a narrow, winding
road, the VR AWD is incredibly stable, balanced – and damn fast!
Throw it into a corner and the VR AWD will understeer a little in the early
stages of turn-in. But from then on it’s dream stuff. Lift off the accelerator
mid-corner and the rear-end will obediently peel away allowing you to tighten
your cornering line - if necessary. But more often that not, the VR AWD can
be perfectly set up for a corner and you can jump on the accelerator very
early. There’s traction everywhere. Sure, the 215/60 Bridgestone Turanzas wail
and carry on but it’s extremely stable and the mid-corner and exit speed is
Forget what everybody tells you about Magnas – the VR AWD is a handling
The QuadTec all-wheel-drive system in the Magna is not as sophisticated as
the electronic-controlled arrangement used in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
GSR, but it is certainly one of our favourites. The viscous centre drive
coupling, tailshaft, transfer case and open-centre front diff are parts
previously used in the Lancer Evolution 6. The rear diff is the
mechanical plate type as fitted to the motorsport Evolution RS.
Mitsubishi engineers found a way to incorporate AWD and retain the suspension
arrangement used in existing front-wheel-drive models. The basics of the
MacPherson strut/lower A-arm front suspension and multi-link IRS remain the
same, but with revised springs, dampers and rear swaybar. Ride is firm but
always very comfortable.
In addition to its brilliant handling and poise, the VR AWD is equipped with
a big set of stoppers. Ralliart-spec brakes - 294mm at the front and 284mm at
the rear – perform very well and the ABS system has been recalibrated to suit
the AWD driveline.
But perhaps due to the high limits of the VR AWD chassis, straight-line
acceleration is relatively disappointing.
Sure, the car lunges off the line with urgency but the extra bulk put on
during the TL-series upgrade and the effect of the AWD driveline have taken their
toll. The VR AWD weighs 1670kg, which is around 200kg more than the
original Magna Sports/VR-X. Together with a re-routed exhaust that kills 4kW
(compared to the front-wheel-drive VR), the VR AWD struggles to accelerate to 100
km/h in anything under 9 seconds. It’s a far cry from our test of the ‘original’
VR-X manual, which could storm to 100 km/h in a little over 7 seconds!
A look under the bonnet shows a five-year lack of development. The 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 marches on using non-variable intake manifold, a
single (non-variable) camshaft per bank and without electronic throttle control.
A free-flow exhaust system nets 4kW and 2Nm over the base Magna, bringing the
tally up to 159kW at 5500 rpm and 318Nm at 4000 rpm. As mentioned,
the front-drive version of the VR makes the full 163kW monty.
On the upside, the engine remains responsive, torquey at all revs and its
low 9.0:1 compression ratio means it’ll run on even the crumbiest grade fuel. We
averaged mid-high 12-litres of ULP per 100km during our test, which is slightly
more than we’d expect driving a front-wheel-drive version under the same
conditions. Fuel tank capacity is 70-litres – 2-litres less than the FWD.
Interestingly, the VR AWD – like other AWD Magna/Verada models – comes only
with a 5-speed automatic. Fortunately, it’s a very sweet trannie that’s willing
to kick down when left in Drive and featuring one of the best sequential-style
systems in the business. All that’s lacking is the neck-snapping throttle
response of the manual front-wheel-drive.
Onboard, the VR AWD has all the features you’d expect - but it’s all pretty
ho-hum. There are electric mirrors and windows, analogue climate control (with
rear outlets), cruise control, a trip computer, four airbags, white-face dials
and a semi-electric driver’s seat (backrest adjustment is by lever). The VR’s
sports seats are firm but comfortable. The new-to-TL series single CD/tuner
looks and feels cheap – and it doesn’t sound any better when cranked up. The
only option is an $1850 electric sunroof.
The Magna has always had impressive NVH levels, but the AWD system detracts from this – there is noticeably more vibration during acceleration. On
the upside, there isn’t the exhaust resonance found in 163kW front-wheel-drive
models – the revised rear section of exhaust for the AWD conversion has shut it
The Magna remains a very practical vehicle with its huge boot, generous front
space and good rear seat width. Rear legroom has been improved in the TL-series,
but headroom remains marginal if you’re tall. The body has also had significant
crash safety upgrades since the TJ Series 2 Magna.
And now for the visuals.
The global styling of the TL Magna front-end hasn’t grown on us – and it
seems we’re not alone! Fortunately, the side and rear views of the Magna are
smooth and inoffensive. The VR AWD can be spotted in a government carpark by its
fog lights, black surround headlights, subtle rear spoiler, slightly lower
stance and the all-telling AWD badges on the boot lid and front quarter panels.
In our book the VR’s 10-spoke 16 x 7-inch wheels are pretty ugly - the
5-spoke 17s on the VR-X front-wheel-drive are much more attractive.
Now let’s get down to business.
At AUD$41,990 the VR AWD is absolute ripper value when compared to other
Magna models. The AWD driveline (and don’t forget the associated big brake
package) sets you back just $1400 more than a front-wheel-drive version. That’s great value.
But compare the VR AWD to other brands and it’s obvious that you’d really want to have that glorious handling and stability to make it a worthwhile
purchase. The benchmark Australian performance sedan – the 240kW Ford XR6
Turbo – retails for just over 46 grand in automatic form. Sure, the Ford doesn’t
have the grip of the Magna AWD but there aren’t too many other areas where it loses
The fight wouldn’t be so one-sided if the VR AWD had more power. Surely
Mitsubishi has some Ralliart Magna bits lying around...