For years in the mid-Eighties the Mitsubishi front-wheel drive Colt was amongst the best sellers in small cars. With its 4 x 2-speed gearbox and wrap-over doors, it was technically advanced, and its cheeky styling and good performance brought in plenty of buyers. (And even before that, in the late 1960s, Mitsubishi sold a rear-wheel drive Colt that had a dedicated band of followers and scored local rally victories.) But the Colt was replaced by the Mirage and the success was never so great. Well, now we again have a Mitsubishi Colt being sold in Australia – and this one also has technology and practicality in spades.
Joint developments of Mitsubishi and DaimlerChrysler, the Colt and the Smart ‘forfour’ share no less than 40 per cent of their components. You could also say that there’s plenty of Mercedes A-class influence in the Colt design – the slippery 0.31 aerodynamic drag coefficient (stunning in such a small car), single styling sweep from nose to tail, and very long wheelbase are giveaways.
But the new Colt is more than just a pretty face. Under the bonnet there’s a very impressive engine and transmission, even more striking given this is the base LS model.
The engine is a 1.5-litre four cylinder. It uses Mitsubishi’s MIVEC valve control system that alters both valve timing and lift, better adapting the engine’s breathing to the revs and load. The long-stroke design (75.5mm bore and 82mm stroke) develops 72kW at 6000 rpm and 132Nm at 4250 rpm. It runs on normal ol’ unleaded fuel. The engine is one of the technically most sophisticated designs in its class, using electronic throttle, tubular exhaust extractors and low-friction pistons.
However, even more significant to the driving experience is the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Unlike a normal trans – even an auto – the CVT never makes a conventional ‘gear change’. Instead, as the name suggests, the gear ratio can continually alter across the full range – in this case, from 2.319 to 0.445:1. With a very low final drive ratio of 5.219, there is a ratio for every occasion, improving fuel economy, emissions and performance. The computer running the trans (it’s the same one that controls the engine) uses Mitsubishi’s INVECS III logic which watches the driving style and learns appropriately from it.
The result is excellent rolling acceleration. Off the line performance is nothing fantastic (we recorded a 0-100 km/h time in the mid 12s) but when the relatively lightweight 1020kg car is moving, the Colt punches well above its weight. In normal driving, the dash-mounted trans selector is placed in ‘D’ mode and the computer does the rest. However, the driver also has the option of ‘Ds’, the sport mode. In this position, the trans holds engine revs higher and gives better engine braking. It makes the most of the broad torque curve and allows the Colt to dart through traffic or rapidly despatch a twisting country road.
Fuel economy in the combined highway/city government test is 6.4 litres/100 km, however with lots of spirited driving, we recorded economy in the low Eights.
Ride and handling are well up to the engine and trans sophistication. Spec is conventional small car – MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam rear end – but the ride and handling are very good indeed. The ride is firmly controlled but never harsh, while the grip from the 175/65 Dunlop 3000E tyres worn on steel 14-inch rims is excellent. Power-on understeer is the order of the day but the tail can be brought out by a throttle lift. Like so many Mitsubishis, the electrically assisted steering is a little dead around centre, but with some lock on, it’s fine, with a meaty feel.
Braking comprises ventilated discs at the front and – disappointing in such a sophisticated small car – drums at the back. Offsetting this down-market spec is the standard fitment of four channel ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist. The latter detects when emergency braking is occurring and provides optimal braking pressure, resulting in a quicker stop.
The equipment level is high: remote locking, rear wiper, auto-on interior light when the car is unlocked, headlight warning, air con (with pollen filter) and single CD radio. Twin airbags are provided as standard (side and curtain airbags are a $1200 option) and seat belt pre-tensioners and force limiters are fitted. There is an extensive options and accessories list, including a variety of centre console storage boxes (none is provided standard), 6-stacker in-dash CD and alloy wheels.
The interior of the Colt is as well engineered as the mechanicals. The versatility of the cabin is superb: the rear seat backs can be folded down on a 50:50 split, or folded and then tumbled forward to give a flat floor, resulting in a mammoth 594 litres of cargo volume. (In the test car the rear seat release mechanism was inoperative; but the preceding is what the brochure shows!) The front passenger seat can also be folded near flat, allowing the carriage of long items. In addition, the rear seats can be reclined part-way and also have 150mm of fore-aft travel. Practical storage spaces are sprinkled around the cabin: bottle holders in the doors, central cupholders in the dash, a tray under the steering column and a 6-litre space revealed by lifting the squab of the front passenger seat.
The seat trim material – it’s a light grey cloth - ‘balls’ easily and the front seats provide little side support. Another downer is that the child restraint anchorages are positioned so that the straps must cross the luggage area, reducing its usefulness with a child seat fitted. However, there is an excellent amount of space in both the front and rear seating positions.
Unfortunately the test car had the strongest ‘new car plastics’ smell of any car we’ve ever driven: it was so powerful that it made occupants feel physically ill. It may have been that the car had been left windows-up in the sun for a long time, but if you are susceptible to these gases, keep this in mind when test driving.
At $18,990 the Colt is certainly not the cheapest small car on the block. And for this price we’d like to see rear discs, alloys wheels and a tachometer. But like the upmarket Honda Jazz models, the Colt is on the cutting edge of small car design – a package that has the performance, economy, handling and practicality to make a lot of buyers very happy.