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New Car Test - Mitsubishi Magna Sports Wagon

A look at the hottest six-cylinder family wagon on our market...

By Michael Knowling

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Are you bound by the responsibilities of parenthood but still get the occasional itch to slip on the driving gloves? If so, Mitsubishi has the $40,690 answer; the TJ Magna Sports Wagon.

Just like the Sports and VR-X sedan models, the newly released hot-shoe wagon comes powered by the SOHC-per-bank, 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 found throughout the rest of the Magna range. With its Sports-spec high-flow exhaust, revised camshafts and ECU reprogram, however, power is up to 163kW at 5250 rpm and torque reaches 317Nm at 4500 rpm.

With figures like that, the Magna Sports Wagon earns a badge for the most powerful six-cylinder wagon on the market.

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Mitsubishi offers the Sports Wagon with a standard 5-speed sports-mode automatic transmission - too bad if you want the 5-speed manual on offer in the Sports Sedan.

It must be said, however, the sports-mode trannie is a very trick bit of gear. In addition to offering five forward gears (something you won't find on any of the competition), it gives you the option to select 'Drive' or to sequentially work your way through the ratios by hand.

In normal driving situations, there's no need to take charge of the gearbox yourself - the smart-thinking electronic trans conducts itself very well. Cruising around at light throttle, shifts are smooth and the 'box settles into top gear very early - at a constant 60 km/h cruise, for example, the engine's pottering at a mere 1500 rpm. The 3.5-litre engine certainly has the torque to cope with such situations, but it doesn't respond to throttle inputs as strongly as the manual gearbox-equipped Sports Sedan.

Our only other criticism of the auto box is that it magnifies an in-cabin exhaust boom at around 2000 rpm - there's increased noise at this point on the way up through the revs and, unfortunately, there's another boom when the trans drops revs to around 2000 rpm after an up-change.

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A largely un-trumpeted advantage of the 5-speed sports-mode auto is its accompanying traction control and 'trace control' systems - bonuses that aren't available with the Sports Sedan's manual gearbox. The traction control system is used to limit the amount of front wheelspin under power, while trace control reduces the amount of cornering power-on understeer. Both of these systems have a pronounced effect - especially in wet road conditions.

Weighing 1566kg, the Sports Wagon's accelerative performance is very similar to the 1506kg Sports Sedan (when equipped with its optional sports-mode auto). Expect the wagon to reach 100 km/h in around 8.0 seconds. Fuel consumption during our test averaged 11.7 litres per 100km. Normal unleaded is all you need, given the engine's relatively low 9.0:1 compression ratio.

Complimenting the sporty character of the engine is the Sports-spec suspension.

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The Sports Wagon's suspension is noticeably firmer than you'll find in the cooking model. Having said that, its bump absorption remains exceptional and there are absolutely no jitters - this is a very comfortable suspension tune for a family Sports package. The only letdown is a beam rear axle layout - which, admittedly, showed no major deficiencies during our test.

As you might expect, the Magna's natural handling bias is to understeer. The trace control system dials out some of this, but certainly not enough to create a neutral handling vehicle. Once the Magna Sports Wagon does start understeering through a corner, a mild throttle lift-off will help recover its steering line.

It's all safe and predictable.

Speaking of steering, the Sports Wagon's rack-and-pinion arrangement doesn't offer much steering feel or response at the straight-ahead position. This makes the car feel more cumbersome than it really is. Once turned off-centre, however, the steering performs okay - it's then well weighted and responsive.

The Sports Wagon's brakes perform competently and are the same items as found in the standard Magna wagon - ABS and EBD controlled calipers with ventilated front discs and solid rears.

Space to go with Pace

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The Magna Sports Wagon offers an abundance of cargo space for the typical two-to-three children family.

Open the rear hatch and there's a vast expanse of floor - enough to swallow the weekly groceries and have plenty room to spare. Access to the cargo area is made easy thanks to a low load lip and relatively high swinging hatch.

In those instances where extreme cargo space is required, the single-piece rear seat backrest can be folded forward using a latch on either side of the car. The backrest doesn't quite fold flush with the rest of the cargo floor, but it's not too far off. With the backrest folded forward, there's a truly enormous 2110 litres of cargo volume. Beneath the cargo floor - which is made from 14-odd millimetre thick MDF - lives a full-size alloy spare wheel.

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In the rear stowage area are four floor tie-downs and four side-hooks. Any combination of these can be used to secure luggage using an optional cargo net. Note, however - due to the huge amount of cargo this wagon can stow - we'd highly recommend the fitting of the optional cargo safety barrier. This will ensure no heavy objects will become potentially lethal airborne missiles in the event of an accident.

And there's still more carrying capacity.

For the family that truly packs everything but the kitchen sink while on holiday, the Magna Sports' sturdy roof rails can be used to good effect. By purchasing the optional crossbars, cargo totalling up to 80kg can be secured above the roof.

Moving our way forward, the rear seat offers plenty of foot, knee, shoulder and headroom - note that the Magna wagon has 35mm more rear headroom than the sedan. In addition, the rear seat is very comfortable and offers a fold-down centre armrest.

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Just like the rears, the front seats are very comfortable and you'll find plenty of space in every direction. The patterned sports trim applied to the seats and door trims doesn't look overly tacky, and Mitsubishi have carried the white-faced dials over from the previous TH model Sports Sedan. These dials look good during daylight hours, but their orange nighttime illumination is in stark contrast with the dashboard's otherwise green illumination.

Feature-wise, the Magna Sports Wagon is pretty much as you'd expect for the price - there's power windows, mirrors and aerial, cruise control, digital climate control, single CD/tuner, leather-bound steering wheel, remote central locking, immobiliser/alarm, under-seat storage trays and the standard Magna's multi-function display. Instrumentation is limited to speedo, tacho, fuel level and temperature - note that a barrel-type odometer is still being used. There's also a LED indicator for gear position.

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There's no special level of passenger safety onboard the Sports Wagon. It gets twin airbags (no big deal these days), ABS and EBD, traction/trace control, seatbelt pre-tensioners and powerful multi-parabola headlights. The fold-forward rear seat also features a pair of red indicators to make it obvious whenever its backrest is not fully locked into position.

Overall build quality is very good. The Sports' paint finish is orange peel-free, panel margins are reasonably tight, doors shut well and the add-on body kit looks tough and well secured. There are, however, a few rough edges. The ashtray feels flimsy, the rear window washer leaks whenever you boot it off the line and one of our test car's vent controls was stuck half way. The quality of the sound system is also a bit miserly.

Like all Magnas, the Sports Wagon is backed by a 3-year/100,000km warranty.

Not surprisingly, the Magna Wagon's interior space is reflected in its exterior size. For families moving up from a medium-sized car, you'd better be aware of the Magna wagon's dimensions - parking its 4832mm length and 1785mm width can take some getting used to.

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The otherwise bland looking Magna wagon body has been given a dose of aggression with the Sports kit - a front spoiler (with fog lights), skirts and a rear wing. Note that the rear wing is simply attached atop of the standard roofline extension, forming a sort of 'bi-plane' wing. In addition to its body kit, the Sports also benefits from 16 x 7-inch alloy wheels clad in 215/60 Bridgestone Turanzas (the same as fitted to the sedan variant).

So what's the verdict?

The Magna Sports Wagon has what it takes to meet family requirements and - yes - it will also satisfy the occasional moment of 'Fangio-ism'. It's a very capable all-round machine.

The Magna Sports Wagon was provided to AutoSpeed courtesy of Mitsubishi Australia.

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