Mitsubishi is billing the new Colt hatchback as the first fruit of its alliance with DaimlerChrysler – and on this evidence, the co-operation seems destined to produce good cars. The new five-door hatch is pretty, roomy, well-built and nice to drive – and it also looks better value than the recently launched, premium-priced Smart Forfour, with which it shares 60 per cent of its underpinnings.
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is overdue for a market win. The Japanese group has been turning in such horror-story losses lately that returning it to profitability is one of the parent company’s most urgent jobs. Despite this, Britain’s own Mitsubishi importer, Colt Car Company, has been showing consistent strength: at the end of this year, sales will have doubled in just four years. And when the effect of the new 15,000-a-year supermini are fully felt in 2005, total UK volume should surge past 50,000 units.
This new Colt is the sixth-generation model since 1978, but the first to be made in Europe. Like the Smart, it is built in the former Volvo Nedcar plant in Holland. Proposed European volume of 100,000 units will always make it an exclusive choice – a bit like the Honda Jazz, against which Mitsubishi has closely benchmarked its new Colt.
Precise figures and model specs are still being decided, but UK Colts will probably start at around £9000 for the entry-level 1.1-litre model and extend to just under £12,000 for the highest-spec 1.5 litre. UK sales of five-door versions will start early this September, and there will be a sporty-looking three-door (shown at the Geneva Motor Show as the CZ3 concept) from spring 2005 with a 150bhp turbocharged version of the 1.5-litre engine.
For now, the five-door comes with a choice of three normally aspirated petrol engines: a three-cylinder 1.1 with 75bhp and 74lb ft of torque, four-cylinder 1.3 with 95bhp and 92lb ft, and a four-cylinder 1.5 with 109bhp and 107lb ft.
The line-up will also include a pair of 1.5-litre Mercedes-Benz three-cylinder turbodiesels (68bhp/118lb ft and 95bhp/155lb ft). Both engine families will be available with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automated manual called Allshift. The most popular model is tipped to be the 1.3-litre petrol manual, but the UK importer is still deciding which other combinations will come here.
The Colt is very much a ‘tall’ supermini, with a high driving position, an overall length of 3870mm and a relatively long wheelbase at 2500mm. Mitsubishi claims class-best cabin length and the Colt’s impressive interior space is apparent in both the front and rear seats. Suspension is by MacPherson struts up front, with a torsion beam axle at the rear. The brakes are discs front, drums rear (except for the 1.5 petrol, which gets an all-disc set-up) and anti-lock and electronic brakeforce distribution are both standard. Steering is by electric power assistance in all models.
On the road, the car has a fairly firm but supple ride and nimble handling. The lack of road noise also leads to a ‘big-car’ feel and the steering is accurate and nicely weighted. All the engines spin easily, though the 1.5-litre four is fairly boomy at high revs. At least the gearchange is light and foolproof.
Overall, our initial impression is of a modern but essentially conventional supermini that’s better suited to European conditions than many Japanese cars. We must await longer tests on British roads but, for now, our feelings towards this pretty new entrant in the toughest of categories are decidedly favourable.