Interesting newcomer to the hot-hatch ranks with lots of potential and good performance-per-pound, but questions remain over its reserved looks and unexciting chassis

When you consider what a powerful impact the Mitsubishi Evo has made on the car enthusiast world, and how much its maker has spent on rallying it, it’s a surprise that there haven’t been more performance Mitsubishis. True, there was the appealing FTO coupé, finally imported to the UK after most of the demand had been satisfied with grey imports, and the super-obscure and surprisingly good Galant VR-4. 

You’ve probably forgotten the over-promising, under-delivering 3000 GT coupé, and the weird Pajero Evolution off-roader never made it here at all. But the truth is Mitsubishi hasn’t produced many models that can credibly wear sporting war paint.

But the new Colt CZT could change all that. A hot hatch of classically European format, this three-door version of the Colt was a relatively late admission to the product plan, having been designed and built at the request of Mitsubishi Motors Europe.

This is the first time we’ve driven the three-door Colt – less powerful versions are planned besides the CZT – and it looks quite different to its five-door brother, being lower and sportily styled with its more steeply raked windscreen and shorter rear overhang. The wheelbase and track are unchanged, however, as is its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension layout. A range of three normally aspirated engines will be available, ranging from 1.1 to 1.5 litres, and there will be two three-cylinder turbodiesels.

The four-cylinder, turbocharged unit in the CZT might be only a 1.5, but 148bhp and a strong 155lb ft sound promising in a car claimed to weigh only 960kg. Not that its looks promise so much. We found the CZT hard to spot in a line of lesser Colts, despite a more aggressive front valance, side skirts, a trio of low-set air intakes and a high-level tailgate spoiler. Though this three-door Colt casts a smaller shadow than the taller five-door, its height and MPV-like face do not sit easily with the sporting demeanour that Mitsubishi is trying to project. And the CZT certainly doesn’t have the visual appeal of Renault’s Clio Renaultsport 182.

Step inside – easy, with those big doors – and the CZT appears well-made, if somewhat dark and oppressive, only the luminescent blue ventilation controls providing light relief. But you do get most of the not-inconsiderable space of the five-door, making the CZT a more practical proposition than the cramped Citroën C2 VTS. And you can count off most of the fashionable hot-hatch details of the moment, including drilled pedals, sill scuff plates and aluminium instrument bezels, while the leather steering wheel is good to hold and the seats are firm and supportive. But of greater curiosity is the way it goes, not least because a turbocharged supermini is a novelty nowadays.

And it goes well. It’s as if the 1.5-litre engine is eager to prove that it has the muscle to take on big-block machinery like the 2.0-litre Clio 182, in the way that the old 1.4-litre Renault 5 GT Turbo gave the Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9 more than a run for its money back in the ’80s. When the boost comes it comes quickly, the engine’s punch making the CZT feel as if it will hit 62mph faster than in the 8.0sec Mitsubishi reckons it needs.

The character of this engine shares much with the powerplant in the late Ford Focus RS, the gritty-sounding blow of the turbo rapidly overtaken by a satisfying, hard-edged growl as the engine gets into its frenetic stride. This is a power unit that begs you to work it hard, which is just as well, seeing as it feels decidedly flat off-boost. More than anything else, it defines the CZT, contributing to its schizophrenic personality. Its aggressive delivery and no-nonsense character capture the spirit of the Evo saloon perfectly, yet this clashes with the rest of the Colt, which feels restrained-European, slightly anodyne, and not unlike a value-brand interpretation of the Merc A-class.

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It’s harder to be definitive about the CZT’s road behaviour – the car we drove was a prototype that was only 90 per cent production finalised, particularly in its chassis settings. So we’ll have to reserve judgment on the finer points of the CZT’s handling until we drive a finished version, especially since our brief test was on smooth roads. But we can safely say that grip levels are high from the 205/45 R16 tyres, and that body roll is firmly resisted. As with the five-door Colt, the electric power steering is surprisingly weighty, though this has the benefit of providing a stable, well-planted sensation when cruising at speed.

The steering is accurate, too, but most feedback appears to have been numbed away, and that’s a serious handicap in a class that majors on driving entertainment. We doubt that this will change much for the final production CZTs, but the unsettling pogo motion, often triggered by bumps and crests, we expect to disappear with further chassis tuning. So while the CZT is well up to rapid ground-covering, it’s hard to see it providing the entertainment that a Clio 182 serves with such zeal.

However, the CZT is not likely to cost as much as the Clio 182, either. Final prices are still being decided, but Mitsubishi UK is lobbying hard for it to cost less than £13,000, which could make Citroën a little nervous for sales of its C2 VTS. Only a high group 14 insurance rating looks like a potential stumbling block.

So a baby Evo? Not really, but the Colt’s fizzing performance is fun and it comes in a modern package that has far wider appeal than many of Mitsubishi’s previous sporty offerings.

Adam Towler

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