Well, here it is: the car that Mitsubishi should
have released about six months ago. (In fact, it’s really the car Mitsubishi
should have had on sale 2 years ago - then we think it would have been a
stunning success.) But back to the present: how does this 380 differ from the
ones we saw late last year when the 380 was first put on sale? This one has the
same engine, the same suspension, the same body, the same interior – in fact
it’s the same car.
Just a helluva lot cheaper.
In fact, you can now step into a Mitsubishi 380
from just $27,990, and even with the auto trans that’s considered near
obligatory in this class of car, you can do it for a whisker under thirty grand
– plus on road costs of course. That change of pricing of the base model (the
other models also dropped in price but to a much lesser degree) makes a complete
re-evaluation of the big Mitsubishi vital. After all, the 380 is now being
pitched straight at what’s been one of the best bargains around – the V6 Hyundai
Sonata. So when assessed as a $30,000 car, how does the 380 stack up?
In short, very well.
That’s not to say of course that all is wonderful.
Yet again the test car provided by Mitsubishi had foam rubber filler strips
crudely peering out from each end of the dash and a price drop doesn’t make any
difference to the lack of a folding rear seat or marginal rear headroom. But
without being saddled with an excessive price, the strengths of the design
really shine through.
The 175kW 3.8 litre engine is a strong and
effective performer. It’s not as smooth and quiet as some of the opposition
(although it’s clearly better in this regard than the V6 Commodore) and fuel
consumption in urban point-and-squirt conditions can be as high as the Commodore
and Falcon sixes. However, with this test completed over a long distance and
including a substantial amount of freeway driving, we saw an overall average of
10.4 litres/100km – based on previous experience, better than either the Holden
or Ford would have achieved in the same conditions.
The 5-speed auto trans has excellent shift logic -
it never hunts for the right gear when climbing varying grades and yet still
gives punchy down-changes when they’re needed. Mitsubishi has geared the car
extremely high (in top gear no less than 30 per cent higher than the 5-speed
manual!) and has programmed the gearbox to select fifth gear as early as
possible. The result is that often the engine is turning only very slowly (which
is of course good for fuel economy) although it can be a little disconcerting
when the gearbox stays in fifth down to 40 km/h... However, despite peak torque of
343Nm being developed at 4000 rpm, the engine has sufficient torque to pull the
tall gearing so it’s no problem.
While the engine is basic in technical
specification – there’s no variable inlet manifold, no variable cam timing, not
even double overhead cams per cylinder bank – and is based around an old design,
that’s really not discernible without opening the bonnet and looking. It’s not
as good an engine as the V6 found in the Sonata (or even the hugely improved
Falcon 4-litre six) but it’s also not that far behind.
And where the 380 clearly leads the Hyundai – and
is extremely competitive with cars costing up to twice the price – is in its
ride and handling. Unlike the last 380 we drove (see
Mitsubishi 380LS New Car Test)
this car did not have the optional sports suspension. With the standard
suspension, the ride was clearly better but then again, the grip provided by the
noisy 215/60 16 inch Goodyear Ducaro GA tyres was also noticeably reduced.
But what hadn’t changed is the car’s prowess on a
twisty road: the steering is excellent and the car telegraphs its behaviour very
well indeed. As you’d expect, power understeer is present but this is easily
balanced by modulating the throttle. In standard suspension guise the 380 is a
car that can be driven along a windy road very fast indeed, helped by its
powerful brakes which use ventilated discs front and back.
The 380’s handling proficiency is greater than the
sum of its parts: viewed individually, the engine, brakes, suspension and
steering are nothing earth-shattering. I mean, this base model doesn’t even have
traction control! But put the controls together and their even weighting,
sensitivity and responsiveness make for a wonderfully cohesive handler.
However, at 8/10ths on bumpy roads the
steering can kick-back violently; Mitsubishi engineering staff state it the
result of a trade-off involving steering feel and ride comfort.
Interior space is excellent, with a heap of rear
legroom (although, as stated, headroom can be tight – especially when placing a
child in a baby seat) and the seats are comfortable and supportive, the driver’s
having four way power settings but manual slide, recline and lumbar support. But
because the windscreen slopes at a very shallow angle and the steering wheel and
pedals are not adjustable for reach, most comfortably-seated drivers found the
top of the A-pillar and sunvisors overly close to their heads.
But how bare-bones does this base model look and
feel inside? Zero, that’s how much! Rather ironically, we like the base model
cabin more than the upmarket models...
The colour LCD (which looks cheaply small on the
luxo models) is gone and sound system and HVAC controls (featuring a manual
climate control system - you set the temp on the dial and it maintains it)
simply presented and clear. You get only a single CD player but it does MP3s and
sounds excellent in this class – a far cry from the Magna systems of old. You
also still get the rear-of-steering-wheel remote controls for the sound system
(after a few hours’ familiarity they work well) and we actually prefer the
clearer instrument treatment of the base spec car. The ‘metallic finish trim
accents’ were also light-years ahead of the awful fake woodgrain of the last 380
we tested. Even on this base model you get four airbags, cruise control (which
works well with the electronic throttle system), time delay power windows and a
ten-function trip computer (which has oddly unlabelled controls).
The 380 ES is a damn good car. It’s comfortable,
quick, well equipped for the price and can be quite economical. It has a 5 year
warranty (10 years on the powertrain) and 5 year 24/7 roadside assistance. It
undercuts its Australian built opposition in price and offers side airbags
as standard. Retained value is likely to be poor but if that doesn’t worry you
and you want a capacious cabin and a car that can be very rewarding when
pedalled hard, take one for a drive.
if we liked the $30,000 ES auto model, what did we think of the $44,900 top of
the line GT? Well basically, we think you’d be bloody crazy to buy one.
ES represents real value for money; the 50 per cent more expensive GT is just
madness. What do you get for the massive price hike? The answer is very little
of any substance. You get the same engine, the same brakes, a sports version of
the same suspension, one inch bigger alloy wheels with better Dunlop SP Sport
230 tyres, some minor styling changes (that include different rear lights and
bumpers), a 6-disc in-dash sound system with more speakers, the same number of
airbags, a leather interior and power front seats.
we found the seats hard and uncomfortable (especially when matched with the
sports suspension) and the tail-light design beggars belief – the indicator is
so tiny it’s dangerous. Build quality of the test car was also questionable: the
lens of one of the tail-lights was going milky on its top surface, the power
seat trim wasn’t fixed properly to the side of the seat, rubber foam strips
projected from each end of the dash, shiny gold screws stared back at you if you
parked with some steering lock on, and the instruction book for the rear park
assist comprised just a few photocopies. Significantly, we also heard the engine
detonate when trying to lug up a hill while the auto trans obstinately held onto
has the price difference between base and top model looked so bizarre. To
represent a worthwhile upgrade, the GT needs a more powerful engine, stability
control and perhaps a navigation system. And even then, we’d look rather more
fondly at the base ES. After all, buying the GT is rather like paying 50 per
cent more for a house that comes with differently shaped gutters and a few
cars were provided for this story by Mitsubishi Australia
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