Tamed Colt for the city

Mit­subishi plans a new at­tack on the small-car mar­ket, writes Neil Dowl­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

ACUTE hatch­back has been charged by Mit­subishi to sweep the global light-car mar­kets.

The baby is the new Colt, though of­fi­cially Mit­subishi in Ja­pan is pre­sent­ing it as a new model.

It will be launched in 2012 — in­clud­ing Aus­tralia — and come out of a pur­pose-built Thai plant now un­der con­struc­tion.

Mit­subishi calls its new model the ‘‘global small’’ car and is de­signed to take on the swelling city-car mar­ket.

The car is likely to be smaller than the cur­rent Colt, sit on a new plat­form and use en­gines rang­ing from 1-litre to 1.5-litres.

How­ever, the ac­cent will be on fuel and emis­sions and Mit­subishi — like Nis­san with its lat­est Mi­cra — may stay in the lower-ca­pac­ity en­gine sec­tor.

Mit­subishi Aus­tralia spokesper­son Lenore Fletcher says it’s on the cards.

‘‘This is very high on our agenda, though it’s too early to talk specifics,’’ she says.

‘‘But we are very keen to get this car into Aus­tralia.’’

Us­ing Thai­land as its pro­duc­tion base im­proves pric­ing in Aus­tralia un­der the Free Trade Agree­ment and im­proves its com­pet­i­tive­ness against ri­vals such as the Mi­cra.

The global small car will fight the Ford Fi­esta, now built in Thai­land, and the Mazda2, which has moved pro­duc­tion to Ja­pan from Thai­land.

It will also com­pete with the Hyundai i20, Holden Ba­rina, Kia Rio, Suzuki Swift, Toy­ota Yaris and Volk­swa­gen Polo.

Thai­land may also build en­gines for the new Mit­subishi.

These will in­clude three and four- cylin­der small-bore en­gines from 1.0 to 1.2-litres, though ca­pac­i­ties of up to 1.5 litres could be used to match the per­for­mance of some ri­vals.

Mit­subishi re­cently con­ducted a foun­da­tion stone-lay­ing cer­e­mony for the global small car’s fac­tory, the com­pany’s third in Thai­land.

The fac­tory, near the first and sec­ond fac­to­ries, is planned to start pro­duc­tion in March 2012.

Pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity is ex­pected to start at about 150,000 units a year and rise to 200,000.

In most real-world sit­u­a­tions the WRX is not that far be­hind the STI.

But track day fans will want the top-spec ve­hi­cle be­cause it sharp­ens the car in al­most ev­ery area.

Technology

BOTH cars use a cen­tre diff to spread the torque through all four tyres, but a switch lets driv­ers fid­dle with that spread on the STI model.

Switch­ing to man­ual and rock­ing the switch will shunt the torque spread from front to rear, mean­ing the car will tend to push wide or be tai­lout through the cor­ners re­spec­tively.

Given this was a road test, cars­Guide left it in auto. Bet­ter not to be tempted.

The ro­tary dial above the switch con­trols the Subaru In­tel­li­gent Drive soft­ware that changes the car’s en­gine boost and man­age­ment pro­grams.

Sport and Sports Sharp im­prove throt­tle re­sponse and en­gine power, while the In­tel­li­gent mode is in­tended to max­imise ef­fi­ciency.

The ag­gres­sive ex­te­rior isn’t re­peated in­side, where the only con­ces­sion to the WRX’s per­for­mance abil­i­ties are the flat-backed but con­toured seats that grip like seats should and the drilled al­loy ped­als.

The STI isn’t a huge im­prove­ment. There are a few lo­gos in the cabin, a chromed gears sur­round and a more me­nac­ing light dis­play in the in­stru­ment bin­na­cle, but it’s still un­der­stated.

Safety

ALL-WHEEL drive and a Subaru-tough chas­sis are backed by elec­tronic sta­bil­ity and trac­tion con­trol, pow­er­ful ABS brakes and six airbags to give the per­for­mance pair a top ANCAP rat­ing.

There’s also a fi­nal suite of elec­tronic in­ter­ven­tion in times of driver er­ror or in treach­er­ous con­di­tions.

Driv­ing

IN TRAF­FIC and even on most roads, it isn’t hard to pick the dif­fer­ence be­tween the WRX and the STI. The reg­u­lar model has a firm sus­pen­sion that still gives a de­gree of ride com­fort.

The STI set-up trades plush­ness for per­for­mance and though you feel ev­ery bump through the wheel, the struts and shocks cope just that lit­tle bet­ter in tight turns.

Both cars need to spool up to about 4000 revs be­fore the turbo-boost ham­mers it to­wards the rev-lim­iter.

The six-speed STI’s shorter ra­tios and ex­tra gear over the WRX mean it ul­ti­mately feels quicker if you pick up the pace.

It’s eas­i­est to see when ac­cel­er­at­ing out of up­hill cor­ners, where the STI is less likely to be caught just off boost on a gear change, and if it is, the ex­tra 58Nm winds the light­weight car into ac­tion just a frac­tion of a sec­ond quicker.

Add the fact the STI’s Brembo brakes will bite harder for longer — and the ad­justable elec­tron­ics should let owner’s tune ev­ery last inch of tar­mac out of it— and it is easy to see how it will be a track-day or rally-based favourite. But put a good driver in a WRX against a rea­son­able driver in the STI and the WRX will prob­a­bly win in most sit­u­a­tions — there’s that lit­tle to it.

Both cars are rea­son­ably light in the steer­ing, but they still let you know what the wheels are do­ing well be­fore it be­comes an is­sue.

Both cars also give you the me­chan­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence — the en­gines snarl as things spin up be­yond sane speeds, the tyres scrab­ble be­fore the cen­tre diff op­ti­mises grip — that come with the hi-po rep­u­ta­tion.

Ver­dict

IF SANTA put ei­ther of this pair un­der my tree, I’d be smil­ing.

Am­a­teur rac­ers will get more out of the STI, but the WRX rules as a value-for-money, dayto-day driver.

Subaru agrees, with com­pany spokesman Ian Ch­ester­man say­ing six WRXs are sold for ev­ery STI.

Sleek and ef­fi­cient: Mit­subishi thinks this small city car can be a world-beater. It heads for Aus­tralia in 2012.

Broth­ers: (op­po­site page) the reg­u­lar Rex and (be­low) the STI.

Un­der­stated: (left) de­tail from the SubaruWRX STI sedan and (far left) the STI Spec.R with op­tional Re­caro seats and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

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