Tamed Colt for the city
Mitsubishi plans a new attack on the small-car market, writes Neil Dowling
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.