by Greg Wilson

Montebello, Quebec – It’s probably the most ambitious automobile launch in Canadian history – seven new vehicles and 18 new dealerships – rising to 47 dealerships by the end of the year. Mitsubishi vehicles went on sale in Canada on September 3rd, and the company plans to sell 5000 cars by the end of 2002 and 20,000 vehicles in its first year. By 2006, they’re aiming for sales of 38,000, or 2% of the Canadian market.

Mitsubishi Outlander and Eclipse Spyder
Mitsubishi Outlander and Eclipse Spyder

Mitusbishi Eclipse, Eclipse Spyder and Lancer OZ
Mitusbishi Eclipse, Eclipse Spyder and Lancer OZ
Photos: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

 

The introduction of another Japanese competitor to an already busy field of imports might seem like a risky venture, but Mitsubishi is no beginner – the company is currently the twelfth largest automaker in the world, and has been producing vehicles since 1917. Many of you will remember that Mitsubishis were sold in Canada under the Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth banners since the mid 80’s, including such cars as the Dodge Colt, Eagle Vista, Plymouth Laser, Dodge 2000GTX, and Dodge Stealth. In fact, Mitsubishi still makes the Chrysler Sebring Coupe in their U.S. plant in Normal, Illinois. As well, Mitsubishi’s new corporate alliance with DaimlerChrysler will result in the next Chrysler Neon and Mitsubishi Lancer sharing the same platform.

Right now, Mitsubishi is offering seven new vehicles in Canada: the compact Lancer sedan, the mid-size Galant sedan, the sporty Eclipse coupe and Eclipse Spyder convertible, the compact Outlander SUV, the mid-size Montero Sport SUV, and the large Montero SUV. Next year, Mitsubishi will add a hatchback version of the Lancer and a new SUV called the Endeavor.

Here’s a rundown of Mitsubishi’s current Canadian model lineup along with a few initial driving impressions and a comparative overview.


2003 Lancer

Price range: $15,997 – $21,017
Trim levels: ES, LS, OZ rally
Type: compact front-wheel-drive four door sedan
Engine: 120 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder
Competitors: Mazda Proteg�, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra
2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally
Photo: MMNA. Click image to enlarge


First impressions


The Lancer is a fun-to-drive, roomy sedan with a willing 120 horsepower four cylinder powerplant that offers peppy performance and good fuel economy. The manual tranny is easy to shift, the ride is comfortable, and the rear seat is surprisingly roomy. Of all the Mitsubishis I drove, I like this one the best, particularly the OZ Racing Rally model with the sportier suspension. If it’s priced right, the Lancer could provide a more affordable Japanese alternative to the Civic, Prot�g�, and Corolla. My one complaint: its styling is dated.


2003 Galant

Price range: $23,097, $33,287
Trim levels: DE, ES, LS V6, GTZ
Type: mid-size front-wheel-drive sedan
Engine: 140 horsepower 2.4 litre four cylinder/195 horsepower 3.0 litre V6
Competitors: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Mazda6
2003 Mitsubishi Galant
Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge


First impressions

This mid-size sedan has a very comfortable ride, balanced handling, a quiet cabin, and is easy to drive – but the interior looks a bit dated and it’s certainly not as roomy at the Camry, Altima or Accord. The optional 195 horsepower V6 feels smooth and powerful and the adaptive four-speed automatic is smooth and responsive – I didn’t try the standard 140 horsepower 2.4 litre four. The interior controls and gauges look dated, and the car appears to be a generation behind other Japanese competitors.


2003 Eclipse coupe

Price range: $23,857 to $36,037
Trim levels: RS, GS, GT
Type: compact, front-wheel-drive two-door coupe
Engine: 147 horsepower 2.4 litre 4 cylinder/200 horsepower 3.0 litre V6
Competitors: Acura RSX, Ford Mustang, Toyota Celica
2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse
Photo: MMNA. Click image to enlarge


First impressions


Perhaps the best-looking Mitsubishi, the Eclipse coupe’s racy profile will likely attract younger buyers – irrespective of the car’s performance. It comes only as a front-drive coupe (no AWD models) with a base 147 horsepower 4 cylinder or optional 200 horsepower V6. I’d go with the V6 for smoothness and performance. The interior design has too many unnecessary bulges and the rear seat is cramped, but hatchback access and a roomy trunk are pluses. Though not as refined or as well-built as an RSX or Celica, the Eclipse Coupe has a certain amount of visual sex appeal. It’s been the #1 selling sports coupe in the U.S. for 10 years.


2003 Eclipse Spyder

Price range: $34,887 – $42,737
Trim levels: GS, GT
Type: compact, front-wheel-drive two-door convertible
Engine: 147 horsepower 2.4 litre 4 cylinder/200 horsepower 3.0 litre V6
Competitors: Ford Mustang, Toyota Solara, Chrysler Sebring
2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
Photo: MMNA. Click image to enlarge


First impressions


It’s likely that a lot of Eclipse Spyders will be sold on looks alone. It’s an aggressive, sporty looking convertible with a big rear spoiler, and body character lines that make it look fast when standing still. The interior, however, is less attractive. At speed, I found the body tight with little windshield ‘shake’, handling stable and well-controlled, steering rather vague, and the optional V6 engine responsive but not overly powerful – I’m guessing the four cylinder would be underpowered. The rear seat is too small to be useful and the trunk is small. Its power top has three layers for insulation and a glass rear window. Though not as practical as its competitors, the Eclipse Spyder looks ‘vroomier’.


2003 Outlander

Price range: $26,757 – $31,600
Trim levels: LS, XLS
Type: compact FWD or AWD four-door SUV
Engine: 140 horsepower 2.4 litre 4 cylinder
Competitors: Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Mazda Tribute
2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: MMNA. Click image to enlarge


First impressions


The only powertrain offered on this compact SUV is a 140 horsepower 2.4 litre four cylinder and 4-speed automatic Sportronic with manual shifting capability. The engine has adequate but not impressive horsepower and the transmission is smooth and quick to change in manual mode. LS models come with front-wheel-drive while XLS models have all-wheel-drive with a 50/50 front/rear torque split via centre viscous coupling. Driving dynamics are good, and the interior has good headroom but minimal rear legroom. Cargo capacity is good and easy to access. The Outlander has plenty of very good competitors, and may need more horsepower and more interior room to compete with the class leaders.


2003 Montero Sport

Price range: $32,497-$41,937
Trim levels: ES, LS, XLS, Limited
Type: mid-size, 4WD four-door SUV
Engine: 165 horsepower 3.0 litre V6/197 horsepower 3.5 litre V6
Competitors: Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner
2003 Mitsubishi Montero Sport
Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge


First impressions


The Montero Sport is based on an older, body-on-frame design with a solid rear axle – nevertheless, I found it to be a solid, rattle-free body with a quiet and roomy cabin – the rear seat cushion, however, is too low and the rear cargo loading height is rather high. The base 3.0 litre V6 has adequate, but not powerful acceleration and the 4WD system includes both full-time and part-time 4WD with a low range gear. The optional 3.5 litre engine, on XLS and Limited models, would be a better choice. The Montero Sport will find it difficult competing with the better-finished Pathfinder and 4Runner, but its lower price will compensate for some of that.


2003 Montero

Price range: $42,000 – $48,000
Trim levels: XLX, Limited
Type: full-size, 4WD four-door SUV
Engine: 215 horsepower 3.8 litre V6
Competitors: Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, Dodge Durango
2003 Mitsubishi Montero
Photo: MMNA. Click image to enlarge


First impressions


The big Montero is wide but not particularly long, and it doesn’t seem as big as the Expedition and Sequoia. A removeable third row seat allows up to seven passengers. Its 215 horsepower 3.8 litre V6 powerplant has plenty of power, its 5-speed Sportronic automatic transmission can be shifted manually, and a fully independent suspension provides stable handling and ride. A unique active trac traction control system assists hill climbing and descent. Inside, the leather and wood-trimmed interior is attractive and well-finished. My main complaint was excessive road noise and vibration off-pavement.

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