If the new Mitsubishi 380 had been a New Zealand-made car it wouldn’t have happened.
It’s not, of course, so this trans Tasman offering is very much a reality, not only because of an endorsement from the Mitsubishi masters in Japan but as a result of assistance and support from the South Australian government.
Besotted by free market principles, successive New Zealand governments have denied local businesses any encouragement to succeed or expand. Ford’s alloy wheel plant at Wiri is a typical case in point. Despite assured export markets from within its own multi-national structure, New Zealand authorities offered Ford no incentives to expand an already successful South Auckland wheel plant. The Queensland government had other ideas and welcomed the factory with open arms. Ford promptly abandoned the Wiri wheel plant and moved
The Mitsubishi 380 is pivotal to the future of the Aussie made car although it’s unlikely the industry will live and die by the success of this large family size sedan. Besieged by many problems in recent years, Mitsubishi had to look long and hard before green lighting the 380 and perhaps it’s something of a miracle that the car actually saw the light of day. Whether buyers will ponder on the car’s difficult beginnings is a moot point – they care more for the bang for the buck and how the machine performs and drives.
There may still be on-going concerns about the future of the Mitsubishi brand, tempered by the Japanese philosophy of never letting a company go broke. The 380 might be presented as an alternative to the rear-wheel drive Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, but in reality most potential buyers perceive the car as a rival to other V6-engined, front drive saloons.
This long awaited, and overdue, replacement for the Diamante is the newest of a breed of bent six powered models that comprises the Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima, US market Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata. However, just because the 380 is the newest boy on the block doesn’t mean it’s ahead in the technology stakes. There are no side curtain airbags and the iron block, single overhead cam 3.8-litre V6 lacks variable valve timing or a variable inlet manifold. Appearance-wise, the 380 is pleasingly flowing in an American sort of way, although it breaks no new ground. This is no surprise given the car’s North American Mitsubishi Galant PS41 series origins, even though less than one third of the 380’s componentry is identical. Walk around the car and there’s a nagging feeling the 380 is two or three years late (which it is). The front end is anonymous and the C pillar and rear side window line are reminiscent of the Maxima. Still, the overall body style is pleasant and the neat integration of the bootlid spoiler on the GT and VRX is a job well done.
One real shortcoming in the sun-roofed GT version we evaluated for a week was the lack of headroom front and rear. Even though this top-spec version has a height adjustable 10-way power driver’s seat and six-way front passenger’s seat, there is simply insufficient headroom. There are no complaints about seat comfort or driving position, but you’re reminded of the lack of interior height every time you enter or exit the car.
Five versions are on offer, spanning $12,000 from the entry-level base car. But you have to remember budget considerations precluded a wide model range, and there is simply one body style (no station wagon or four-wheel drive) and one engine with just a slight variation in power output. Certainly, few will complain about lack of power. The VRX and GT have 180kW (175kW for the other three versions), and all 380s achieve 342Nm of peak torque at 4000 revs. Those figures are much in line with the Commodore V6 (175kW and 320Nm) and Falcon six (182kW and 380Nm).
Exclusive to New Zealand, the less restrictive induction system on the VRX and GT results in the extra power, a change that makes it unable to meet Australian noise restrictions. Certainly, the GT is quiet and restrained, even when pressure is applied. Cabin noise levels are commendably
subdued, adding to overall refinement. The Mitsubishi slips easily to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds and, with the five-speed auto cruising at the legal open road limit in top, the engine is turning at a modest 1700rpm. In the official Australian ADR fuel cycle, the 380 posts 10.8 litres/100km (26.1mpg), thriftier than both Commodore and Falcon. In fact, this is a fair average of what most drivers will average in a mixture of driving, although in a 400km open road run we returned an impressive 8.8 litres/100km (32.1mpg). On downhill stretches the adaptive transmission is, of course, much more likely to change down automatically under the control of drivers who brake frequently. Controlled by a Bosch engine management system, the auto is smooth and responsive and includes a sports mode for manual override.
Measuring 4855mm (slightly less for non VRX and GT variants), the 380 is a big car with 60 percent of its weight over the front wheels, and bulk doesn’t always sit comfortably with front-wheel drive. Not so in the case of the Mitsubishi, which feels well balanced, predictable and reasonably agile. Traction control is commendably standard across the range, and the multi-link rear suspension provides a comfortable balance between ride and handling. The GT has its own 17-inch eight-spoke alloy wheels, minor modifications to the suspension and the same 215/55 tyres as the LX and VRX: the base and LS models run on 215/60 16-inch rubber. However, expect some deterioration in ride comfort on the lower profile tyres at slower speeds. With four wheel ventilated discs, braking is excellent with the large front discs incorporating twin piston callipers.
In the case of the GT, the $50,990 sticker price buys a lavishly equipped machine, yet even the cheapest 380 has alloy wheels. Dashboard layout and controls are conventional enough, with those for the audio and ventilation mounted rather too low in the centre console. Remote audio controls are located on the rear side of the steering wheel. Good marks for the restful blue instrument lighting, the automatic dimming rear vision mirror and easy use 10-function trip computer. The speed warning mode is easy to set and totally logical in its operation, unlike most Japanese buzzers. Foglights and reversing park sensors are standard on the GT, and all 380s have a neat centre console-mounted TFT screen detailing audio information, outside air temperature, ventilation controls and start-up sequence.
The 380 is a complete package, with only a few shortcomings like the paintwork that denote the Australian origin of manufacture.