REVIEW DATE: 08 Dec 2008
Mitsubishi's Colt is still a significant contender in the supermini Sector. Jonathan Crouch checks out a 1.3-litre model in a bid to find out how and why.
For once, the advertising strapline told a truthful tale. When it first emerged, the current generation version of the little Colt supermini on test here was hailed by the copywriters as 'the new Mitsubishi' - and that's exactly what it was. This car has little in common with some of the tired designs we've seen from this company in previous years and even less in common with its dowdy predecessor.
From nowhere, the Colt surged into contention at near the top of the supermini class, quite a result for a company with virtually no track record in this, the most competitive (and important) of market sectors. So how was this achieved?
Well, part of the answer is that the development budget for this design was subsidised by Daimler Chrysler's smart division. In return for which, smart's forfour was produced alongside the Colt and rolled down exactly the same Dutch production line until smart's financial woes called a halt to the forfour's innings. You wouldn't know to look at the two cars side by side that they shared the same origins, so carefully were they differentiated, but the Colt is the only part of the double act that's still in business and that can only help sales. Prices are competitive. Take the 1.3-litre petrol Colt model we're looking at here, priced from over £9,500 and offering a choice of either three or five doors.
In terms of styling, the Colt always looked rather functional in its latest generation form, so what Mitsubishi call a 'Jet Fighter' design facelift has been introduced, aiming to echo the looks of the larger Lancer and Lancer Evolution X models. To be honest, it's still hardly the bell of the ball, that tall shape bringing utilitarian MPVs to mind rather than racey superminis, but there's a nuggety compactness to its shape that pleases. The interior displays a certain amount of innovation and seems tough enough but the plastics miss that quality that makes you feel good about the class leading supermini products.
Behind the wheel, everything is neat but sensibly styled with no dials sprouting from the fascia top as we saw on the ill-fated smart version. It's certainly a major leap forward from the uninspiring Colt interiors we've been accustomed to. If you expect supermini dashboards to be fussy, cheap and cluttered, the elegantly minimalist Colt fascia will be a very pleasant revelation.
"The Colt feels a good deal more assured on the road than that high rise styling might suggest."
One nice touch is the Apple iPod-like white plastic strip that runs between the seats and behind the gearlever, glowing a cool green at night. We liked the seats too - far more supportive than in most superminis. Forward visibility is good as well but the lines of sight are not so clear at the rear.
The Colt has some of the best passenger interior space in this market sector and there's little doubt that for a supermini at least, this car has been generously cut. Sitting on its front-wheel drive platform, the 5-door Colt is 3,870mm long, 1,550mm high and 1,695mm wide, creating a wide and tall profile, with a long 2,500mm wheelbase. Generous 1,460mm front and 1,445mm rear tracks maximise interior accommodation and offer class-leading cabin space. As well as having the best total legroom in the segment, the Colt's versatility comes from a novel rear-seating arrangement with 40/60 split rear seats which can be individually reclined, folded or removed altogether, creating 645litres of load space. The backrests of the front passenger seat can also be folded forwarded to accommodate longer items, resulting in a small car that can suit many purposes.
Even with a six-footer at the wheel, there's enough room in the back for all but the rangiest adults and the boot is a prodigious size. A long wheelbase and compact suspension set up - Macpherson struts up front and a low volume torsion beam arrangement at the rear - help to maximise available space. That wheelbase being a good deal longer than most rivals.
The Colt feels a good deal more assured on the road than that high rise styling might suggest. The suspension is fairly firm but on rutted city streets, only the worst that local government negligence can throw at it will upset its uncanny composure. The flipside of this is that the Colt offers a surprisingly generous dose of entertainment with decently weighted steering and better than adequate body control. The brakes are discs up front and drums at the back. Anti-lock and electronic brakeforce distribution are standard on all models, as is electrically assisted power steering.
The 1.3-litre engine we're looking at here is presently the best compromise between economy and performance across the range, but there are of course other options, all petrol. These include an entry-level 75bhp 1.1-litre unit and a 1.5-litre turbo. As an engine, the 1.3 is reasonably quiet and eager to pile on the revs. It's also offered in the Colt ClearTec where stop/start technology and other modifications are employed to enhance fuel ecomnomy.
Though this Colt still isn't the most charismatic of cars, it's now one of the very best when you take into account the factors that really count when you're buying a modernday supermini. It's certainly one you can't afford to leave off the list when shopping around for a Fiesta or Corsa-sized car of this kind. And we never thought we'd end up saying that about a Mitsubishi.
|For COLT 1.3-LITRE 5DR|
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|