A lineup to make Mitsubishi great again

Source: Mitsubishi

Last week, as you probably know by now, Nissan bought a majority stake in Mitsubishi, marking what will hopefully be the end of a long and painful slide for the automaker. The last few years have been tough for the Japanese manufacturer, but this could be a turning point. As is the case for many of us gearheads, Mitsubishi was a “cool” company when I was growing up — or at least an exciting one.
With aftermarket-friendly vehicles, they had a bit of a hand in the explosion of the tuning world and also were responsible for classic early-2000s product placement in which an Evo and a couple Eclipses took on near-character like roles in some of the Fast and the Furious franchise movies. That’s just a small snapshot of a brand that is made of so much more.
Mitsubishi built cars that were fun and offered owners the ability to tailor the cars to their liking, something that cannot be said of the company today. Mitsubishi seems to be lost, riddled with a lineup as in need of revamping as it is a kick of adrenaline. What models would help the company get back on track, find its 1990’s excitement and win back the fan base it once had? I have some ideas…

Somewhat unfortunately, we first have to take a quick look at the cars Mitsubishi is currently selling:

  • The i-MiEV: A decent idea poorly executed, but it’s car I know so little about that saying just that reflects its lack of prominence.
  • The Lancer: Clinging onto a generation so old that its competition probably even feels bad for it. This iteration of Lancer has been around for nine years — nine!
  • The Mirage: A “good” car in that it’s just that; a car and not much more. It’s the definition of simple and inexpensive transportation and, while it serves its intended purpose, it’s not exactly setting the sales world on fire.
  • The Outlander and Outlander Sport: Both are handily outclassed by everything they compete against, giving them poor chances of success. The new PHEV Outlander is a great concept (and it’s always good to see plug-in CUVs rather than thirsty gas-only counterparts), but it’s going to have a tough time selling well given its unproven quality and durability. Even if it does manage to move a decent number of units, I wouldn’t count on it to save Mitsubishi by itself.
  • The Lancer Evolution: Sadly just out of production but never out of our hearts. The Evo held onto Mitsubishi’s last bit of exhilaration from its heyday of making cars for people who loved driving, modifying, and racing. Though it still lives on Mitsubishi’s website, the Lancer Evolution has now gone the way of the dodo and, with no slated replacement, for that we mourn. Pour one out for our friend the Evo; it was a legend and will be missed dearly. The near-impossibility of finding an unmolested used example doesn’t help ease the pain, but that’s another can of worms entirely.

Source: CarScoops

The death of the Evo doesn’t mean the brand is dead though. In fact, there’s so much history and so much heritage to work with that it would be pretty darn easy for Mitsubishi to build a lineup based entirely around nostalgia. What they really need to do is return to their sporty, honest, affordable performance roots that made the company so popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. Roll with me here… let’s see what would make Mitsubishi great again.
Source: APTuned

Eclipse. Mitsubishi urgently needs a halo car to stand out and point the company in a good, strong, defined direction. What was once an affordable, easily accessible coupe that had a ton of potential but was fun out-of-the-box, the Eclipse was and would be perfect for luring in younger sports-car buyers and older coupe-hunters alike. Without it, Mitsubishi is a company that is missing out on one of its most storied and exciting vehicles, and that’s without so much as mentioning NOS or danger to manifold.
Mitsubishi needs the Eclipse, and I don’t think they’ll enjoy success without it. Keep the recipe simple as it was in the past: two doors, four available driven wheels, liftback body, simple and quick, and as long as it’s styled well, it’ll sell. Consider it an instant brand ambassador. Forgot how great the Eclipse was? Just ask friend of Hooniverse Matt Farah.
Source: PinThisCars
Source: PinThisCars

Montero. For a long while Mitsubishi sold an honest, no-frills SUV. They haven’t done so since the Montero went out of production, and it’s a niche that is in need of a new, rejuvenated entrant. Add in a hybrid powertrain (stolen from the Outlander PHEV) or diesel option and the company could have a breakout success. If you want a new SUV with serious off-road capability you’ll need to buy a Jeep, a Range Rover, a Toyota Land Cruiser (or Lexus GX), a G-Wagen, or a 4Runner. While those options are all good (great, even), only two are priced below the $40k mark to start—and that’s where the Montero could thrive.
Back to the original formula: inexpensive all-weather and off-road capability with plenty of room and at a reasonable price. Include serious 4WD with a proper transfer case, understated macho styling, and a level of equipment that isn’t overwhelming, and it could be a winner.
Source: NetCarShow
Source: NetCarShow

Lancer Evolution. You knew this was coming… the world needs an Evo, and so does Mitsubishi. It essentially defines the performance side of the brand (or at least what it was), and the absence of the Evo is the equivalent of Jeep stopping sales of the Rubicon. Seems like blasphemy, right? Without an Evo, the gaping hole in Mitsubishi’s lineup needs to be filled by something equally thrill-inducing and honest in its bare-bones performance mantra. Without the Evo there’s nothing to challenge the WRX/STI, save for maybe the Golf R or Focus RS (both of which are supposedly fantastic). Mitsubishi’s fan-base could draw in large numbers of buyers if it’s properly executed. This means sticking to its inexpensive sedan roots, trick electronic diffs, a big turbo on a 4-cylinder, rally-and-road worthy suspension, and the aero and bodywork to match. None of the hybrid nonsense sparked by rumors. Just the good old Lancer Evolution layout we came to know and love. Without the Evo, the performance world is a much more boring place, and the same goes for Mitsubishi.
Lancer. Right, the base Lancer. They obviously need to update and upgrade the volume-mover sedan, but with Nissan’s help it could be a task that happens rather quickly and with enough R&D to make sure all goes well. Give the car the basics and nothing more, just like it used to be. Keep the price low and the options sheet simple. It doesn’t have to compete with the A3 and CLA like so many other small cars are trying to, it just has to be light, simple, decent to drive, and have some sort of weird, outlier appeal to it.
A new Lancer would be the foundation of a company-wide turnaround. An OZ Rally model could be a fun throwback, and an AWD Sportback would give the mostly-unchallenged Impreza something to fret about. Either way, a good Lancer has to happen or the success of the company will not.
Source: ClassicAndPerformanceCar
Source: ClassicAndPerformanceCar

Starion. Front-engine, rear-wheel drive? Here’s the only place I would suggest platform sharing with Nissan. Take the chassis of whatever the 370Z successor is, re-body it, open the back up enough to add two rear seats, give it Mitsubishi’s own engine choices, alter the interior, tune the suspension to their liking, and wha-bam: Starion. Not vital for Mitsubishi’s survival, but a fun nameplate to bring back given the opportunity.
Source: Road And Track
Source: Road And Track

3000GT. A higher tier sports-GT coupe would be a good way to give buyers another option once they graduate from the Eclipse/Starion. The 3000GT could easily retain the heavy, powerful style of the original car, and keeping the V6/V6TT setup would help it keep its performance credentials. An additional model fitted with a hybrid-electric combo could provide some added performance and efficiency, but as long as the 3000GT has two seats and remains a sports car capable of Grand Touring duty, it’ll do. Like the Starion, this model isn’t crucial but it’s another way for Mitsubishi to have a full, thriving lineup.
Source: ComputerOutpost

Pajero / Pajero Evolution. The two-door off-road market is absolutely dominated by the Wrangler, given its lack of competition. The re-introduction of a Japanese alternative to the Jeep in the American market, something even with a fixed roof and less off-road cred than its would-be American competitor, could give Mitsubishi a piece of the pie currently only being taken advantage of by one automaker.
Source: WebWombat

In the past we have had other options like the Rodeo, Amigo, Bronco,, K5 Blazer, VehiCROSS, and even FJ Cruiser, but with those no longer around the Jeep has the field all to itself. A Pajero making use of a low-range transfer case, locking diff(s), and a manual option all in a tidy package could have the potential to make waves in the monopoly that is the two-door off-road segment. An Evolution variant with a turbo four-cylinder or sizable V6 could be a budget alternative to the Local Motors Rally Fighter or Bowler Wildcat, something streetable but wholly aggressive and capable of most any terrain you can throw at it. Even without the Evo, the Pajero could give Mitsubishi something to work with in an untapped market, giving them an edge they currently don’t have.
Galant / VR4. Last but not least, Mitsubishi could benefit from a mid-size sedan. There’s nothing the company sells right now that fits this segment and it’s been empty for a while, so the re-introduction of another memorable nameplate would be the right way to start. Bring back the VR4 with a twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel-drive and it could be an absolute rocket at a not-so-sky-high price. Regardless, Mitsubishi needs a mid-size sedan; offering a faster version is a win for everybody.
Though Mitsubishi is a massive company that does a substantial portion of its work and sales outside the automotive industry, as of late it’s been a struggle for them when it comes to cars. But they’re not necessarily down-and-out, and there are ways to make a comeback and become better than ever in the process. The nostalgia is there, as are the proven nameplates. They just need the time, money, and development to get things going.
That sounds like a lot that needs to fall into place and it is, but just one small success could trigger the snowball effect. I’d suggest starting with the Eclipse. It’s among the most missed of Mitsubishi’s long-lost favorites and it would do nicely given the lack of inexpensive AWD performance-oriented coupes on sale today. If there is ever a time for Mitsubishi to get back on track, that time is now. They may have hit rock bottom but they don’t have to stay there.
Nissan, if you’re listening, give your new purchase a bit of money, the freedom to bring back old marques, and maybe a few of your GT-R and Z-car engineers. They may be able to do wonders, and I’d sure love to see Evos and Eclipses around again. Mitsubishi was once a thriving company, but now it’s lost its way. With Nissan’s help, things could turn around.

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  1. dukeisduke Avatar

    I don’t know. I think I wouldn’t miss them if they pulled out of the US market. But, it would be more exciting – eventually (once all the Mitsus were off the road), when I saw a car huffing blue smoke up ahead, I couldn’t automatically assume it was a Mitsubishi.

    1. JayP Avatar

      I brought the blue smoke up to a pal who was working as a Mitsu advisor…. he said those engines lives on- despite the owners.
      30k oil changes? Not an impossibility.

  2. ramLlama Avatar

    I like your ideas in principle, but I can’t see it working out in reality.
    To come back, Mitsu needs to pull a Hyundai and focus on bread and butter cars. To that end, I agree that they need a Lancer and a Galant. I even concede the Lancer Evo as a halo car. In light of the large SUV market, they should also have a Montero.
    However, they do not have the resources to field an Eclipse, a Starion, and a Pajero on top of this, especially since those cars are for particularly niche segments. Instead, they should focus on making a solid compact car (the Mirage is good start, but perhaps they should luxe it up a bit) and a cute CUV.
    So, they should have, in order, a Mirage, Lancer, Galant under cars, a CUV along the lines of a CX-5, and a Montero for off-road.
    All these cars should be up-to-date and *good*. After Mitsu reclaims some reputation and sales, they can have fun with two-door off-roaders and coupes.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      I started with the basics (Lancer/Galant/Montero), added in the near-necessity Eclipse, and then got carried away with the likes of the 3000GT/Pajero/etc…
      Of course they’d have to do well for things to fall into place for those vehicles that aren’t crucial, but it’s always nice to hope

      1. ramLlama Avatar

        Ha, I may have been taking you a tad too seriously.
        But yes, I would love to see a 3000GT and Pajero from a well-established Mitsubishi.

  3. PowerTryp Avatar

    I agree with most of this but I have a few changes and a little revision to add. Mitsubishi need a solid five year plan that evolves into a ten year plan.
    Years 1-5: rebuild and regain.
    Lancer: As stated above, this vehicle needs to be born again. Modern tech, proper bluetooth integration and all the tech goodies that gets kids these days hard.
    Eclipse: This would effectively be a two door Lancer due to cost cutting measures except only available with AWD. Optional turbo for the people that want it.
    Outlander: A rename would be good to separate it from the vehicles mediocre past. Maybe just maybe though, they should scrap the whole thing and give us the Pajero.
    i-miEV: I don’t know a whole lot about these but damn I keep seeing them everywhere. This has to stay as Mitsu needs a small car entrant.
    Raider: After years of holding on to the lousy Dakota based pickup finally there is chance for something decent. It could be based on either the Frontier or Titan although a quick market analysis indicates a Titan based truck would probably be more popular.
    Years 1-5 of this revised business plan requires intense Scion levels of advertisement and excitement generation. Scion did more with less albeit they had a larger dealer network.
    Years 5-10: Shock and awe.
    Starion/Silvia S16: The first joint venture clean sheet build. Turbocharged direct injected four cylinder powering the rear wheels as god intended. These two take a huge chunk out of the GT86/BRZ twins.
    GT-EVO/GT-R: A successor for the oft longed for 3000gt. The GT-R will be very long in the tooth and requiring a redesign (not just a facelift). The Lancer Evo is no longer the halo car.
    Scion is dead so Mitsubishi needs to take a page from that play book. Since they are being controlled by Nissan that means Carlos Ghosn will be the head decision maker. Look at Nissan’s revival over the past 15 years. Renault saved Nissan and this is pretty much exactly how they did it and now the cycle starts anew albeit with the Silvia being revived instead of rejuvenating the 350/370z.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Not sure how I feel about platform-sharing the Lancer & Eclipse…they tried that later on and it kinda ruined the Eclipse.
      Wait, you see i-MiEVs everywhere? I’ve seen maybe two outside of the auto show.
      Raider would be a good item as a Mitsubishi-only vehicle. A Titan-based truck *would* be more popular, but would people buy it? I think a well-executed competitor to the Tacoma, even if it’s Frontier-based, would better fit the lineup than would a massive full-size pickup.
      Love the idea for a Silvia-Starion joint platform. Absolutely love it.

  4. Citric Avatar

    To reduce it to its core, Mitsubishi needs to sell cars people want to buy. There are a lot of ways to do that, but it’s definitely not what they’re doing right now, since they currently have nothing on their lots people want to buy. When your newest product (Mirage, I believe) can barely compete with a 1998 Geo Metro you’ve got some fundamental problems with your model mix.

  5. CraigSu Avatar

    I’m afraid all I see in Mitsubishi’s future is a bunch of badge-engineered Nissans.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      That would be unfortunate. GT-R and 370Z aside (and *maybe* the Cummins Titan), no new Nissan vehicle is anything truly exciting. Should Nissan-Mitsubishi badge engineering have happened a few years ago, the XTerra could have been a good Montero…

  6. Fred Talmadge Avatar
    Fred Talmadge

    My first pickup was a small stripper Mighty-Max. Any chance they could make another one of those?

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Only if that Mighty Max is a Nissan Frontier…

  7. Lokki Avatar

    The problem I see is that Mitsubishi is now a “Plymouth” for Nissan; a cheaper brand. However, Nissan already has the Versa so how much lower in price can Mitsubishi go? I can’t see much value in minor-rebadging of Nissans as Mitsu’s – why compete with yourself? Further -right now at least- Mitsubishi’s customer base is pretty much limited to sub-prime customers and that will take time to change. So there’s not much room at the bottom below Nissan’s current economy car offerings and moving Mitsubishi upmarket is impossible going to take several years.
    Perhaps the solution IS to go with the niche where Mitsubishi has an established reputation: cheap performance. Eclipses and Evos and perhaps a beat-me-daddy-I’m-a-cheap-whore really rugged but stripped 4wd pickup….
    That’s the approach I would try anyhow.

    1. JayP Avatar

      Nissan has Datsun- they’re already overlapping.

    2. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Exactly what I was thinking. They’ll need a bit more of a rounded lineup, but you best described what they should be at their core: “Eclipses and Evos and perhaps a beat-me-daddy-I’m-a-cheap-whore really rugged but stripped 4wd pickup” (but maybe substitute pickup with 4WD SUV)

  8. Maymar Avatar

    Let’s be honest, Nissan’s lineup is in theory completely dire (next to nothing interesting except a crude, outdated sports car and the closest they have to a hot hatch is on stilts, and was styled by someone who used bad LSD). And yet, they’re successful, because they make lots of crossovers, and cheap roomy cars with lots of stuff. We love the wild blue and gold Subarus, but it’s fleets of Outbacks and Foresters that keep them solvent. Mazda’s great, but they’re a footnote in the market.
    I don’t care for them, but the Outlander (and Sport) are decently priced, and don’t look heinously cheap (feel might be a separate issue, but that’s less relevant). If they can build on those, they’ve got potential. They should probably add a bigger 3 row crossover, and maybe a sleeker faux-coupe Outlander Sport (which would be awful, but so long as it sells). They could always throw us enthusiasts a bone and build a GLA45AMG-esque crossover Evo, but really, they need to focus on where the money is, and then develop a following.

  9. JayP Avatar

    Mitsu was on the teat into the US market from the 70’s.
    For crapsake they built a Challenger.
    Lido wanted a US/Euro conglomerate. VW was in the sights but the euro to $ tanked and the US built VWs sucked. Wait… Who’s this? Dodge Stealth will pace the Indy 500? Right after the Gulf War? No gonna happen.
    Diamond Star had promise. Imagine a Dodge Spirit on a Galant platform? The turbo 2.2 AWD?
    We’d all have a merry Christmas… right?

  10. crank_case Avatar

    Going against accepted wisdon: Mitsubishi should NOT make a new Lancer based EVO, it should make an Evo based on the Mirage/Colt. To me, the utterly brilliant thing about the Evo up til about the EVO 6 and lesser extent the 7 is that it in the basic spec (RS I think) really was pretty much a Group N rally car, not simply a consumer product like the soft touch plastics Golf R or Drift button Focus. Don’t like the interior plastics? Who cares? Yer gonna be ripping most of that out and flocking the dash anyway.
    Even if you kept it for road use, it lived on that sort of no nonsense appeal.
    You can see the evo X, nice car that it was, had sort of lost its way as Mitsubishi had pulled out of WRC by that point, it was a car that had little purpose in life, trying to be upmarket but not really convincing, like a lad who wears frayed jeans, sneakers and a metal band t-shirt donning a sports jacket in the hope he can fit in at the country club.
    The Lancer body made sense in the 90s/Early 00s when everyone was using that size car, with a 2 litre turbo: Lancia Delta, Subaru Impreza, Escort Cosworth etc. and these in turn had come out of an era when WRC entries had downsized from slightly larger class cars like the Subaru Legacy or Sierra Cosworth. You could take the same basic model and produce a group N car for club level rallying and stay in the rulses, then you could take it further and produce a Group A/WRC car for the top dogs.
    That sort of car does not make sense now, WRC is all Ford Fiesta sized cars like the Hyundai i20 and VW Polo. They run 4WD and 1600cc turbo engines. Initially you could make a road car like that and offer it to private teams to enter in the lower category group RC2/class R5.
    You’d get the kudos of visibility at grassroots rallying, you’d offer something genuinely unique in the Fiesta end of the market, apart from the outrageously priced Audi S1, there’s nothing sub-Golf with performance oriented 4WD that I can think off. Mitsubishi is a small company, it does not have the R&D budget to make a car all round complete and polished as the Golf R or Focus RS, a car in that class would fail. A relatively cheap, compact Ken Block Fiesta-esque little tearaway that you can buy in your local dealer with no natural competitors? That might work as a niche to carve out..
    When mitsubishi feels a bit more confident, then maybe it could get nissan to bankroll development of a WRC car and then we’re back to glory days.
    I quite like the iMiev (and rear engined petrol “i” that it’s based on), it’s a cleverer city car than the smart or renault twingo, it’s problem is it’s too damn expensive. Last I checked there wasn’t much between an iMiev and a basic Leaf.
    A new eclipse makes sense, and a RWD starion type thing would be cool, but I wouldn’t bother with the 3000GT, it still suffers the stigma of being the least well regarded of the 90s supercoupes. I mean whenever someone comes up with a list of those cars in order of preference, doesn’t matter where you put the NSX, Skyline GT-R or Supra, the 3000GT usually gets relegated to the bottom. A new version of It’s mechanical cousin on the other hand, the Galant VR4 Wagon, yes please… https://omgpancakes.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/leggie_b.jpg

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      I get your point about a Colt/Mirage Evo, but one of the appeals of the Lancer-based Evo was that it could do daily duties, family life included. It had the size you need for it to do everything, and then the Evo persona. A Colt/Mirage would just be too small…I’d wager there’s a much larger market for a Lancer-based Evo than something more along the lines of a Fiesta ST

      1. crank_case Avatar

        The daily driver in our house is a Mazda 2, don’t feel the need for anything bigger. Granted we don’t have wee ankle biters running around, but it really does everything for us, the only other car in the house is a currently off the road Eunos Roadster (JDM Miata NA). Cars have gotten bigger so for most of us Yuropeans, this size car does the job a Ford Cortina or Escort 1300 would have done in the 60s or VW Golf MK1 in the 70s and in fact the Fiesta is one of the best selling cars in the UK/Ireland, lots of people use this size car as their only car here, In fact, I find it’s a more refined car than our previous Honda Accord (which was smaller than the US model of the same name, but still).
        It IS a smaller market, but that’s my point, it’s a nice they could carve out as their own. I think it would be better to dominate this niche with a rough and ready flame spitting 250bhp+ 4WD colt based rally refugee than add a me too entry to really cutthroat sector of the market now. The Subaru WRX looks like a one trick pony now compared to the Golf R and Focus RS which offer the performance of those 90s heros but with none of the compromises those cars used to ask of you. The old Evos, pre Evo X were never really comfy/practical daily driver material, don’t be fooled by the back doors, Evos 1-6 were short geared, frenetic, noisy and thirsty, and in the countries with a big interest in rallying (Ireland is a small country, but I’d argue we have the best amateur rally scene anywhere), this is where the Evo made its name. To me, once you divorce Evos from rallying or, it is a car with no purpose in life. I think the WRX sort of suffers from the same now. They’re probably selling in the US, but in countries like the UK/Ireland where they made their name, nobody cares anymore, they’re sorta irrelevant.
        I think if you want a fast practical family hauler – bring back the Galant VR4, remember, like I said, the Galant and Legacy used to be the respective rally platforms for Mitsubishi and Subaru, but as they got bigger, they stepped down to the Lancer and Impreza respectively. Funny thing is the Lancer platform they used at that time in 1992 was actually basically a saloon version of the contemporary Mirage, so really it’d be just cyclical bit of history repeating. Where it sort of went wrong for mitsubishi is when the FIA forced out group A and they had to build to the newer WRC standard, and also the Lancer Cedia which the 7 was based on was a bigger heavier car.
        Going down a platform is entirely normal in rallying, happens all the time, Ford went down the Fiesta before bowing out of WRC for example, and this platform shift would give Mitsubishi the opportunity to get back in the game properly and reconnect with rallying with something that’s actually relevant to the sport. Sure, make a bigger performance car if there’s a market for it, even stick an evo badge on it and turn it into their AMG, M or Nismo brand, Mitsubishi has had concurrent evo models before (e.g. Lancer and Pajero), but there always needs to be a car with a direct connection to rallying for the Evo name to carry any weight with the core fanbase.

  11. Papa Van Twee Avatar
    Papa Van Twee

    Good News!

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot


  12. Papa Van Twee Avatar
    Papa Van Twee

    I don’t think bringing all this back will make things work. The Mitsu fanboys can only buy so many cars. And most of those are older and need a 4 door for the kids. Regular Cars Reviews hit the nail on the head on their Subaru Loyale review recently. That car gave you all the cool cars you have today. Mitsu needs a Loyale. Anything else is not going to grow the base and sell cars.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Right…a Lancer or Galant. Basic, honest, solid transportation. Slow, somewhat boring, and capable. Then build on from there…

  13. Brandon Vreeland Figuracion Avatar
    Brandon Vreeland Figuracion

    All these interesting cars naked here are all cars I would have Mitsubishi make again if it were up to me. Not to mention, I would also make their current cars up to par with their competitors, as well as make sporty performance versions of them. Of course, this is all if it were up to me like i said.