Having just written off my first car, and feeling quite nostalgic about its loss, I have decided to reflect upon my 8 month ownership of my silver Mitsubishi 380 VRX with a automotive eulogy of sorts.
I was given this car as an 18th birthday present by my grandmother, who was downsizing to something more appropriate for a 79 year old (Corolla, of course). I received it with 68,000kms on the clock, and in 8 months of driving it managed to take it up to 87,000. Unfortunately my love affair with my first car was cut short last Saturday when it lost a fight with a rather large kangaroo.
Released in 2005, the 380 was Mitsubishi Australia’s last ditch attempt at making a car that would sell enough to turn a profit. Long story short, it didn’t work – and the 380 sailed off into the big car dealership in the sky in 2008. My 380 was a Series 2 VRX (the ‘sports’ model), with the tinted rear lights and boot spoiler. Not ugly and not pretty, the 380’s styling was handsome and inoffensive – if uninspiring.
The 380’s strongest suit (other that value when new) was its engine and gearbox combination. While the 3.8 didn’t blow any records out of the water, it had more than enough power and tractability to remain unstressed in any driving situations. With the exception of overtaking, I never found any need to rev it over 3,000rpm. At 100kph on the freeway in 5th gear, it would sit silently at 1800rpm using 7l/100kms of fuel. The real party trick for me though was its ability to cruise up a hill at 70kph in 5th gear totally unstressed. I played around with the type of fuel used in it, and found that it felt a bit better on higher octane fuel, despite it being rated for 91. The 10.8 fuel claim was fairly easy to match with sensible driving on flowing roads. In stop start traffic I’d get around 13l per 100, and on longer trips it would regularly dip into the single digits. At the time of its death, the trip computer was reading 10.9l per 100. So for the size of the engine and the performance of the car, I think the fuel consumption wasn’t actually too bad.
The gearbox was the single best thing about the car. While it only had 5 speeds, and could have really used a 6th for highway driving, I never once in my ownership noticed a bad gear change. Apparently the gearbox had ‘fuzzy logic’ to adapt to the style of the driver, and while I have no idea how it works, I did notice a change in shift timings after lending it to a particularly ‘enthusiastic’ friend for a week. Gear changes were smooth and well timed, and a stab of the accelerator would see it shift down with no hesitation. Certainly better than the 4 speed Commodore boxes of the same vintage! The only issue with the gearbox is that it would change into 5th gear at 60kph, which meant it shifted between 4th and 5th quite a lot on road with a 60kph speed limit.
Space wise – the interior was great. Even with the front seats back, there was plenty of space in the back, and 4 up road trips were dealt with easily and comfortably. The optional leather was perforated and actually quite nice, although there was a bit of wear starting to show on the driver’s side bolster by 80,000kms. In the VRX, the drivers seat was adjustable electrically, and had plenty of travel in all directions.
Despite these positives, the limited budget of the 380 program began to show in the interior. For example, the passenger seat didn’t adjust for height, and was set quite low, so shorter passengers often commented that they were sitting too low for comfort. Lots of the interior plastic weren’t of a great quality either, and felt pretty scratchy to the touch. That said, they did hold up well over 9 years. The Series 2 VRX also came with quite naff fake carbon fibre trim, which looked a bit silly, but at least helped to brighten up the interior. Build quality was fairly good, with no rattles or shakes even on dirt roads. The only issues I had were a slightly ill fitting centre console lid as well as the headrest covering coming a bit loose. The only other complaint I’d make is that the steering wheel was a bit too big. I think the biggest pro to the interior was the cool blue lighting at night – much better than the orange which seems to be so common! I should also mention that all the buttons and dials were back lit at night, which is more than I can say for some much more expensive cars I’ve been in!
One of the things I’ve always noticed in Australian built cars is the great air-con, and the 380 was no different. Even with the black leather on a hot day here in Perth, a couple of minutes with the fan set to high and the cabin would be colder than a Tibetan tin toilet top.
Onto ride and handling, and as you can see I’ve rated it a rather bold 9/10. While it won’t go around a corner like a hot hatch, for a really big front wheel drive car it actually goes around corners really well. While I never really pushed it to its limits, at a decent pace on a winding tight country road, its stability and turn in was always confidence inspiring. The ride was firm but very well controlled, and it never wallowed over bumps or leant into corners. Under heavy acceleration from low speeds there was a bit of torque steer, as would be expected with a powerful FWD car, but it was never scary or uncontrollable.
Thus far, I’ve been fairly positive about the 380, and although I did love it – I’m not blind to the downsides. One of the most annoying things about the car was its difficulty to park. The boot was set quite high, which made it really difficult to place the rear of the car when reversing. Combined with the lack of parking blippers – it made for some difficult neck craning in tight car parks. The heaving steering, while nice at speed, did make maneuvering a chore.
However the single worst thing about this car for me (an 18 year old) was its lack of bluetooth, aux and USB connectivity. While bluetooth for phones was optional, my car wasn’t fitted with it – so as such I was stuck in 2007 with a 6 stacker CD player. Given the inclusion of an AUX input in a Commodore of the same era – it was a tad disappointing. It should also be noted that since the stereo is integrated, it makes it very difficult to find an aftermarket solution. I guess the silver lining to this issue is that I became reacquainted with all of my old Gwen Stefani CDs. Woohoo.
The super dorky concept car sketch displayed on the screen at startup might have been cool in 2005, but in today’s day and age looked like it was done on an etch-a-sketch. While I’m on the topic of trivial complaints, it would have been nice to have a digital speedo, as well as the ability to change cruise control speed by individual increments.
The cruise control was easy to operate however, and it did hold speed pretty well up and down hills.
Perhaps the single biggest criticism of this car however, both at launch and now is the lack of stability control. While traction control was standard on all but the base model (and worked quite well), stability control was not available at all. In normal use, this wasn’t an issue as I’d never once felt close to losing control of the car (I’ll thank the great chassis for that). However, the one time I would have needed stability control was the one time I crashed it. Sigh.
Long story short – swerved for skippy – realised I was heading for a tree – swerved back – car slid out – back hit tree. Luckily I was going at half the speed limit or else this would probably be a eulogy for me rather than my car. Im not sure whether stability control would have stopped the car sliding out, but I’m sure as hell not going to buy another car without it again.
With regards to reliability, it’s no big surprise that it went 9 years and 87,000kms without a single major issue. The only problem that occurred was the back window retracting into its slot and not coming back out. By all accounts, it’s happened to every single 380 at some stage and was due to a dodgy batch of parts. I was quoted $400 for fixing it from Mitsubishi but bough a replacement part off eBay and replaced in in about 2 hours with relative ease. Other than that, it was perfect mechanically and I have no doubt that it would have lasted me another easy 200,000kms.
Summing up then – the Mitsubishi 380 was a great car released at the wrong time into the wrong market. It had all the fundamentals, but was let down by a lack of ultimate polish, as well as the stigma left by the Magna. As tempting as it is to go and get another one with my insurance payout – I’m too stung by the lack of stability control. Plus I’ve had enough of hearing Hollaback Girl every time I go down to the shops. Sorry Gwen.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please do ask!