Owner Review

1997 Mitsubishi Magna Sports review

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'Seeing red' is a phrase meaning to lose control. Just what happened when I saw this forlorn vehicle in the local classifieds. Tired, ringbarked and faded but with a straight body and the promise of a new clutch, the price was just enough to make me sidestep logic and buy car number three.

A quick drive confirmed its current abilities matched the 330,000km on board, but I saw hope and irrationally rationalised the potential of this car as a cheap work hack, while having enough redemption in the parts to cover the purchase price if the project goes pear-shaped.

The initial issue tally looked grim. Leaking oil, absent power-steering fluid, heavily worn tyres and filthy rainbow (!) fabric sports seats were present, along with a host of electrical niggles and a whole lot of missing equipment. Manual gearbox, manual windows, manual steering (due to a lack of fluid) highlighted how much family cars have progressed in just over 20 years. Happily, the smooth and sweet 3.0-litre SOHC venerable Mitsubishi V6 was mechanically sound. No rattles or knocks to speak of, for instance, and it’s a very welcome return to the character of a V6 sedan in a car market dominated by endless four-cylinder SUVs.

Phase One included rigorous servicing, replacement of oil seals, suspension, tyres, and the cleaning of those seats with that rainbow fabric my brother called “fierce and brave". Phase Two was a full wiring replacement with the additions of ‘fast-glass’, climate and cruise control adding comfort with the SRS airbag making the safety at least somewhat contemporary. The final phase was a refurb’ of the neglected red paint completing the Lazarus nature of the project.

Once finished, the Magna Sports looked a whole lot better than it had any right to, with the overall crisp angular lines of the car and the frameless windows giving reason to the longevity of the design that was sold for nearly 10 years in Australia. The 16-inch machine-finish alloys look a bit small in this day and age, as well as a bit lost in the wheel arches, however the thick tyres provide for a much comfier ride on Aussie roads.

Inside, the cabin is a plasticky place devoid of touchscreens, app connectivity or damped cubbyholes found in new vehicles. The leather tiller is large and over-assisted, the sill line is high though the pillars are thin, so visibility is excellent, and the smell of the cabin is stock Magna Musk familiar to anyone who has been in one of the South Australian-built machines.

Road noise is minimal – less than plenty of new cars – and the cabin is free of rattles, making the numbers in the odometer the only evidence left of its phenomenal use. There isn’t much cabin space for rear legs, however, and the air-con blower applies token effort only. Modern instrument clusters have design depth, displays, special fonts, and needle sweeps. This car is jazzed up by its factory-painted silver instrument surround panel. Mmmm, racy.

On the move the ride is smooth and well damped, and the overly light but progressive steering allows for safe and predictable understeer. Even though it says ‘Sports V6’ on the boot, the engine is the cooking 3.0-litre V6 found in any Magna of the era, meaning 140kW and 255Nm of torque, which makes the ‘Sports’ moniker a bit of a giggle. You cannot point to the inclusion of a rear swaybar and then the badge has legitimacy. A point conceded by MMAL later when the cars got a beefier version of the 3.5-litre V6.

Legitimacy of the ‘Sports’ badge came to a head when registering the vehicle. The woman behind the QLD Transport counter asked questions about the car while handing me some numberplates. “Oh, it’s a sports car?” she asked. After my burst of laughter subsided, I explained “No, it’s just a Magna. They just call it a Sports”. I am not sure a more concise description of the TF Magna Sports exists.