BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The search for a small but reliable compact three-door hatchback can sometimes be a frustrating one on the used car market. Typically, you'll end up looking at something Japanese - and rather dull. In which case, check out Mitsubishi's Colt. Reliability is a Mitsubishi trademark and this often over-looked small car has some surprising qualities.
Models Covered: 1988 to 1992 (1.3 Hatchback [GL] / 1.5 Hatchback [GLX] / 1.6 16v Hatchback [GTi] / 1.8 16v Hatchback [GTi] / 1.8 diesel [GL]) 1992 to 1996 (1.3i Hatchback [GLi] / 1.6i Hatchback [GLXi] / 1.8i 16v Hatchback [GTi]) 1996 to 2004 (1.3i Hatchback [GL, GLX]/ 1.6i Hatchback [GLX, Mirage, GLS, Classic, Equippe]
You'd be excused for being confused. Originally, when it arrived in the UK during the Seventies, the Mitsubishi franchise was called 'Colt' in the UK (because the importers didn't think British buyers liked Japanese names. When the three-diamond marque assumed its proper name, the 'Colt' tag was transferred to the franchise's smallest three-door hatchback offering. Three door models only were offered. Though it goes back a little further, we'll start with the `organic` shape announced in 1988; an angular-looking car but quite a good one. There were three engines - a 1.3, a 1.5 and a 1.6 16v for the GTi hot hatch. In the Spring of 1990, the GTi's 1.6 was replaced by a 1.8 16v unit. Later that year, the 1.3 and 1.5-litre versions gained 12-valve technology. In 1992, a far prettier Colt was launched, aimed at Honda's fifth generation Civic, with new multi-link rear suspension and greater refinement. Again, there were three engines, all with catalysed exhausts - a 12v 1.3, a 16v 1.6 and a 16v 1.8 for the rare GTi hot hatch. This range lasted until 1996 when the stylists fiddled with its clean shape - to the car's detriment in the opinion of most. Still, it was a more effective package. Again, the engines were 1.3 and 1.6, but this time there was no GTi hot hatch; instead, we got a Mirage version with sporty addenda but the same 1.6 engine as the ordinary GLX. There was however, the option across the range of a clever 'thinking' automatic gearbox, capable of making changes according to your mood. The range had a minor makeover in summer 1998. Next, in December 1999, a new cheap but stripped-out base 1.3GL model (dual airbags but no central locking or electric windows) and a fully-equipped (alloy wheels, air conditioning, anti-lock brakes) GLS replacement for the Mirage topped and tailed the ongoing 1.3 and 1.6 GLX versions. These mid-rangers were both improved with the 1.3 gaining an electric sunroof and passenger airbag while the 1.6 got anti-lock brakes. The run-out models were called Classic, Equippe and Mirage. Then summer 2004 saw the unveiling of an all new Colt.
What You Get
The Colt is an efficient, reliable supermini that's easy to drive, decent looking and a comparatively rare sight on the roads. The 1992-1996 model is arguably one of the best looking small cars ever made - its worth having and most are getting pretty cheap these days. But the later car is also worth checking out. These car were particularly strong on safety and security for their time. All models got a sophisticated electronic immobiliser system, for example. Thanks to a unique identification code, which must match, this will deny all attempts to start the engine with anything other than the original key. That's good news - for your pocket as well as for your peace of mind. As for safety, there's a particularly stiff body, side impact door beams and a collapsible steering column. Plus, of course seat belt pre-tensioners and that all-important driver's airbag. Mitsubishi's UK importers, woke up to the pressures of public opinion that perceived previous generation Colts as expensive cars within the supermini sector. The 1996-2004 version changed things, thanks to a higher specification and lower prices.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Reliability is excellent and parts not as pricey as you might fear; the car is much cheaper than most to maintain. Make sure the exhaust is in good condition and that the tyres have plenty of wear left in them. Corrosion protection is good as well. You'll find a number of special editions around including the Attivo and the Maui which might represent good buys.
(approximate based on a 1997 Colt 1500 GLX and excluding VAT) A clutch assembly is around £115 and an exhaust system about £450. Allow a budget of around £30 for front brake pads, whilst the rears are only £45 a pair. A radiator is about £240, an alternator about £415 and a starter motor around £260. A replacement headlamp is close to £135 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £95. A front wing is around £110, a windscreen about £145, a tail lamp about £140 and a catalyst about £300.
On the Road
Try for a post-1990 car at least; either the first shape with the 12v engine or the post-1992 model with 12v 1.3 or 16v 1.6-litre power. These engines were torquey and economical. Though it doesn't look as good as its 1992-1996 predecessor, the latest shape is a fine buy and sales were quite slow so there's no over-supply to drag down used values as much as those of more common European rivals. Colts have long been recognised to be amongst the most refined and responsive cars in their class, traits which endeared them to a host of mainly private and mostly female buyers. They probably won't care that the post-1996 car manages rest to sixty in 12.5 seconds and achieves a maximum of 106mph in 1.3-litre form. What will matter is fuel economy of up to 36mpg around town, the lack of noise under heavy acceleration and the flexible nature of the engine, which means fewer gearchanges in urban use. If you're after more power, the 102bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine might appeal. You have to rev it quite hard to get any real performance out of it (the maximum torque figure of 104 lb ft is generated at 4,500rpm) but once you do, it moves along at a reasonable lick (0-60mph in 10.5s on the way to a maximum of 115mph). It's reasonably frugal too - expect a combined fuel consumption figure of just under 40mpg.
People who buy one Colt tend to buy another - which really says it all. Cheap, good quality parts are a pleasant surprise. Buy carefully and you can't go far wrong.