A luxury surprise from Down Under. By Helen V. Hutchings
Although Mitsubishi has suffered from a certain amount of invisibility in the U.S. market the past few years, this competent carmaker hasn't given up on America, and the new Diamante is proof. The Diamante is the flagship of this conglomerate company's automotive division, an elegant, stylish offering that delivers a sophisticated luxury look and feel at bargain prices.
Diamante was first introduced to the American car buyer in 1991. The product theme for this second generation Diamante is "Built for Living," a slogan that guided the redesign and re-engineering of the car. This means that the changes integrated into the new design were strongly influenced by feedback from owners of the preceeding generation.
Judging by the end result, which is manufactured at Mitsubishi's facilities in Adelaide, Australia, this research and development approach works very well indeed.
When you're shopping in this market, what you want is luxury touches coupled with sporty handling and plentiful power, all wrapped in a conservative but stylish package.
We'd say the new Diamante is right on target. The new shape is smoother and more contemporary than its slightly dowdy predecessor, a look that resembles recent offerings from upscale BMW lines.
The Diamante looks aerodynamic and it is. Mitusubishi wind tunnel tests show an exemplary drag coefficient of 0.28. That's considerably lower than most competing sedans, which usually list figures around 0.32. This contributes to respectable fuel economy numbers -- 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway -- as well as quiet operation.
Reducing the overall weight of the car by an astounding 300 pounds also contributes to fuel economy, as well as improved performance. This was accomplished by increasing the amount of aluminum in the chassis. Even more impressive, Mitsubishi achieved its weight reductions while simultaneously expanding the car's dimensions and improving chassis rigidity.
Stylists gave the front end a vee-shaped grille and integrated it into the molded front bumper to give Diamante its own distinctive face. The frameless side glass allows the eye to travel along the side of the car without interruption.
The generous trunk has a squared off, rather sassy look that also contributes to the commodious interior. Perhaps Mitsubishi will add an interior cargo net next year to help secure grocery bags and make it easier to retrieve the wandering grapefruit. An accessible yet unobtrusive space has been made for the optional 10-stack CD player and this, plus a trunk liner mat, added $758 to the cost of our test car.
The Diamante offers a choice of models, either the well equipped base ES or the even better equipped LS. Since both models are mechanically identical, the differences are in trim details. For example, the ES comes standard with a cloth interior, while the LS has leather. The ES is equipped with 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels and tires, while the LS travels on 16-inch bright-finished wheels. Both models feature four-wheel disc brakes, with antilock available as an option. Our test car's ABS system was baked into a $2561 Luxury Convenience Group option package which also included an eight-speaker Infinity upgrade audio system, keyless remote entry, a driver info display, a child restraint seat and a Homelink System.
Standard creature features abound in both models, which contributes significantly to the Diamante's value story. The basic ES, for example, includes automatic climate control, an AM/FM/cassette sound system and power windows, mirrors and door locks in its purchase price -- $30,460, including a $470 destination charge.
The Inside Story
In keeping with the sporty image, the up front seating offers supportive, yet very comfortable, buckets. The center console houses the shifter, emergency brake, mandatory cup holders and storage for small items. Both models have illuminated vanity mirrors in both of the visors. However, speaking of visors, we were a little surprised to note the absence of extension panels to keep the sun from sneaking around a lone visor and zapping the driver right in the eyes. It's a small omission, but it seems inconsistent with the Diamante's otherwise high standard content.
The Diamante, like all cars in this class, has plenty of space up front for legs, hips, elbows, shoulders and head. Thanks to its increased size, it also measures up well in rear seat space, although here the dimensions rate as average. Child-seat anchors are standard on all Diamantes, and an integrated child safety seat is available as an option. Diamante is one of the few cars to provide a three-point seat belt/shoulder harness for the middle passenger in the back seat.
A peek inside the glovebox brought forth the owners manual which was a pleasant surprise. It seems exceptionally well organized and quite readable compared to some from other manufacturers, which are so filled with attorney-driven dialogue as to be nearly useless.
Ride & Drive
The engineers and product planners decided not to confuse the issue with powertrain or driveline options. They simply offer their best effort, a 3.5-liter V-6 which produces 210 hp at 5000 rpm and enough low end torque to make for easy departure from a standing start. This is essentially the same V-6 that propels
the much heavier Montero sport-utility vehicle, and it yields smooth, respectable punch harnessed to the much lighter Diamante.
The V-6 is paired with an exceptionally smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission that includes Mitsubishi's Adaptive Transmission Control Management (ATCM). What this means is that the transmission's computer controls are capable of electronically learning the driver's style and modifying the shifting strategy to gain optimal performance and fuel efficiency as well as smooth power transitions.
Lifting the hood reveals a tidy, well laid-out engine compartment -- as long as it's daylight. Night inspections could be a problem, however, since there's no light under there, another small but puzzling omission. It seems even more inconsistent in contrast with the thoughtful battery housing, which is completely encased. It isn't often that a battery actually blows up, but they do sometimes ooze acid at the posts and with this approach, the engine compartment is completely protected from that caustic substance.
While the ride is soft and compliant enough to please luxury car passengers, the suspension is stout enough and responsive enough to be able to handle twisty-turny roads competently. Although the Diamante's overall dynamics are skewed in favor of comfort, the feel is firm, controlled and contemporary. And braking performance is consistent with other cars in this class.
Vision is good from the driver's seat, too -- no big blind spots to hinder or annoy. And with controls and gauges well placed, the car feels comfortable and pleasureable to drive as well as responsive.
Mitsubishi wants the Diamante to make a statement on behalf of the corporation, and we'd say that the message comes through loud, clear and positive.
Diamante is handsome, nicely finished, well equipped and attractively priced. It competes with some outstanding players in the entry luxury segment -- the Lexus ES300, Infiniti I30, Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series, Mazda Millenia and new Cadillac Catera, to name just a few.
With competition like that, backed by lots of TV advertising dollars, it's easy to see why the Diamante has been something of an open secret. Visibility is expensive, and Mitsubishi's relatively small U.S. sales organization doesn't have the marketing clout of, say, General Motors or Toyota.
Nevertheless, if you're shopping in this realm, we think the Diamante merits a look-see. We also think you'll be pleasantly surprised .
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