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Video | The Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 Was a 1990s Icon

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2018

I recently had the chance to drive a 1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4, which was just one of the coolest cars of the 1990s. A quick glance at the VR-4 I drove and you can see why: it's bright red. It's a low-slung sports car. It has a massive wing. It has chrome wheels. In the 1990s, this was a recipe for success.

It was such a recipe for success, in fact, that Mitsubishi was one of many brands that took advantage of it. The 1990s were a time of amazing Japanese performance cars, and every brand had an option -- from the lowly Subaru SVX to the supercar-battling Acura NSX and everything in between (namely, the 3000GT, the Mazda RX-7, the Nissan 300ZX and the Toyota Supra). But the 3000GT was certainly among the best-regarded, as it offered an impressive 320-horsepower turbocharged V6, rear-wheel steering and all-wheel drive. And that crazy wing.

Actually, that crazy wing only came on the 1999 models -- and the 1999 models are the most sought-after of them all, as it was the car's final model year and a short production run. I tracked down a pristine 1999 3000GT VR-4 owned by a viewer in Pennsylvania, and I spent the day with it -- and here's what I learned.

I'll start with the driving experience, which had some highs and lows. The highs were the good stuff: The car is faster than I expected, and it also handles better. The speed surprised me, as I generally find that most 1990s cars are slower than you'd expect, as we're used to modern vehicles with impressive pep and performance. It also surprised me because the 3000GT is known for its heavy curb weight, as it tipped the scales at an impressive 3,700 pounds -- a big number today, and a huge number in the days before airbags or infotainment. But the 3000GT VR-4 does, indeed, feel quick, with power coming on like most 1990s turbocharged cars: Not much, then a lot. It's wonderfully explosive.

Handling is even more impressive. Given that curb weight, I figured the 3000GT would sort of lumber around, but it's actually quite tight, with good steering and excellent cornering capabilities. The steering is a bit vague on-center, but it feels great mid-corner -- very predictable and very sporty. I also felt like the rear-wheel steering contributed a little to the car's strong handling, but it could just be the power of suggestion. Still, either way, the 3000GT is shockingly nimble, and it handles like a smaller car than it is.

So speed and performance are good, and that's most of what you want for a sports car. But there were also some drawbacks. Namely, the 3000GT has absolutely no engine noise to speak of -- something that would be considered sacrilege today. In the 1990s, car brands kept engine noise muted, figuring customers would add loud exhausts later if they wanted -- a big difference from today, with active exhausts and people wanting more noise from performance cars. Driving the 3000GT today, it feels more toward the realm of an electric car than a new Mustang.

The other drawback of the 3000GT was interior room. I'm a tall guy, but I generally don't have any trouble driving sports cars -- even exotics. But the 3000GT is surprisingly short on headroom, to the point where my hair was rubbing up against the ceiling -- not something I would've appreciated if I had spent nearly $70,000 to buy one of these new in 1999.

Yes, $70,000. The original sticker price of this car was like $47,000, which translates to about $67,000 in today's money, and this one had a dealer markup that pushed the price well beyond that. For this money, you get the aforementioned driving experience and a reasonably decent amount of features -- like a 6-disc CD changer, leather seats, a power driver's seat and automatic climate control. You also get an unusually high amount of quirks enumerated in the video you see above -- including a seat memory latch (yes, a latch), steering wheel buttons mounted nowhere near where you'd be able to easily press them and a keyless entry system that looks like it came from an aftermarket Viper car alarm.

Mostly, though, you got one of the coolest Japanese cars of its era -- and after spending time with one, I can see why it got so much attention back then. The 3000GT is fun, it's fast and it looks cool -- and someday, I predict it's going to be considered a desirable classic.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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