A Family Car for the Single Person's Budget

Mitsubishi's new model Carisma sedan will be on sale in most of Europe after the October motor show in Paris, and it looks like buyers are ready and waiting.

The new sedan is very similar to the old hatchback, which has had excellent sales this year, and it carries exactly the same price -- between $16,500 and $23,000.

It may not be the most unique-looking family car to hit the highways, but its lines are smooth and tidy, and its many advantages are sure to woo scores of drivers.

The price is the first draw: the new Carisma represents a remarkably good value. It's also cheaper than average to maintain and insure, and it looks destined to eventually return higher resale values than similar models from the big players like Ford and General Motors. The warranty is also more than competitive.

The differences between the new sedan and the old hatchback are minimal, but the four-door does provide two big benefits: 50 liters of extra space in the trunk and 12 millimeters of extra headroom for rear passengers. The cabin is generally very spacious, much more so than most cars this size.

The drawback to the sedan body is there's only a small opening connecting the trunk to the cabin, and split-fold seat backs are used instead of the five door's double-fold seats. This means you can't turn the seats into an extended storage area in the sedan, while the hatchback can be easily turned into what is essentially a small van. The sedan's trunk opening is wide, but a spare wheel hump in the floor and rather large suspension towers make for a less than ideal design.

There is really only one unanswered question about the Carisma sedan: in view of its up-to-the-minute design and five-person capacity, what excuse can there be for not equipping the back seat with three full-shoulder seat belts and head restraints?

The $16,500, entry-level 1.6GL test car felt much the same as its hatchback equivalent. It has the same well-designed but rather plastic dashboard, a wide front seat that's a touch short of lumbar support, and a large height-adjustable steering wheel that needs more weighting but is pleasantly quick and responsive. Then there are smooth-acting pedals and the easy gear change that is a hallmark of Carisma cars.

The 16-valve engine is far gutsier than you would guess from its quoted 65kW, and is also beautifully smooth and quiet. With a wide, even spread of pulling power and the ability to rev high without making fuss, it's a joy to sit behind. As either an urban sprinter or a long-distance cruiser, the 1.6 has enough gumption to please the majority of drivers. Independent suspension gives Mitsubishi's latest offering very agile handling. It's tainted by some body roll and a little float when cruising over bumps in the road, and the slightest touch of nose-heaviness if you're really pressing hard. But for the vast majority of drivers, the handling is well up to the mark. The 1.6GL doesn't come equipped with anti-lock brakes -- although they're an option -- but the stopping power and brake pedal feel are fine anyway.

The excellent quality of the ride is another typical Carisma trait. The new sedan is remarkably supple over rough surfaces, and generally very composed. However, troubled road surfaces taken at high speeds can make the Mitsubishi feel lively and unsettled. It's nothing serious, but the chassis also generates quite a bit of noise.

All in all, the new sedan is a fine car, a worthy rival for the Mondeos and Vectras of this world. It's also excellent value for money and comes with tremendous warranty terms. Look out for strong sales in Europe and Japan.

Ivor Carroll is a writer for Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.