Pinin…a sporty Shogun, only smaller
Known in our market as the Shogun Pinin, which was important to its role as an entry-level to Shogun competence in a conveniently compact package but also with a nod towards its European build at the Pininfarina factory, near Turin, Italy, the 1998 ‘baby’ off-roader made a serious splash. The car had already made a major impact in the ‘kei-class’ of Japan’s domestic market (downsized city-cars, usually powered by an up-to-660cc turbo-petrol engine).
However, despite a few oddities imported by The Colt Car Company (Mitsubishi Motors’ previous UK concessionaire), partly for promotional purposes and partly for market viability tests, ‘kei-class’ cars were deemed largely unsuitable here. They worked perfectly well on Japan’s crowded city streets but lacked the dynamic prowess for broader applications. Yet, a will existed within Mitsubishi to introduce a smaller version of Shogun and the Italian styling house, more famous for designing beautiful Ferraris, was tasked with enlarging (not by too much) the small car and then building it at the stylist’s factory.
Thanks to a low-ratio transfer gearbox, the little Shogun proved to be an indomitable force off-road. I can still recall revelling in very muddy conditions in the hills of Tayside Scotland, during the launch exercise. There was no doubting its outstanding capabilities, despite a fairly choppy ride quality resulting from its abbreviated wheelbase. It was also a positively sporty little thing on-road and could thread speedily along country lanes, with little fear of coming to grief.
Power came from a choice of conventional 1.8i, or 2.0GDi (direct injection) petrol engines. A natural rival to the Suzuki Vitara, when it was dropped unceremoniously after six fruitful years, not to be replaced in Mitsubishi’s line-up, it was sorely missed by existing owners.
Strangely, it was criticised heavily by most of the motoring magazines of the late-1990s, none of which seemed to appreciate its broad range of capabilities, despite the compromises demanded of the vehicle type. While Italian production ceased in 2004, the ‘mini’-Shogun continued to be built under licence in Brazil, until 2014. Original launch models were three-door hatches but the range soon expanded to a five-door model and a light panel van alternative, the latter created at Mitsubishi’s Portbury Docks (Bristol) import centre.
Personally, I grew to love the little car, preferring it in many ways over the larger Shogun Sport and the full-size Shogun 4x4. Used examples can still be picked up fairly inexpensively and, being Mitsubishi, they are as dependable as ever and durable enough to have withstood up to 20 years usage.
Luscombe’s summary: Mitsubishi has made some truly fascinating cars in its 101 years of history and none more so than the Shogun Pinin.
Next week: Iain contemplates Mitsubishi’s EV drive.
Mitsubishi on the ‘up’
While there are seldom any issues with Mitsubishi product quality, Iain Robertson delves into what could have been a brand shattering past, with very few of its owners ever knowing what to do with the company…
It is amazing that Mitsubishi survives at all, when you contemplate the pains it has endured in the past 20-odd years, at least. Don’t panic! Mitsubishi is not going anywhere. It is a brand here to stay but, when its own parent company, the immense Mitsubishi Corporation, struggled to place it more securely in its own hierarchy, a series of sell-offs were deemed the most viable propositions.
Interestingly, with a joint production exercise that commenced with the Chrysler Corporation in early-1970s North America, to which Mitsubishi sold 15% of its shares, while building its reputation in that vital market, it was also headed into the controversial relationship with the newly-formed DaimlerChrysler partnership in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Having been largely in charge of its own destiny, proving itself to be a profitable manufacturing entity, its relationship with the German-American giant was very shaky ultimately. When Daimler (Mercedes-Benz’s parent) declared its intentions to dissolve the alliance, starved of development funding, Mitsubishi found itself back in Japan, with the vast Mitsubishi Corporation struggling to understand it.
Various tenuous and ultimately non-productive partnerships had been carried out by Mitsubishi, most famously at the Dutch Ned Plant owned by Volvo, where the company built both the new Carisma and the S40 models. A technological collaboration with PSA led to developments of the French company’s diesel engines using Mitsubishi’s direct petrol injection (GDi) system. The firms also produced jointly (again at Ned Plant) the Outlander, Citroen C-Crosser and Peugeot 4007 soft-roaders.
Without Mitsubishi, Hyundai might never have existed (the Mitsubishi-based Pony was its first production car in 1975) but salvation would come in the form of a 34% share buyout by Nissan of Mitsubishi stock as recently as 2014. In doing so, Mitsubishi became a member of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, a group that understands technology sharing, almost as productively as VW Group. With fresh funding pumped into its operation, Mitsubishi can be said to be making fast progress from its former, confused existence.
Luscombe’s summary: Mitsubishi can be said to have endured a difficult past but most of its problems are now behind it, as it grows its reputation, one that it has never relinquished, for the future.
Next week: How widespread was the Mitsubishi Lancer platform?
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