The design history of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation was spawned with the company’s very first model – fittingly named the Mitsubishi Model A. This was a very contemporary design of its time, with almost identical lines and proportions to that of similar offerings from Ford and Daimler during the early 1920s.
In 1937, the Mitsubishi PX-33 was launched and won the accolade as the first Japanese car fitted with permanent four-wheel drive. Rightfully so, the PX-33 found service as a saloon-type car for military use, due to its off-road ability. The design of this car was again in keeping with the era – profound headlights and wings, a convertible roof, but with the addition of stout off-road tyres.
A period of solitude followed throughout the 1940s and 1950s due to the Second World War, but once the Japanese economy picked up, Mitsubishi timed the release of its sleek, compact Mitsubishi 500 two-door saloon to perfection in 1960. Featuring a unique rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, it provided the template to what would later become the Mitsubishi Colt 600 in 1962.
The first-generation Mitsubishi Galant debuted in 1969, and flaunted what Mitsubishi described as a “Dynawedge” body – referring to the aerodynamics on the silhouette – allied to a boxy shell. It was available in two-and-four door saloon form and as a five-door estate.
A decade later in 1982, Mitsubishi had the North American market in its crosshairs when it unveiled the Mitsubishi Starion sports coupe, on an wailing American sports car market in the aftermath of the late-1970s oil crisis. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive, turbocharged four cylinder coupe was the first to use electronic fuel injection among its Grand Tourer sports coupe contemporaries, with a 2+2 seating arrangement. The aerodynamics were rather angular and square, however it still achieved a drag coefficient of 0.32 and outperformed the Nissan 300ZX and Mazda RX7 on its debut.
The launch year of the Mitsubishi Starion also witnessed the unveiling of the trend-setting Mitsubishi Shogun/Pajero off-roader. The car boasted features that had not previously appeared on a Japanese SUV, such as a turbo charged diesel engine, suspension seats, front double wishbone suspension with torsion bar springs and power steering. The first-generation platform was also built under licence by Hyundai for its Galloper model and Dodge for its Raider. The Shogun/Pajero was initially available in three-door form only, but later made four-door.
The 1990s proved to be a bland era for Mitsubishi on the design-front with the uninspiring Galant saloon, followed up by the non-performance Lancer and equally dull Charisma models.
The antidotes to these lacklustre creations was the Mitsubishi 3000 GT and Lancer Evolution models, which breathed some much-needed fresh air onto the brand and introduced the manufacturer to an increasingly popular market at the time – Japanese performance car enthusiasts and the tuning industry.
Into the 21st century and Mitsubishi were still attempting to marry a robust performance design with family credentials, in the form of the third-generation Shogun/Pajero and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions VI to X.
The outgoing Shogun, Lancer and ASX crossover models meets the needs of Mitsubishi’s desired customers as they are designed in a rugged, borderline agricultural manner; setting out not to do anything fancy or turn heads, but to get the job done and “do what it says on the tin” – the Ronseal of car design. Some customers will appreciate this simplicity, while others will look elsewhere for something with more panache.
Looking to the future, the design direction is rather worrying when looking at concepts that were teased at the 2013 Tokyo motor show. Mitsubishi’s GC PHEV, AR MPV and XR-PHEVs did not receive favourable praise from onlookers and internet commentators on this Autocar story, reporting from the show (1).
And going by the below images, it’s empathetic to see why. The videos showcase a design that is overly bulky and complicated, and rather unpleasant on the eye. Will future consumers be able to look beyond the vulgarity of this potential design direction, if these cars go into production?
On the plus side, there appears to be a strong practical nature to these designs, which ultimately counts for some buyers. And previous ‘ugly’ designs on their year of launch have come-of-age over the years. An example of this is BMW’s 2005 E60 5-Series model. Time will tell if the public take to these designs with function over form…