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The Mitsubishi FTO: Japan's best kept secret

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On: Thu, May 15, 2014 at 9:00AM | By: Teddy Field

The Mitsubishi FTO: Japan's best kept secret

Several decades ago, Mitsubishi actually made exciting cars. They had names like Eclipse GSX, Galant VR-4, 3000GT/GTO, Conquest/Starion, Lancer Evolution, and the turbocharged Mirage Cyborg-R. But one of the more obscure models was a JDM sport coupe called the Mitsubishi FTO. It was hip, fun to drive, and it had the cutest little 2-liter V6 you've ever seen. So let's have a look at yet another sporty Mitsubishi that you've never heard of...

Designed to be an affordable stablemate to the rip-roarin' GTO, this Japan-only sports coupe offered buyers the sort of muscular style that was lacking on cars like the Toyota Celica and Honda Prelude. There was plenty of standard equipment too. Base FTO GS models came with electric windows, air conditioning, power side mirrors, and sport bucket seats (in 1994, that was pretty impressive). After a mid-cycle refresh in 1997, the previously optional driver side airbag and anti-lock brakes became standard equipment. Such petty details might seem insignificant now, but they actually gave Mitsubishi's little bachelor-mobile an edge back then.

Power was directed to the front wheels via a 5-speed manual, or a rather brilliant INVECS 4-speed automatic (post-97 cars got a 5-speed version). This gearbox eventually found its way stateside in the Eclipse, and I can tell you that it's one of the best automatic transmissions that I've ever driven. Using one helluva computer program (or witchcraft), the transmission can tell the kind of terrain that you're on and what kind of mood you're in. If you're driving up a hill, or driving around like your tail's on fire, the tranny will hold gears longer, and even downshift to give you more juice. Let off the go-pedal and it would immediately kick down a gear to give you some engine braking, or put you in the right gear to squirt out of a curve. You could also manually shift it (in 1994!), but that just turned the gear stick into a suggestion box.

Sitting atop the gearbox was either an uninteresting 1.8L 4-pot, or one of two versions of their 2.0L V6. This Mighty Mouse of an engine cranked out about 180hp in standard form, or 200hp when the trick MiVEC system is added. And yes, that is a variable valve timing setup, similar to Honda's famous VTEC. Basically, the camshaft 'profiles' change at higher rpms, allowing the engine to make more power near the top of the rev-band. So the full 200-hp won't be realized until you get to 6,000 rpm.

The Mitsubishi FTO received Japan's prestigious Car of the Year award shortly after it was launched in 1994. Sales in Japan were brisk, and the face-lifted FTO was even exported to the U.K. and New Zealand. Too bad they didn't bring it to our side of the pond.

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