Mitsubishi Motors Debuts SSU Concept Vehicle
5 January 1999Mitsubishi Motors Debuts SSU Concept Vehicle
'Extreme Sports Vehicle' is a Unique Combination of High Performance and Interior Space DETROIT, Jan. 4 -- At this year's North American International Auto Show, there are hundreds of new sports cars, sedans, convertibles and sport utilities, but, you're unlikely to find anything more unique than Mitsubishi Motors' SSU concept vehicle. Making its world debut here, the SSU -- or "super sports utility" -- combines the fun-to-drive attributes of an exotic sports car with the room of a sport utility vehicle. "A high performance rally car for five passengers and all their gear is what we had in mind when we began plans for the SSU," said Michael Desmond, a designer at Mitsubishi Motors' R&D design studio, the Southern California facility that created the vehicle. "After all, what fun is a fast, sporty handling car if doesn't have room for friends or all the equipment you'll need for an adventurous weekend?" SSU Concept Defies Conventional Descriptions Perhaps the best way to understand the SSU -- which, unlike most concept cars, is fully driveable -- is to avoid trying to put it in a conventional automotive category. It's roomier and has more ground clearance than a sports car, yet is too agile and fast to be an SUV. And it's certainly cooler than a wagon could ever be. When pressed, Desmond calls the car-based, unit-body SSU an "extreme sports vehicle." "The SSU is perfect for 'adrenaline junkies,'" he adds, describing people who enjoy extreme sports such as sky surfing and other activities that make bungie jumping seem tame. "It's designed to hold lots of adventure gear, but, at the same time, is capable of 150 mile-per-hour laps around a race track and some serious 'air time' off-road. And, the SSU looks just as good at a concourse as it would a ski resort with a couple of snowboards on top." WRC Rally-Winning Drivetrain According to Desmond, the SSU's designers began with Mitsubishi Motors' own 3000GT VR-4 grand touring sports car as inspiration. Therefore, it's no surprise that the SSU has a twin-turbo V6 -- producing 310-horsepower -- and all-wheel drive to get all that performance to the wheels with the most traction. This drivetrain is matched to a 5-speed automatic transmission with Mitsubishi Motors' Sportmode, allowing the SSU to be shifted as a conventional automatic or clutchless manual. The SSU also has Mitsubishi Motors' Active Yaw Control (AYC), the same technology that's on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V which recently won the 1998 World Rally Championship. AYC transfers drive torque between the left and right driving wheels as required, providing a significant improvement in cornering performance. In addition, handling is enhanced by huge 295-50R20 Goodyear run-flat performance tires mounted to 20-inch wheels, both of which were produced specifically for the SSU. And with Baer racing disc brakes at all four wheels -- 14-inch with twin pistons in front and 13-inch at the rear -- this is one concept car which promises to stop as well as it goes. Room of an SUV While the SSU has the running gear similar to that of a 3000GT, its roomy interior is reminiscent of yet another Mitsubishi Motors' classic, the Paris-to-Dakar Rally winning Montero luxury SUV. The SSU's flexible seating allows first-class comfort and limousine-like legroom for passengers, with a cargo area large enough for lots of gear. Recaro seats -- with unique red and black leather inserts -- are provided for all five passengers. Multi-adjustable front buckets have integrated 3-point seat belts as well as elbow rests for long distance touring, yet don't interfere with aggressive driving. A bucket-style rear bench -- complete with armrests and cupholders -- seats three or can be completely folded out of the way for even more cargo capacity. Within the doors, exposed billet aluminum beams serve double duty as both side guard protection as well as an armrest. And a cargo net in each door allows every possible square inch of the SSU to be efficiently used. Personal Computer Controls & Functions Just as its interior incorporates only what is necessary for a spirited driving experience and the comfort of its passengers, the SSU's switches are likewise very simple and straightforward. In fact, using the SSU's 600-watt, 8-speaker Infinity(R) audio system and automatic climate control are not unlike clicking the mouse of the personal computer at your home or office. Sitting center stage in the SSU's dashboard is a large color monitor displaying "virtual switches" for the audio and climate systems, which are entirely controlled through a simple-to-use, computer mouse-like disc. Both the monitor and control disc are mounted conveniently between the driver and front passenger, allowing the system to be intuitively and safely used while the vehicle is in motion. In addition to the audio and climate controls, the SSU's computer system also incorporates satellite navigation, a hands-free phone, as well as pager messaging. When the vehicle is parked, the SSU's computer and monitor can be used to play DVD discs or video games, or to access the Internet and send E-mail. And, for the ultimate in efficiency, the instrument panel has a PDA port so that passengers can add or change their scheduling between home, work and while traveling in the SSU. Aggressive, Powerful Exterior Design The SSU's interior room, sports car performance, and state-of-the-art controls are wrapped in an exterior design that is as aggressive as it is simple. Each styling aspect of the SSU is there for a purpose, continuing the highly successful "geo-mechanical" design theme Mitsubishi Motors introduced on the SST sports car concept at last year's Detroit show. "Geo-mechanical styling is inspired by common shapes and forms that represent strength, power and motion," said Desmond. "For the SSU, we used sleek, high-speed trains, military aircraft, Indy race cars, high-tech sunglasses, and sports watches as inspiration to create a strong, intense shape that looks powerful and agile -- almost like a cross-training shoe on wheels." Indeed, seeing the SSU for the first time, you're sure to be blown away by its extraordinary width -- the vehicle is 3-inches wider than a Chevrolet Suburban. At the front -- which has a look that could be from a Marine helicopter -- the SSU's striking size is accentuated even more by large, horizontal air intakes. To continue this particular styling element, the horizontal intakes are repeated just behind the front wheels to provide additional cooling for the engine and front brakes. Exaggerated wheel arches, which create spherically-shaped quarter panels, were added by Desmond to "appear as if the wheels were being thrust through the surface." This styling treatment also ties the SSU visually to its SST sports car cousin. Another unique element of the SSU's exterior is its boldly sculpted hood, which, according to Desmond, was designed specifically to leave no question where the vehicle's power is sourced. The raised area of the hood continues stylistically into the passenger compartment, where the body-colored section houses the SSU's systems monitor and its control disc, as well as the transmission shifter. The SSU's doors are also uncommon. All four doors are center opening, with no B-pillar to interfere with the loading of passengers and cargo. As a final component of its geo-mechanical design philosophy, the SSU is constructed of materials -- including composites and carbon fiber -- which are in their rawest, purest form. Exposed hinges, rivets and screws as well as a racing fuel filler continue the unique styling theme. In fact, even the SSU's deep, metallic candy apple red mimics the look of anodized metal. World's First Use of Laser Taillamps Perhaps the most dramatic design elements of the SSU are its exterior lighting systems. The thin, vertical headlamps and huge, round driving lights are an LED system that provides brighter light, lower weight and more styling flexibility than conventional units. The LED system is repeated as two clearance lights on the roof, just above the windshield. Nothing, however, will prepare you for what you'll find at the back of the SSU. At first glance, you'd swear the designers concentrated so much on the unique, inverted "U"-shaped hatch that they forgot to include the taillamps. That is until the brake lamps activate, and incredibly bright laser lights shine out from underneath dark tinted glass. Developed by Visteon Exterior Lighting, Inc., the ultra-thin laser lights are placed in an intricately designed, billet aluminum vertical housing that makes a perfect finishing touch to the aggressive styling that begins at the SSU's front. Clever Features for Active Lifestyles Remembering this concept vehicle was being developed for people with active lifestyles, the design team incorporated several unique features that makes the SSU ready for fun and adventure. For instance, since the SSU doesn't have a conventional trunk to hide valuables such as a camera or attache, the team added a lockable "safe" within the hatch. Channels built into the roof combine with integrated, spring-loaded hooks to carry bicycles and other gear, without the need for a conventional roof rack. And, when the adventures are over, a clever waterproof "drawer" built into the SSU's rear bumper is perfect for wet or dirty items, such as sandy wetsuits or snowy ski boots. Will This Unique Vehicle be Available Soon? In all, Mitsubishi Motors' SSU concept vehicle is such a good idea, it's almost a wonder no automaker has thought of an "extreme sports vehicle" before. In fact, the combination of a sports car's performance with the room of a large SUV may just become the "must have" vehicle of the future. "Our team has had fun developing the SSU," said Roger Zrimec, MRDA studio director. "As we track consumer practices and trends, it was clear that it would only be a matter of time until someone combined exotic performance with lots of interior space -- and with Mitsubishi Motors' sports car, SUV, turbocharging, all-wheel drive and Rally-winning experience, we knew that we could do it first and better than anybody." Will the SSU be a production car in the near future? Mitsubishi Motors isn't saying, other than they're gauging consumer reaction at the auto show. The Cypress, Calif.-based Mitsubishi Motors R&D Design Studio (MRDA) is one of three design studios worldwide contributing to the interior and exterior designs of cars and light trucks built by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. In addition to vehicles built for markets around the world, MRDA is responsible for all design -- including interior, exterior and color and trim -- of Mitsubishi Motors' vehicles produced at Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing of America, Inc. (MMMA) in Normal, Ill. Among its many projects, the Cypress studio was responsible for the designs of the current-generation Eclipse sports coupe and Spyder convertible, exterior updates for the 1999 3000GT grand touring sports car, as well as the interior of the all-new 1999 Galant mid-size sedan. Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, Inc., was established in 1982 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, Tokyo, and markets a full line of vehicles, including coupes, convertibles, sedans and sport utility vehicles.