SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide
Mitsubishi's premium sedan, the Diamante, is one of the best- kept secrets in the "near luxury" category. Mitsubishi is currently best- known for its Montero and Montero Sport sport-utility vehicles, or perhaps the Eclipse and 3000 GT sports cars. But it has plenty of expertise in the design and construction of sedans, and the sports car influence is discernable in most. The Diamante is no exception.
The current Diamante enters its second year in 1998, and is offered in ES and LS trim levels. Both share a front-wheel drive chassis that is increased in rigidity compared with the previous Diamante, and engineered for low noise, vibration, and harshness levels. A well-tuned fully independent suspension and standard 4- wheel antilock disc brakes complete the chassis package. A torquey 210-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a sophisticated electronically-controlled automatic transmission provides serious performance.
The Diamante is versatile, competing with both the upper level midsized middle-class nameplates in ES form and the entry-level offerings from the luxury manufacturers in LS trim. Various option packages allow customization for performance, luxury, or a combination of both. This week's test is of a Diamante ES outfitted with most of the LS luxuries. I found that it held its own against any competitor, with a unique blend of comfort and appointment, and refinement in chassis feel and performance beyond the expected for its class.
APPEARANCE: The Diamante is conservative in design, yet graceful and contemporary. Its rounded, streamlined looks are no illusion - it has one of the lowest coefficients of aerodynamic drag of any current production car. The front end is the most conservative-looking part of the car, with an angular chromed-trimmed grille flanked by round headlights under glass. A long passenger cabin with a well-raked windshield and backlight and frameless door glass helps give the Diamante a coupelike appearance. Chrome accents around the side windows, on the door handles, and above the rear license plate hint at luxury, while a slight hood bulge and fender flares, and ground-effects- look lower cladding add a touch of sports sedan aggressiveness. A high, well-defined beltline, angularly-arched decklid, and prominent taillights give the Diamante unique character.
COMFORT: Interior design and accommodation make the Diamante a pleasant touring machine. Nearly all of the standard equipment on the LS is available on the ES with the "Premium Package" interior and exterior upgrade group, and my test car was so equipped. It does move the ES up the social ladder into the entry-luxury category. The dark- over-light color scheme of the interior and large amount of window glass give a feeling of airiness. Seat comfort is quite good, with supportive front buckets and a contoured rear bench. Instrument panel design and control placement enhances the driving experience. The most unusual interior feature of the Diamante is storage space. More precisely, hidden storage space. It has enough secret compartments to get a starring role in a spy movie, yet all are useful. The trunk is not secret at all, and large enough to be very useful.
SAFETY: The 1998 Mitsubishi Diamante has a safety cage chassis structure with front and rear crush zones, standard antilock disc brakes, 3-point safety harnesses for all occupants, and dual airbags.
ROADABILITY: A major area of difference between a modern luxury sedan and sports sedan is in the suspension. Pure luxury often sacrifices sensory input for comfort, resulting in isolation from the road. Maneuverability and driving pleasure are not such a vehicle's strong points. Pure sport too often sacrifices comfort for sensory input and extreme grip. Such a car can be very rewarding to drive - for a short time in perfect conditions. Somewhere in between lies the perfect suspension calibration, and the Mitsubishi Diamante's is very close to that ideal. Its MacPherson strut front, independent multilink rear design is not unusual, but it is set up very well for a balance between long-distance touring comfort and sports-sedan maneuverability. It helps make the Diamante feel like a more expensive European luxury car.
PERFORMANCE: The Diamante is a driver's car. Even with an automatic as the only available transmission, its powertrain is oriented towards the sports end of the spectrum. The 210-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 feels like a larger V8 due to its excellent low-rpm torque, and is as smooth and powerful as expected in a luxury-performance car. The engine's torque characteristics make the 4-speed automatic transmission a very good choice, and one that does not hinder performance and driving enjoyment. The transmission uses neural network-based adaptive logic to make it very responsive to individual driving styles.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mitsubishi Diamante combines luxury comfort and sporty performance.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 27,650 Price As Tested $ 31,905 Engine Type V6, single overhead cam, 24 valves Engine Size 3.5 liters / 213 cu. in. Horsepower 210 @ 5000 Torque (lb-ft) 231 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.1 in. / 194.1 in. Curb Weight 3417 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.3 Fuel Capacity 19.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P215/60 VR16 Yokohama Radial 376 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent Mac Pherson strut / independent multilink multi-link with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 24 / 21 0 to 60 mph 8.1 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.1 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.28 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Premium Package: includes: 16" alloy wheel upgrade, 215/60 VR16 tire upgrade, alloy wheel locks, leather seating surfaces and steering wheel covering, wood trim accents, foglamps, color-keyed body side moldings, power driver's seat with 2-position memory, tilt front headrests, trunk lid inner trim, CD accommodation package $ 2,700 Power Sunroof with Homelink(tm) transmitter $ 963 Trunk Mat and Cargo Net $ 122 Destination / Handling $ 470