Australian designed and built, the Mitsubishi Magna showed Holden and Ford a thing or two about family car design when introduced in 1985. A smooth, refined ride and excellent noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression were big features of the Magna, even more so in the upmarket Verada versions of the Magna.
After many successful years, the Mitsubishi 380 replaced the Magna in October 2005. It was based on an American Mitsubishi model, rather than the Japanese Sigma that the Aussie designers improved and enlarged to create the Magna. The Mitsubishi 380 is larger than the Magna, though not be a huge amount.
In hindsight, if Mitsubishi had called the 380 the next generation Magna, the Adelaide factory might still be in operation today, but this once successful line of cars came to an abrupt end in April 2008 after slow sales of the 380 saw Mitsubishi pull out of Australian manufacturing.
While Magnas are getting on in years they are tough machines that age well due to their Australian design. Sensibly driven and serviced we have seen many that are now in the 300,000+ range and still going strong.
Body types are four-door sedan and five-door station wagon in the Magna, but the 380 was only built as a sedan. Rear-seat width in the Magna isn’t quite as generous as that in Commodore and Falcon, 380 comes pretty close to them.
Magnas have reasonably good handling for family cars, though understeer will eventually spoil the fun. The 380 feels sharper on the road, though you would never regard it as a sports sedan.
Engine performance from the old-style four-cylinder 2.6-litre engine is reasonable, but only just. The later four-cylinder models had a 2.4-litre four with a more modern design. Sales of the four-cylinder slowed over the years and it was discontinued in 1999.
A 3.0-litre V6 engine was released in the Mitsubishi Verada in 1991 and the Magna in 1993. It was joined by a 3.5-litre V6 in some upmarket variants in October 1996. The bigger engine gradually spread to the rest of the range. In the later-model Magna Sports and VR-X, the 3.5 engine has additional power over the standard unit.
The Mitsubishi 380’s 3.8-litre engine is a stretched version of the 3.5-litre unit. There is good torque throughout the normally used zone of the rev range and the 3.8 unit is very pleasant to sit behind.
Magna is offered with a five-speed manual gearbox, but the great majority of the original cars came with a four-speed automatic. An advanced five-speed automatic transmission with a sequential shifter is fitted to the sporty variants sold from August 2000 and made its way to the other models over the next couple of years. Mitsubishi 380 came with a five-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual gearbox. The auto was by far the most popular.
Mitsubishi’s Magna offers the extra traction of all-wheel drive in some sports variants to give the car a real sporty feeling. These all-wheel drives are a real pleasure to punt hard and fast and keen drivers love their feel and grip. But they were never popular and may be hard to resell.
The underbonnet area is reasonably spacious. Amateur mechanics can carry out some simple tasks, make sure to get a professional mechanic for anything related to safety.
Mitsubishi continues to operate strongly in Australia despite no longer being a local manufacturer. Spare parts for cars up to 10 years old are still carried by Mitsubishi dealers. Specialist recyclers are good of other parts.
Insurance charges are usually moderate and most companies charge much the same for four- and six-cylinder engines. There may be an increase in the premiums for the Sports model if the driver is young and/or inexperienced.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Look at and feel the front tyres for uneven wear. This may indicate front suspension problems. Perhaps because a front wheel has been kerbed – or that the car has been in a smash.
Rust is seldom a problem but in a few Magnas it finds into the bottom edges of the doors, boot lid and/or tailgate, and the fuel filler flap.
Look for signs of damage to seats, carpets and trim, including inside the boot.
Examine the top of the dash panel and the rear parcel shelf for faded, or cracked, plastic caused by constant exposure to sunlight.
Automatic transmission problems have dogged these Mitsubishis but troubles are less frequent in newer models. If an automatic shifts gear unnecessarily or suddenly shifts into neutral for no reason have it checked out.
Check the paint and bumper bar around the exhaust tailpipe for an oily film, indicating engine problems.
Make sure the brakes pull the car up in a straight line. ABS, if fitted, will send a pulsing back through the pedal on hard application.
CAR BUYING TIP
Large family cars are often in better condition than smaller hatches and the like because they are seldom driven hard.