1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 Road Test

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1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4

(3.0L V6 Twin-turbo AWD 6-speed Manual)

Automotive Darwinism: Adapt or Die

Where does the 3000GT's model name come from? The 3.0-liter engine displacement? The 300-horsepower that the car originally made in 1991? Ha! You may think so. But we at Edmund's® have recently uncovered the true nature of this nameplate. It's actually based on the next time Mitsubishi will be updating the car: the year 3,000! Our deepest sympathies go out to all the fans of Mitsubishi's full-size performance car, but you'll have to wait another 1,000 years before seeing any appreciable changes.

All kidding aside, we have a feeling that the 3000GT won't be around much longer. With an all-new, larger, six-cylinder Eclipse on the horizon, the potential market for this nine-year-old performance car, even with a redesign, will continue to shrink in the coming years. And, at 45 grand, it's already competing with some pretty heavy hitters, including the C5 Corvette, Porsche Boxster and BMW M Coupe. Throw in the upcoming Honda S2000 and Audi TT Coupe, both of which will be cheaper than the Mitsu while offering comparable performance, and the 3000GT isn't just dated, but downright pre-historic.

It's actually a testament to the original 3000GT VR4 design that the car still exists at all. In the last four years, we've lost the Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX and Toyota Supra, leaving only Mitsubishi to bear the Japanese supercar torch in America (and Acura, if you include the $80,000-plus NSX). But none of those other vehicles offered the technical pedigree found on the original 3000GT VR4. In 1991, features like all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, adjustable suspension and active aerodynamics put the car far ahead of anything available in its price range. The Dodge Stealth, which was a mechanical twin to the 3000GT produced from 1991 to 1996, was featured in an early advertisement showing how the car outperformed a 300ZX, Corvette and Porsche. Even more impressive was the fact that, at roughly $30,000 in 1991, the 3000GT VR4 offered one of the best performance-per-dollar values in the industry.

Boy, have things changed. Unfortunately, the basic design of the 3000GT isn't one of them. Topping the list of gripes since the car's inception was a lack of headroom for anyone over 5'10" tall. This situation still exists and, if anything, was worse on our test car than on previous models we've driven, though the power sunroof probably contributed to the problem. Since the sunroof tilts up about two inches rather than sliding open completely, we think Mitsubishi should have left it off and dedicated its time and energy to raising the roofline. The seven-way, power-adjustable driver's seat offers a wide range of seating positions, but if you like to sit upright for maximum control during performance maneuvers, the 3000GT will feel claustrophobic.

Perhaps the scariest aspect relating to the car's lack of headroom comes from its stiff suspension. While great for cornering purposes, the impending "bonk" between head and headliner is disconcerting. We're happy to report that, during our weeklong test drive, it happened only once, and didn't hurt too much.

What was painful was looking at the car's profile every time we approached it. Mitsubishi has greatly smoothed the overall shape of the 3000GT since it first appeared nine years ago. Back then, the side louvers and busy front-end screamed "Testarossa Wannabe!" Now, with the lower side cladding cleaned up and its thick, aggressive front grille, the 3000GT has a refined, purposeful look…with one huge exception.

What the HELL is with that rear spoiler! Arrgh! They finally get the rest of the car right and then they screw it up by sticking a wing on the back that looks like it was pulled from a '70s Countach (possibly the gaudiest car of all time). For visibility purposes, it's actually better than last year's curved spoiler, which cut right across the driver's line of sight when looking in the rearview mirror. But, oh, the way it completely negates the rest of the body's silky shape is a real travesty. Aren't focus groups supposed to help manufacturers avoid such styling blunders? Maybe Mitsubishi gave them that week off. We almost broke out the Phillips screwdriver and removed the wing ourselves, just to see how the car ought to look, but decided we'd just suggest that to potential buyers, instead.

Some Edmund's® staffers feel there aren't any potential buyers for this car, what with its price, weight (two tons, including driver) and ergonomic/stylistic faux pas. The 3000GT is decidedly not for everyone, but it still offers a combination of performance capabilities and luxury not matched by anything else currently available. The AWD system, for instance, keeps it glued to the road during hard launches and around tight corners. You won't find this level of pure stick with the Corvette or BMW M-cars, especially if the road surface is uneven and/or slippery. And even the upcoming Audi TT Coupe, which won't go on sale for months, will be available only in a front-wheel-drive configuration…at first.

Backing up the AWD system is a four-wheel steering design that turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front at lower speeds. This makes low-speed maneuvers easier, but doesn't add much to high-speed handling traits. As with the earlier Honda Preludes, four-wheel steering has proved more expensive to develop and produce than its real-world benefits can justify. Once the 3000GT goes away, we don't expect to see this technology again on a regular production vehicle sold in the U.S.

Additional performance gimmicks, like adjustable suspension, adjustable exhaust and active aerodynamics, have been pulled from the 3000GT since its introduction nine years ago. What's left is a capable grand touring car that can snap your head back under acceleration or cradle you in comfort (as long as you aren't too tall).

"How capable?" you ask. Our testing netted a 5.4-second zero to 60 time, which makes only the Viper GTS (4.9 seconds) and the BMW M roadster (5.25 seconds) quicker in Edmund's® performance-test database. This puts the Mitsu ahead of the Corvette, NSX and Porsche 911 we recently tested. The 3000GT also scorched the quarter-mile in 14 seconds flat at 105 mph and stopped from 60 mph in a chest-compressing 125 feet (remember, this car weighs 4,000 lbs. with a driver aboard). Whatever may be wrong with the 3000GT VR4, and there is plenty wrong with it, you can't deny its sheer performance pedigree.

And since the VR4 is marketed as a "Grand Tourer," not a sportscar, its list of standard luxury equipment reads like a grocery list from "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." These include an Infinity audio system w/CD that offers some of the best sound we've heard inside of an automobile, plush leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, power everything, and remote keyless entry. While a Corvette's base price is just under $40,000, equipping one with the same level of comfort features that come standard on a VR4 would easily make up the difference.

For insurance purposes, the car is officially listed as a four-passenger sport coupe, but sticking people in the rear seat of a 3000GT was recently outlawed under the Eighth Amendment. There's also pathetically little storage space in the rear hatch area, even for a performance car.

Our final complaint relates to the loud "SCREECH!" that emanated from the muffler area of our test car. It almost sounded like a loose belt, but we don't think Mitsubishi uses any belts in this region, so it must have been an exhaust leak or rattle, or perhaps a clutch problem. The 3000GT performed flawlessly otherwise, so we may never know what was causing this apparently innocuous noise.

When all is said and done, the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 proves that even the best automotive designs need to be updated eventually. The "performance car bar" has been raised drastically since 1991 and the 3000GT just can't compete. It still offers great performance, but it is by no means a great performance car. Maybe if you're less than six feet tall, drive in less than perfect weather conditions on a regular basis, have lots of cash, and don't mind removing ugly wings and filling the screw holes with body filler, the 3000GT is worth considering. Otherwise, wait for Audi's TT Coupe with Quattro drive, or spend another 40 grand and get the new Porsche Carrera C4.

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