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Japan's automotive design is usually driven by the pursuit of efficiency, agility and lightness. At the same time, however, there's a definite obsession with technology: making everything electronic, inventing neat new gadgets and generally providing complex answers to simple questions. For a perfect example of the latter philosophy, look no further than the Mitsubishi 3000GT.
Arriving just in time for the early 1990s sports car revolution, the 3000GT showed up carrying a great big load of stuff, especially in top-line VR-4 trim. To wit: a 24-valve V6 with dual overhead camshafts and twin turbochargers. Electronically adjustable suspension. Four-wheel drive. Four-wheel steering. A limited-slip differential. Front and rear spoilers that extend at 50 mph and retract at 30. Even the exhaust note could be customized with the flip of a switch.
Of all the above features, the twin turbos and all-wheel drive left the strongest impressions. Three-hundred horsepower let the 3000GT VR-4 run with the fastest sports cars of its day, and the security of four driven wheels put it at ease doing so. Strong grip, strong brakes and styling that turned heads for nine straight years rounded out the package. The Mitsubishi 3000GT, along with its Dodge counterpart, the Stealth, got respect.
But Mitsubishi's full load of technology sure resulted in a full load of car. At 3,800 pounds, the 3000GT VR-4 significantly outweighed every competitor and had the most pronounced frontal weight bias. Many drivers also felt its steering and shifter were vague, and its chassis less connected than other sports cars'. Furthermore, no one seemed to find much value in most of the electronics, and no one over 6 feet tall could sit up straight.
As a choice for a used sport coupe or convertible, the Mitsubishi 3000GT is either a poser or a serious performance car, with a wide gulf between the two. Base and SL models look flashy but don't provide performance matching their looks. In VR-4 guise, the 3000GT is a car with serious speed, style and several fun little toys. Just know that: 1) Fun little toys have a habit of breaking; and 2) Unless all-wheel drive is a strong preference, more satisfying '90s-era experiences await the discerning driver in the form of the BMW M3, Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo.
Most Recent Mitsubishi 3000GT
The Mitsubishi 3000GT ran from 1991-'99 and came in three trim levels: base, SL and VR-4. The base and SL were front-wheel drive and were both initially powered by a 222-hp, 3.0-liter V6 that paired up to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
The SL's upgrades consisted of antilock brakes, electronic adjustable shocks, a power driver seat and a handful of convenience features that varied by year. The VR-4 was in another league entirely, boasting all the previously mentioned performance upgrades and bigger 17-inch wheels. Unlike its rivals, Mitsubishi never offered an automatic with the turbo engine.
The Mitsubishi 3000GT received steady changes over the years. After some across-the-board content upgrades for 1993 (such as standard leather for the VR-4), the first major freshening came in 1994. Reworked styling replaced the pop-up headlights with projector units and the interior gained a second airbag. Meanwhile, the VR-4 became an even stronger performer thanks to a boost from 300 to 320 hp, the addition of a 6th gear to the gearbox and upgraded brakes.
In 1995, Mitsubishi expanded the line with the new 3000GT Spyder, a four-seat convertible available in SL and VR-4 trims. Featuring Mitsubishi's most elaborate electronic item yet, the Spyder had a power-retractable hardtop that could open or close in 19 seconds. At the time, it was one of the first modern production cars to feature such an item, though a high price and resultant slow sales limited the Spyder to a two-year run. In other news, the VR-4 gained 18-inch wheels for 1995, and from 1994-'96 Mitsubishi dropped the VR-4's adjustable exhaust and spoilers and its electronic suspension.
Another face-lift in 1997 brought, among other things, a new St. Louis arch of a rear spoiler. In even worse news, the base 3000GT switched to a single-overhead-cam, 12-valve V6 with a decidedly measly 161 hp. The final changes were the addition of a sunroof on the SL and VR-4 for 1998 and yet another face-lift for 1999.
For the driving enthusiast, the non-turbo 3000GTs are a bit of a letdown. By the mid-'90s, even the 222-hp 3000GT couldn't perform any better than some $10,000-cheaper family sedans, while the 161-hp 3000GT fared even more poorly. Still, the pre-'97 cars could serve as decent (and likely more reliable) alternatives to domestic-brand coupes like the Ford Mustang V6 or Chevrolet Camaro V6.
Assuming one can be found in good condition, the real incentive to buy the Mitsubishi 3000GT is the VR-4. Though the basics remained intact throughout its run, models from 1994-'96 seem a little more desirable. The extra power and extra gear can't hurt, the more subtle rear spoiler doesn't impede visibility and the headroom-robbing sunroof was still optional. Also, the VR-4 Spyder deserves special mention as a true year-round sports car, with all-wheel-drive traction for winters, a retractable roof for summers and stronger performance than most any five-figure drop top of its day.