Mitsubishi 380 Series 2 SX

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Description: Graham ?Smithy? Smith reviews the used Mitsubishi 380 ? 2005-2007, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you?re buying it.

The 380 will forever be known as the car that ended local production of Mitsubishi cars. There’s no escaping the fact that it was the last car the company produced in Australia so in that sense it’s a rap it has to wear, but there’s more to the Mitsubishi story than one last model, and in that sense it’s a bum rap.

To blame the 380 for the demise of local production is going too far. It’s not a bad car by any measure, far from it, but it was probably too late and too little. By the time it hit the road in 2005 the Mitsubishi name was already on the nose with buyers and there was little the 380 could do to rescue the situation.

Even a name change from the Magna wasn’t enough; that should have happened many years ago when the name was tarnished by the auto trans fiasco way back in the 1980s. But just because the 380 is out of production shouldn’t suggest that it be removed from your shopping list, either as a new car buy or as a used car.

There are plenty of sound reasons for buying the last of the long line of Australian-made Mitsubishis, none more so than its price, which is already showing signs of plummeting.

The vultures were already circling the barely breathing body of the Tonsley assembly plant in Adelaide long before the 380 starting rolling off the production line.

Magna sales had slowed to an unsustainable level and there was no sign buyers had any intention of returning to the fold. It was clear something radical had to be done if there was to be any chance of keeping Tonsley going.

The decision was to build a Magna that wasn’t a Magna. There was nothing spectacularly wrong with the Magna, it was soundly engineered, performed well, was well built and reliable, but the name had become synonymous with the cardigan set and nothing was going to shake that perception.

There wasn’t much wrong with the idea of building another car along the lines of the Magna, but it had to be given a new name. The 380 was the name chosen, and the car hit Mitsubishi showrooms with an optimistic fanfare in 2005, as Mitsubishi’s management team watched and waited for the reaction of car buyers.

It wasn’t long before it was realised that trouble was ahead. There wasn’t a surge in sales and prices started to drop in an effort to spark showroom traffic. From then it was really only a matter of time before Mitsubishi’s Japanese bosses ran out of patience and hit the big red button on the production line.

But the 380 story didn’t end with the halting of production because there will be new cars in the market for many months, and used cars will be bought and sold for many years ahead as owners argue its merits. Conservatively styled there was nothing to write home about the 380’s looks. It had a clear family connection to the Magna, which mustn’t have helped, and it really did disappear into the background on the road.

In its favour it was larger than the Magna and had the room for a family with good front and rear head and legroom. The dash was well laid-out, although the finish of the plastics looked and felt cheap. But it was well put together and the cheap-look of the plastics could have been corrected with a more subtle texture without too much trouble. At the wheel the driving position was comfortable and the seats supportive.

Under the bonnet was a 3.8-litre single overhead camshaft V6 that delivered smooth steady power as the revs climbed. At its peak it would deliver 175 kW and 340 Nm into either a five-speed manual gearbox or, more likely a five-speed auto, with the auto boasting a manual shift option.

The suspension was MacPherson Strut at the front with a stabiliser bar, and independent multi-link at the rear. Four-wheel disc brakes, assisted by ABS anti-skid and traction control electronics helped keep it on the black top.

Models in the 380 range at launch consisted of base sedan, LS, LX, VR-X and GT. In 2006 Mitsubishi released a Series II with ES, LX, SX, VR-X and GT. Finally in 2007 the company unveiled the Series III, which was destined to be the last act in the company’s local manufacturing play.

In many ways it’s a great time to go shopping for a 380 as the market watches and waits for the reaction to the closure of the Tonsley plant. Will 380 prices freefall as owners dump them in an attempt to avoid a massive hit, or will they stand up and hold their prices against popular opinion? The likelihood is that there will be some serious bargains out there with used car prices likely to take a significant tumble.

Pay $14,000-$16,000 for the 380 sedan of 2005-2006; add $1500 for the LS of the same years, and $3000 for the LX. The VR-X will cost $18,000-$20,000, the GT $20,000-$22,000.

The 2006-2007 Mark II ES can be had for $16,000-$18,000; the LX for $22,000-$24,000. The VR-X can be found for $21,000-$23,000, the desirable GT for $24,000-$27,000.

The 380 is still very much in its youth so there isn’t a lot to report, but going by the record of recent Magnas it’s fair to say the new car will be pretty reliable. The engine, gearboxes and driveline are all well proven and have given little drama in the past. Plenty of 380s went into fleet use so be cautious when buying cars that have been driven by people who don’t care much about their ride. Negotiate hard if you’re buying an ex-fleet car.

Make the usual checks for minor bumps and scrapes on the body and thoroughly check for serious body damage that might have been caused by a crash. The interior trim of Magnas generally stood up well over time and there’s no reason to think the 380 will be any worse.

The 3.8-litre V6 has plenty of punch and will do the job for many years to come without any dramas. Because it’s awkward to get to the three spark plugs at the rear of the engine those cylinders have expensive platinum plugs that require replacing at 90,000 km and some owners get a surprise when they receive the bill from their mechanic. The plugs in the three cylinders at the front of the engine are regular plugs that aren’t as expensive, but require replacement more often.

With a six-year warranty Mitsubishi provided plenty of cover for 380 owners, and that’s still in play with the oldest 380 still only three years old.

The 380 had a solid array of safety features with dual front airbags, side airbags, and seat belt pretensioners, which all helped in a crash. It also had an agile, responsive chassis with good steering, powerful disc brakes all round with anti-skid and traction control electronics to empower the driver with the capability to dodge a crash.

The 380 was quite economical given its mass and the size of its engine. The manual would do around 11.5 L/100 km and the auto a little less at around 10.5 L/100 km. It’s also good on gas with an LPG-compatible engine right from the factory. An approved aftermarket LPG injection kit for the 380 costs around $4200, so given the government rebate of $2000 the extra $2200 the owner needs to cover can be recovered in around 18 months by an average motorist.

Kelvin Tennant bought his 380 GT shortly after the 2005 release and he rates it by far the best car he’s ever owned. Right from the very first time he drove a 380 he was impressed with the feeling of stability that the car imparts to a driver. It always feels beautifully balanced in corners with hardly any body roll. Added to which the ride is quiet and smooth and the braking excellent. Kelvin also uses it to tow a pop-top caravan and says it makes light work of it even on steep hills. Tests he’s done shows it does 11.6 L/100km on average and as little as 9.0 on a trip.

Nick Renwick and his dad both have Mitsubishi 380s and they reckon they are the perfect cars. Nick’s is a brand new 2008 SX; his father’s a 2006 SX Platinum. The build quality is much better than both the VE Commodore and the BF Falcon, they say, and they are so smooth, quiet and comfortable, yet incredibly sporty to drive. They rate the fuel consumption as good, so too the interior space and the fit and finish.

Noel Carey bought his 2006 380 Series 2 LX with around 56,000 km on the clock. It has now done 60,000 km and feels as good as new. The body is tight, the panels fit well and the doors close with a solid ‘clunk’. On the road it’s quiet, the engine oozes power and the transmission is smooth and shifts seamlessly.

Geoff Burton owns a 2005 380LX with 38,000 km on the clock, and says it is a magnificent vehicle, better than the Fairlane and Statesman he has previously owned. It is a very comfortable car, and is quite good on fuel, handles well and has responsive performance. If it had any faults they would be a lack of mudflaps, a blind spot on the rear passenger side when reversing and no grab handle for the front seat passenger.

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