Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
When Mitsubishi's front-wheel-drive 1.8-litre Cordia Turbo hit the market there was plenty of competition in the turbo hot hatch/sedan market. The list of turbocharged cars available, while nowhere near that available today, was for the time pretty impressive. Forced induction cars included the Saab 900
, Porsche 930, Peugeot 505 (avec diesel), Nissan EXA
, Volvo 760
, Daihatsu Charade
, Nissan Pulsar ET, and finally, from their own stable, the wonderful Mitsubishi Starion
During the early 1980s it seemed that new force-fed performance cars were powering onto the market at an unholy rate, yet not everyone was convinced of the longevity of turbocharging. The motoring industry - and some in the media - were convinced that turbocharging was a fad. Like Tom Watson, IBM chairman, who said in 1958
"I think there is a world market for about five computers" - there were plenty who believed turbocharging
to be a passing phase.
Some within Mazda
- then and now considered a progressive automotive pioneer - thought the turbo would not hold out in the long run. But perhaps this was partly because they were very committed to the Wankel Rotary. The main Mazda
protagonist was Yamamoto-san, who joined Mazda in 1973
and began his career in rotary engine development and motor sports. For the classic car enthusiast, Yamamoto-san is best known for being the genius responsible for the new lease of life given the Wankel rotary, despite the company's drift towards turbo useage with its RX-7
Yamamoto said in the early 1980s that supercharging
, and not turbocharging
, would ultimately prove to be the more effective and more efficient means of eliciting power and performance from small engines. History would find his theory half right - it seems having both is now becoming the best proposition. But in fairness, Yamamoto's turbo dissention was virtually a lone discordant voice amoung the Japanese manufacturers. Nissan and Mitsubishi lead the Nippon turbo charge - even though the country then had a 90 km/h maximum speed limit.
In Europe, the swing to turbos was not as dramatic; apart from thoroughbred performance cars such as the Porsche 930, the Audi Quattro
and the Lotus Esprit Turbo
, most of the European manufacgturers elected to go the overhead cam and multiple valves
per cylinder route. Understandably, the Australian motoring public were slow to accept turbocharging
. Reliability problems from some of the earliest turbo iterations was likely the reason - particularly the after-market bolt on jobs which did have a popular period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Even some factory turbo cars left a bitter taste in the mouth, such as the Audi 200T and the locally-developed Sigma Turbo.
Mercifully the quality, durability and driveability of turboed cars improved out of sight very quickly - and by the time the Cordia Turbo hit the market most problems were well sorted. And not only was the reliablity far improved, some of the performance issues were also well sorted. For example, the lag had almost disappeared, making a turbocharged car as responsive in traffic situations as a normally aspirated one. In the case of the Cordia, the characteristic low-rev and off-boost indifference evident in so many older turbocharged
road cars was replaced by a willingness to get up and run up to and beyond its maximum power point of 6000 rpm.
There was no trace of the too familiar old-fashioned turbo lifelessness. The Cordia was smooth, consistent and lusty. The boost gauge was active virtually from the moment the driver touched the accelerator. Peak torque didn't come on until 4000 rpm, however there was still plenty happening far below that figure. With such a quality driving experience, and even though there was a little trepedation with regards to the cars being released in the then-new turbo era, the Cordia Turbo would chalk up many rave reviews, with rare unanimity from the specialist press.
Competition From Within
While the Cordia Turbo had plenty of competition from other manufacturers, as noted above, there was also competition from within its own showroom. The Starion Turbo was a brilliant car - so why Mitsubishi needed another to add to the stable seemed a little strange. But, to clarify the situation, Mitsubishi
positioned their turbo coupes poles apart in pricing and positioning with the (1984
pricing) A$23,862 Starion locking horns with the Mazda RX-7
, Toyota Supra
, Nissan Z-car
and Alfa GTV6
while the (1984
pricing) A$13,500 Cordia took on the likes of the EXA
, Renault Fuego
, Honda Prelude, and Alfasud Sprint
. As you can see, it was not necessarily a case of Mitsubishi Turbo vs. Mitsubishi Turbo. Rather, it was a case of an upmarket Mitsubishi Turbo Coupe against one set of competition, and a cheaper Mitsubishi Turbo Coupe against another set of competition.
As far as turbocharged cars went back then, many believed, with plenty of justification, that the Mitsubishi Starion was the best bang-for-buck going. The credentials were impressive. It had rear-wheel drive, a 2.0-litre cross-flow OHC engine
with Mitsubishi turbo unit - boost pressure 13.5 psi - and IHI ECI fuel injection producing 125 kW. Its power-to-weight ratio was a commendable 10.1 kg/kW. Upmarket and carrying plenty of luxury gear such as electric windows, air-conditioning
, power steering
, and leather-faced buckets. Handling was courtesy of independent suspension
, and on the outside there was chunky and heavy styling that divided a lot of opinions - you either loved it or hated it.
Front Wheel Drive Turbo Power
The Cordia used a smaller engine, a 1.8-litre development of its stablemate's Sirius engine. The bore was smaller, but the turbo unit was similar yet the turbo boost was only 10 psi, mainly because the wastegate settings were different. That meant the Cordia Turbo was good for 110 kW - not great by todays standards, but then, well lets say it was considered well more than adequate. And when you took into consideration the Cordia's weight-to-power number, things only got better - 9.4! Add to the equation fully independent suspension
, quality interior trim, aerodynamic
wind-cheating lines and a comfortable cabin, with a reasonable but not expansive level of standard kit.
We assume if you are reading this article, you have fond memories of driving - or owning - a Cordia Turbo. And in case you ever need to settle an argument when reminiscing with friends about your first turbo - then you can quote us here at Unique Cars and Parts
- the Cordia was the better bang-for-your-buck - and in some respects put the Starion to shame. For example, the Starion took 3.73 seconds to go from 0 - 60 km/h, while the Cordia needed only 3.37. The 0 - 100 km/h sprint in the Cordia took 8.34 seconds, in the Starion it took 9.29. The all important standing 400 metres were likewise a win for the Cordia, 15.87 seconds compared to the Starions 16.58 secs.
A Drivers Car
Compared to any of the above mentioned turbo cars, including the Starion
, the Cordia was a true drivers car. In a straight line it had the runs on the board. Sure, the Starion
was a rear-wheel drive, and we would take that option any day of the week. But thats not comparing apples with apples. In the Unique Cars and Parts
stable at the moment there are two small cars - both rear wheel drive. While we can afford them, and they are available, they will win the argument every day of the week. But we have owned and driven some pretty well sorted front wheel drivers
- the Volkswagen Golf Type R brilliant. And the Mercedes A250 is putting forward a pretty compelling argument too - but we digress.
According to road testers at the time, refinements to the turbocharged Sirius engine were evident in the Cordia, with Mitsubishi making running changes to the Starion
to improve its bottom-end response so that it did not fall (too far) behind its cheaper cousin. Mitsubishi Motors
were sufficiently confident of the Cordia Turbo's sporting nature to unveil it to the motoring media at the Winton racing circuit in northern Victoria. A number of Cordias were on hand for the launch, some with and some without power steering
. According to reports from the launch event, the very hot weather wasn't ideal for turbocharged cars, however the Cordias were still going gangbusters at the end of several hours of punishment by a couple of dozen exuberant journalists.
Behind the Wheel
It may have taken a little familiarity behind the wheel, but owners soon learned that the Cordia loved to be caned. Not that you needed to punish the car to get performance - rather it was a car that showed its true and sporting character in the the upper end of the rpm's. Motoring journalists seemed to have one thing in common, they would regularly take the tacho needle to the wrong side of the 6000 rpm redline. What these journalises expected - but were surprised to find - was that unlike the vast majority of turbocharged cars from this era, the Cordia did not run out of puff high in the rev range and would continue to pull like a mule well beyond its stated limit.
There were a few niggles, with some road testers claiming the Cordia's suspension
was under-damped, and the front tending to nose-dive under severe braking. Both these conditions were not ideal for stopping performance. Torque steer was evident - and one of the biggest disadvantages of the front-wheel-drive configuration, however if you opted for power steering this was less evident. The torque reaction was at its worst on the (3.6 turns lock-to-lock) manually-steered Cordia. On the road experiences were better, the minor issues found under stress testing on the track being far less evident. For example, understeer became progressively more obvious the further the car was pushed, but it was far from being unacceptable. The centre pedal had agreeable feel and travel, and rear discs were not missed.
Both the driver and front-seat passenger were well catered for in the Cordia with comfortable and supportive front seating and a handy driving position. Though equipment levels fell short of the Starion's, standard items were surprisingly numerous and included adjustable steering, AM/FM/MPX sound system with five speakers, side and rear tinted windows, driver's footrest, rear wiper/ washer, electrically-adjustable external mirrors, remote hatch and fuel filler releases and a split fold-down rear seat backrest. Rear seat room in the Cordia shaded the Starion, which had a slightly shorter wheelbase though it was the longer and heavier car.
That the Cordia was one of the best turbocharged cars of the 1980s is without quesiton. Whether it was better than the Starion depends on your point of view.
Were the benefits of rear wheel drive worth nearly an extra $10K (in 1984 money) - even though that bought you less performance? Even with our preference for rear-wheel-drive, we don't think so. All hail the Cordia Turbo.