First there was the Honda Jazz to pose the 'Is it an MPV or is it a hatchback?' question, closely followed by the latest Polo, which was no longer a small car, then Vauxhall Meriva, Ford Fusion and Fiat Idea. Who can blame Mitsubishi for jumping on the bandwagon?
The fifth-generation Colt rolls out of the same factory that brought us the Carisma and now trundles down the lines with its smart forfour cousin. The two cars share 60% of their content, which basically means platform and drivetrains, even though their recently divorced makers have different markets mapped out for them.
Like its competitors, raising the roof means it's possible to offer more space inside by sitting its occupants higher than before. And in keeping with the Jazz and Idea, the Colt is set up for musical chairs with its sliding tilting, folding and ultimately removable back seats.
While it's possible to follow the company's thinking when it comes to retail sales – the car has potential appeal to young, small families, older drivers and the ever-illusive young free and singles – tracking down fleet customers is more of a challenge.
At least Mitsubishi in the UK is more sanguine about its business potential. Reckoning on 5% of total sales heading the way of fleets could win product manager Martin Woodward awards for modesty, but it illustrates the difficulty of identifying business users for cars like this one.
Mitsubishi is fending off approaches from one daily rental company, said Woodward, fearful for the car's residuals. But otherwise, will it appeal to traditional supermini fleet customers such as utility companies and health service employees?
Mitsubishi is faced with the same guessing game as Fiat for the Idea, hence the modest business forecast.
There's no residuals forecast as yet, although with a September 1 on-sale date, there's plenty of time before the car hits the streets. Woodward is confident the Colt will closely follow the Honda Jazz residual performance, though, and it is the rival priced closest to the Colt.
Following usual Mitsubishi notation, there are four trim levels, scattered about no less than four engine options, which looks a bit fussy.
The lead-in Classic with 1.1 litre 75bhp petrol hits the road at £8,999, add another £1,000 for Equippe trim – reckoned to be the biggest seller, with a forecast 17% of total Colt sales.
The 95bhp 1.3-litre petrol Equippe is only available with the six-speed AllShift automated manual gearbox at £10,999.
Alternatively, Elegance trim and five-speed manual transmission add £500 to the price. Opt for the AllShift again for another £500.
Equippe is the only trim option for the triple-cylinder 95bhp 1.5-litre common rail diesel too, starting at £11,499. Again, the AllShift 'box is a £500 option. Diesels are expected to take 20% in total.
Topping the range is a four-cylinder 109bhp 1.5-litre petrol model, available in Elegance trim with the AllShift gearbox for £12,499.
Alternatively, Sport trim is offered with the manual gearbox for £11,499. Classic equipment includes remote central locking with deadlocks, a space saver spare wheel, driver and passenger airbags, Isofix child seat mountings and the split, folding, tumbling, sliding and reclining rear seats.
Equippe models have driver seat height adjustment, radio/CD player, electric mirrors, air conditioning and alloys.
Sport adds spoiler, red interior sports pedal kit and front fog lamps, while Elegance features leather seats, passenger seat storage tray, side airbags, and steering wheel remote audio controls.
Behind the wheel
ALTHOUGH the dash is stylishly laid out, the swathes of grey plastic do little to inspire. The driving position itself is good, thanks to the height-adjustable seat, although the steering wheel only adjusts for height. In appearance, both the Jazz and the Idea have the edge.
I also found some poor quality build – a vanity mirror that came off, door trim that didn't fit properly and the white plastic post at the bottom of the dashboard which houses the cigarette lighter looks particularly cheap. It's not what we've come to expect from Japanese cars.
While the multi-adjustable back seats are a neat idea, with adults in the back, boot space would be reduced to a minimum. And while the forward tumbling feature is good in theory, it only works with the front seats right forward, limiting its practical use. Again, the Jazz and Idea seem to manage better. Although visibility is generally good all round, with large door mirrors, the heavy A-pillars obstruct the front three-quarter view – enough to hide a bike or pedestrian.
With the exception of the Sport, the Colt is set up for comfort not sharp handling, like the Idea, so a comfortable ride is on the menu. The steering is uncommunicative, masking a competent but not exceptional chassis, although the Sport is stiffer, but won't excite enthusiastic drivers.
The Colt's aces are its engines. The little 1.1 is a delight – revvy and willing with surprisingly good performance when needed or good economy potential when driven gently.
The other triple-cylinder engine, the diesel, is also full of character with good performance and a pleasant range of noises from beneath the bonnet. It's just a shame that the trim options are limited with the engine. I also drove the 1.5-litre petrol with the AllShift gearbox, which worked better than many automated manual gearboxes.
Like similar systems, there's no clutch pedal and the choice of automated or semi-auto changes using the stubby gear selector – there are no paddle shift switches on the steering column. The 1.5-litre petrol engine performs well enough, but lacks the character of the triple-cylinder engines. Overall the diesel is the best of those I drove, but is it worth £1,500 more than the 1.1-litre Equippe? Frankly no.
While the Colt is competent enough, it doesn't shine in a highly competitive sector, so why pick any more than the £10,000 Equippe 1.1? It's hard to see why anyone would choose it instead of the Jazz or Idea, which offer more packaging innovation or more space. Overall, the Colt is not the sum of its parts – good engine yes, but an uninspiring interior, questionable build quality and uninvolving drive. There's work to be done before September.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||75/6,000||95/6,000||109/6,000||95/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft):||74/3,500||92/4,000||107/4,000||155/1,800|
|Max speed (mph):||115||112||118||112|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||51.4||48.7||45.6||61.4||CO2 emissions (g/km):||130||138||148||N/A|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||47/10.3|
|Service intervals:||12,000 miles|