The Mitsubishi Carisma was a headline writer’s dream. “Carisma bypass” – guffaw. “Mitsubishi Carisma – the car with none” – chortle.
In fairness, the Carisma won’t go down as an all-time great. Heck, it doesn’t even warrant a page on the Honest John website. Still, BuyaCar says it offers “top notch value for money” and is one of the best cars for “providing thoroughly capable and reliable family transport”.
Production of the Mitsubishi Carisma began in June 1995 at the NedCar plant in Born. It was a result of a joint venture between Mitsubishi, Volvo and the Dutch government, with the Carisma produced alongside the S40. The same chassis was used to underpin the Proton Impian. This fact alone should be enough for the Carisma to earn your respect.
“Designed for the individual,” proclaimed the brochure. Mitsubishi wasn’t really helping itself. Having risked leaning against an open door with the choice of name, it proceeded to give the impression that the Carisma was somehow bespoke. It wasn’t. Even when presented with the opportunity to build a car in Europe for Europeans, it played it safe.
Where was the Dutch courage?
When you consider what the Galant and Sigma looked like, you can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity. Would Mitsubishi have shifted more than 350,000 cars in a decade if the styling had been a little more…. Japanese?
Who knows? Or should that be who cares?
The thing is, it could have been very different. At the 1995 London Motor Show, Mitsubishi unveiled something designed by the TWR team in Oxfordshire. The concept was created specifically for the premiere of the Carisma and featured deep spoilers, fat arches, 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, Recaro seats and a carbon, kevlar and leather cabin.
It was, quite frankly, the most exciting thing to happen in 1995. No mean feat, considering this was the year in which Daewoo began selling cars in the UK and Eric Cantona took a dislike to a Crystal Palace fan.
The unveiling of the Carisma TWR was as much a surprise to the industry as Cantona’s boot was to the Palace fan’s face. According to Car, Peter Horbury, designer of the Carisma’s sister car, the Volvo S40, said: “I’m shocked. It will be a long time before we need to emphasise the personality of the S40 in such a manner.”
If only Mitsubishi had emphasised the personality of the Carisma by launching a go-faster version inspired by the TWR show car.
The Carisma soldiered on until 2005, by which time it had received two ill-judged facelifts and the clever GDI (gasoline direct injection) engine. Compared with the old 1.8-litre engine, the 1.8 GDI produced 10 percent more power, cut emissions by 20 percent and delivered 20 percent better economy.
Not that you’re reading any of this, because your eyes are too transfixed on the photos of the TWR. Stunning, isn’t it? It’s the charismatic Mitsubishi you were dreaming of.
Speaking of which, Mitsubishi deserves to be beaten with a stroopwafel for not calling the automatic version of the Carisma the Charis-matic. A missed opportunity – a bit like that TWR creation.
Anyway, 500 words into this piece, and we appear to have lost sight of the purpose of this blog post. It’s here to showcase a set of wildly over-the-top and arty images found in the press library.
Not only do they highlight the ill-judged facelift, they also appear to give the Carisma aspirations of glamour beyond its station. Maybe the 1995 original wasn’t such a charisma bypass after all…