Chrysler and the Colt, Captive Economical Import Time (Part VI)

Chrysler and the Colt, Captive Economical Import Time (Part VI)


We rejoin the world of the Colt today, specifically the lineup on sale at various Dodge, Plymouth, and now Eagle dealers in the United States and Canada in the early Nineties. The addition of Eagle to Chrysler’s brand portfolio for the 1988 model year had a direct effect on the future of Colt: Almost immediately the Colt sedan was drafted onto the Eagle team, where it became the more expensive Summit.

Remaining as Colts in the US in 1990 were the hatchback and the dated Colt Vista and wagon. Canadians were offered the contemporary Colt sedan and hatchback, while the Colt Vista was sold over the border as the Eagle Vista Wagon. The Vista Wagon was accompanied in Canada by the old Colt sedan from the mid-Eighties, branded as Eagle Vista sedan and offered only as a very basic vehicle. We pick up at the beginning of the 1991 model year.

The Eagle lineup gained a new member in the United States for 1991, as the formerly Colt-exclusive hatchback became the new three-door Summit. There was a new grille on all Colt sedans and hatchbacks that year, for both Dodge/Plymouth and Eagle versions. The base 1.5-liter engine received an update in ’91 via its transition to 12 valves from eight. That meant a concurrent increase in power, from 81 horses to 92. Trims were simplified on Summit this year as it reached the end of its first generation run: Base models and the much nicer ES remained.

By 1991 the old Colt Vista Wagon (Mitsubishi Chariot) was well past its sell-by date. On offer since 1984, the wagon was spacious, seven-passenger, and essentially a crossover before its time given it offered optional all-wheel drive. Terminated along with the Vista Wagon was the regular Colt Wagon. A slow seller, it was not updated with the Colt sedan and hatchback for 1989 and remained in its squared-off 1988 guise. Colt Wagon was a late body style arrival for the fifth-gen Colts, as Dodge decided what it wanted to do with its Colt cargo haulers.

For 1992, taking the place of the two elders of the Colt line was a singular new car, happily sold with three different names by Chrysler. Plymouth sold the new MPV as the Colt Vista Wagon, while Dodge called it Colt Wagon, and Eagle used the Summit Wagon name. This new generation of Vista/Summit was a badge swap of a new car from Mitsubishi – the RVR. The RVR was sold globally under many different names, though most often as RVR or Space Runner. Mitsubishi dealers in the U.S. renamed their outgoing Space Wagon of 1991 as the Expo in 1992 but also split the lineup. More on that in a moment.

The new Colt Vista Wagon was a different, smaller class of car with its new basis. It was again boxy and upright as before, but much more aerodynamic looking than its predecessor. Aside from its lower cladding in a contrasting gray color, the new Vista Wagon shared little visually with its Eighties predecessor.

Wheelbase shrunk from 103.5 inches to 99.2 inches in the transition, though that was still 6 inches more wheelbase than the Colt hatchback and sedan. Overall length remained about the same as before at 168.5 inches which meant that two rows of passengers were much less cramped than the three rows of the prior generation. The new Vista Wagon was a couple of inches wider than before: Width increased from 64.8 inches to 66.7″.

The two standard rear doors of the outgoing Vista Wagon were replaced by a singular sliding door for 1992. Newly limited to two rows of seats, the Vista Wagon dropped from seven to five passengers. That meant the new generation was less of a van or wagon in the traditional sense, and more a high-roof MPV. However, the sliding door indicated (and still does) to the U.S. consumer that they were looking at a little minivan. Overall ahead of its time, the second Colt Vista was a bit of a mixed bag of ideas.

Engines were entirely different than before, as the Vista Wagon was more closely related to the Galant than the Colt. For North American purposes, all Vista and similar vehicles as well as the Mitsubishi Expo LRV used either the 1.8-liter 4G93 (113 horsepower) or the 2.4-liter 4G64 engine (116 horsepower). Transmissions were a standard five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Early to the party with its crossover vibe, the Vista Wagon was available in front- or all-wheel drive. Regardless of the name on the tailgate, all first-gen RVRs were built at Mitsubishi’s Nagoya plant.

Now we need to mention the other, very similar model that Dodge chose not to transform into Colt Vista: The second-generation Mitsubishi Chariot. Essentially the long-wheelbase version of the RVR, the Chariot looked very similar but carried seven passengers. It rode on a 107.1-inch wheelbase, which was about four inches more than the old Chariot. Overall length was quite a bit larger than the first-gen Chariot too, at 177.8 inches. It had the same engines as the RVR and the same all-wheel-drive availability.

The new Chariot was much more a high roof MPV, on par with the likes of a first-generation Honda Odyssey that did not yet exist. And though it was longer than the RVR and had seven-passenger capacity, it used four traditional hinged doors. Perhaps the folks at Chrysler predicted the Chariot as competition for their very healthy Caravan sales and declined it as the more direct successor for the Vista Wagon.

In any event, Mitsubishi brought over the Chariot and sold it as the Expo. The company differentiated the two sizes of Expo by leaving off the LRV (Light Recreational Vehicle) badge from the larger one. The Chariot was a successful vehicle globally and was also branded as Mitsubishi Nimbus and Space Wagon. It even became the Hyundai Santamo in 1996 and remained in production in South Korea through 2002.

Dodge introduced the new Summit Wagon to the Eagle lineup in 1992 and sold it alongside the Summit sedan and hatchback. The brand’s offerings were filled out by the flagship Premier, and the exciting new Talon sports car from DSM. Canadian customers could buy the old Vista sedan from 1985 for one last time this year, as the ancient discount model was quietly canceled. It was also the final year of the Canada-only 2000GTX, which was a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant. Remember, no Mitsu dealerships in Japan until 2003!

The Summit Wagon was available in DL and LX trims, and all-wheel drive was its own trim. Over at Plymouth, a Colt Vista Wagon asked $11,765 ($24,170 adj.) as a base model, $12,470 ($25,618 adj.) in SE trim, or $13,837 ($28,427 adj.) as an AWD Wagon. Eagle asked the exact same price that year, though perhaps an Eagle badge was more desirable than a Plymouth one by that point? Dodge planned for the crossover-like Summit Wagon to sell to families with young children, who were adventurous and not ready for that sedate sedan life yet. Of course, that’s exactly who the two-row crossover is marketed to in The Current Year, Dodge and Mitsubishi just had the idea too soon.

Chrysler continued to focus more on Eagle as the early Nineties progressed, and continue backstage development of an all-new homegrown compact car. It was to be called Neon, and took the market by storm and simultaneously spelled the end of the Colt line forever. Next time we’ll learn about the very short-lived seventh-generation Colt.

[Images: Dodge, Mitsubishi]

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