This is the third of five items today which look more closely at a rather special car, the …. um, whatsitsname.
Imagine yourself stranded on that hypothetical desert island. With nothing else, you start playing intellectual games. Game 56 is carving in the bark of a large tree the name of every car that you can remember. Will you ever, even if you live for 1,000 years, come to the Mitsubishi Carisma?
The Japanese have a fine tradition of irreverent wordplay with the English language. Sometimes, on the Anglo side, this causes the sort of patronising “gosh, can’t these foreigners get it right?” reaction at names like ‘Bongo Wagon’ and ‘Starion’. But this underestimates the obvious fact that the Japanese industry is very thorough. Certain English words get chosen, not because of their meaning but their sound, hence some surreal combinations. Based on this, I’d suggest that the rather lacklustre and oxymoronic Mitsubishi Carisma name possibly originated in Europe rather than Japan, since it lacks the mischievous playing with language such as ‘Pajero’ and, although you could buy it in Japan if you insisted, the car was built in the Netherlands and aimed at the European market. It actually sounds like it should belong to another Japanese company, but I think that even the Toyota Carisma would have been more characterful.
The Carisma is the distilled essence of forgetability. It was competently styled to pass for several other adequate cars of the time. It went. It stopped. It was decently equipped. it didn’t break down that much. It wasn’t expensive to insure. There is no mad, Japanese market, quad turbo Carisma to give it a minor cult following – the 140 bhp version available only for the first two years of its life was as hot as it got. But there is nothing bad about the Carisma. In short, if you were wanting a good value, reliable anonymous car (and there’s a lot to be said for them) you could do a lot worse. You might also do a lot better with a Mondeo.
Under the skin, it was also, more-or-less, a Volvo S40. Did people buy the Carisma thinking that they were getting a cut-price Volvo? Or did they avoid the Volvo thinking it was just a dressed up Carisma. Probably a bit of both though, as with so many shared platform cars, the majority might never have made the connection. Obviously the joint development of a manufacturing facility with Volvo, at the old Daf factory, was an incentive for Mitsubishi, though they eventually bought out Volvo’s share and finally, four years ago, after large operating losses, they stopped building cars there entirely and sold the factory to VDL Groep who now build Minis there.
Produced for 9 years from 1995, sales figures, in this century at least, were unimpressive. The Carisma was a victim of its invisibility, and changing taste in types of cars. We discussed recently the irritation at manufacturers who no longer offer a full range of vehicles, concentrating instead on just the niches in which they have success. Mitsubishi’s UK range now consists of a small hatchback, a crossover, a pickup, a 4WD and an SUV, this last being available as a plug-in hybrid and being generally responsible for the firm being the UK’s fastest growing brand for the past three years. So, you can’t blame them for not offering a saloon. Since the Outlander PHEV is actually something that other manufacturers didn’t have the wit to do, even if it seems the sort of vehicle that would inevitably do well, it can only be my antipathy to SUVs that means that, to my eyes, none of these is that much more charismatic than a Carisma, though if the Ground Tourer makes it to production next year much as is, it won’t go un-noticed, though I’m not convinced that is a positive observation.
When we had a secondhand white Mark 2 Astra estate at work I liked it for various reasons. One was that it was stealth car that no-one really noticed. Race past a policeman and unless they caught your number plate, you were just another straw in the haystack. But that was because there were lots of Astras like it back then. What is unremarkably remarkable about the Carisma is that, even if they had only ever made one, it would still have been invisible. Now, what was I writing about?