A Ship Called Dignity

Pride cometh before a fall. 

Proudia to meet you. Hope you guessed my name. (c) wheelsage

In more innocent times when Lexus was but a glint in the Toyota board’s eye, our collective impression of full-sized Japanese luxury saloons probably looked something a good deal more like this. Not precisely of course, since this particular duo debuted a full decade after Toyota’s creative moonshot, but Mitsubishi’s 1999 flagship was both in name and appearance very much JDM plutocratic business as usual.

As such, European (or American for that matter) nostrums of luxury to say nothing of prestige car semantics were quite obviously deemed not only unnecessary, but inappropriate. Sober and imposing was what the domestic market expected and in both Proudia and Dignity models, sobriety and imposition was what they got.

Now to those names. On this side of the world we derive a certain amount of schoolground glee in highlighting the perceived absurdities of other cultures. A common trope centres around the naming of certain Japanese automobiles and in this case, Mitsubishi doesn’t disappoint. After all, they had form in this arena, having produced the Debonair (the Proudia’s forebear) in various forms since 1964.

Was there was an element of irony in the naming of these cars, or for the Japanese, are names like these simply taken at face value? Anyway, we can’t really throw stones. European and American carmakers have happily plundered French and Italian names for decades, in thrall to similar connotations of urbanity and sophistication.

(c) livedoor.jp

But for the record, the carmaker set out to clarify, stating in the press release that Proudia was an amalgam of the words, ‘proud’ and ‘diamond’, the latter of course being brand-Mitsubishi’s emblem. ‘Dignity’ on the other hand was quite naturally, self explanatory, intended to “ describe the peerless grandeur and majestic stateliness of the model.” On the subject of grandeur, there was also a Hyundai of that name, and more coincidentally, there was also a South Korean connection to this tale; the Proudia being a jointly developed programme with Hyundai, who sold a mildly restyled version in their home market as the Equus.

The development brief was to produce “Japan’s premier luxury 4-door sedan offering peerless levels of comfort and relaxation for all occupants.” A somewhat immodest brag given that Nissan too had been plumbing this end of the market for some considerable time with various iterations of their Cima/ President model, while Toyota was offering the Lexus LS in its JDM Celsior form. And that is before we even consider the peerless V12 Century model.

A body of imposing stature that melds grandeur and elegance”, is what Mitsubishi had to say about the Proudia’s appearance, and frankly, that’s probably a fair assessment. It’s also rather incidentally what we might imagine the design brief being for Cadillac’s concurrent Deville model, which debuted the same year – meaning any resemblance (and there is one) would have been coincidental.

But whereas the Cadillac was a mystifyingly inert piece of styling, the Proudia could (from a safe distance at least) have carried the GM flagship’s crest with, well, considerably more dignity than the rather amorphous looking Wayne Cherry helmed design from Hamtramck, Michigan which went on sale in 2000.

Behold, Dignity. (c) weilinet

Grandeur was a word which cropped up rather a lot in Mitsubishi’s press pack, and especially so when it came to the Proudia’s larger brother. The Dignity model boasted a longer wheelbase (285 mm) and an extra 10 mm in canopy height over its more prosaic sibling. Dignifying matters further was a wider, more ostentatious looking grille and a pronounced B-pillar insert, which lent it “a more stable appearance and accentuates the roominess of the cabin in the side view”.

The Cadillac comparisons continue when one considers at the Proudia’s chassis layout and engines. With a front wheel drive layout, the Mitsubishi employed a MacPherson strut front suspension with a multi-link layout at the rear. Top line models had the option of electronically controlled dampers with what Mitsubishi dubbed “air spring characteristics“. Not actual air springs then. Engines were either a direct-injected 3.5 litre V6 developing 240-PS at 5500 rpm, and 343-Nm of torque at 2500 rpm, or a 4.5 litre V8 unit developing 280-PS at 5000 rpm, and 412-Nm at 4000-rpm – both mated to a five speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

(c) auto-database/ japanclassic

The Proudia’s cabin was again from JDM upmarket central casting. Plush wool upholstery in tasteful greys, subtle wood garnishes, coupled to a level of creature comfort and equipment which would have had their European equivalents in tears – which included such apparently modern innovations as LIDAR and heated, massage seats. Chintzy is the frequent pejorative flung at vehicles like these, but there’s nothing here remotely frivolous or over-wrought. Chintz is a modern day S-Class or its ilk. These are seats that beg to be luxuriated in.

Mitsubishi spoke of combined sales numbers of 300 units per month, sold through their Galant dealership chain, but demand was pitiful. And as the parent company’s broader fortunes nosedived, the Proudia / Dignity, now viewed as expensive white elephants, were axed. The car lived on in Korea however, but Hyundai developed the next generation Equus themselves – a more successful model line which lives on. For Mitsubishi however, the indignities piled up, the current Proudia model being a badge-engineered Nissan Cima, sold in some Western markets as an Infiniti.

Perhaps they should have renamed it Infradig?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “A Ship Called Dignity”

  1. Thanks for presenting this car to us – I wasn’t aware of it before. I like its sober lines quite a lot, although I think the rear view is a massive let-down. First I thought it was a picture of a different car. The flat rear panel and the acute angles of the light clusters are quite at odds with the softish shapes on the rest of the car.
    The best part for me is the interior. Tending maybe a bit on the austere side, but this comes much closer to my idea of luxury and comfort than all the tasteless, cheap leather that they try to sell us as desirable – you mentioned it already.

    1. Absolutely, Simon. The front is straightforward and refined within the framework of its conception. Sides: the same. But the rear is violently truncated and ruined by a load of sharp edges. Once we get back to the interior we find a delightful and high-quality space which says comfort without excess. You´d be mad to choose this car over the Century, which in my book, has corporate comfort nailed. Rolls and Bentley and top-line Benzes/BMWs are doing something else.

    2. The interior of Japanese cars of that category isn’t ready for use until some accessories have been fitted to keep it clean:

  2. I’ve never heard of the Proudia before. Thus my breakfast browsing brought about models for sale (on the internet..?) A Japanese site called trade car view has five for sale form bloated looked Infiniti versions to a very tidy looking twenty year old model with that V8 as above for under $3500. Being visually similar to the LS, S-Class, et al, was it the Mitsubishi badge that did for the Proudia?

  3. I was unaware of the demand that the Japanese market had for stately luxury vehicles. Even then, I do not think the Korean or Japanese marques satisfied this need to the point where Japanese people wanted it. I always thought that the W140 S-Class was the car of choice for all Japanese businessmen and mafia bosses alike.

  4. Good morning, Eóin. Like Simon and Andrew, I wasn’t previously aware of the Proudia and, at first glance, I thought the photo was of a rejected prototype for the Mk1 or Mk2 Lexus LS400, so similar is the front end, flanks and DLO treatment. It just shows how influential the early LS models were, before the company lost its way with the Mk3. The rear end is, however, a shocker. It looks clumsy and disjointed, and like it came from an earlier generation of Japanese or Korean large saloon. One would have expected smooth horizontal rear lamp clusters flanking the number plate recess like, well, the LS400.

    The interior looks just lovely, properly luxurious without ostentation. As Eóin says, it makes current German premium interior design look unpleasantly ersatz by comparison.

  5. Interesting arguments here, of which I had no previous knowledge.
    I have been struck by the strange modification of Proudia becoming “Equus” in the Korean version, nothing remotely similar. How can Proudia translate to Equus, i.e. “horse” in Latin?
    Well, I thought, maybe due to the sometimes tense relations between Japan and Korea in the XX century (and before) is there some joke hidden?
    In fact, the first Japanese swearing word coming to mind has something to do with horses:

    “Baka” is the most common Japanese swear word. The baka meaning usually translates to foolish or stupid. … In kanji, it’s usually written baka 馬鹿 ばか . When separated, those kanji mean uma 馬 うま (horse) and shika 鹿 しか (deer)

    So “horse” is a part of the word “stupid”: how casual can it be? I do not know, but this quick and possibly ill-founded search was funny….

  6. A Japanese speaking friend of mine once told me that these awkward pseudo-English/European names are usually created with their onomatopoeia and graphical appearance being the main concern. They are not supposed to make any sense, but sound pleasing to Japanese ears and/or look interesting to Japanese eyes.

    The German language isn’t spared this treatment either, as proven by Japanese Porsche customisers, Rauh Welt Begriff (‘rough – wrongly spelled – world term’).

  7. I hadn’t known about this car either, but Mitsubishi in 1999 was a funny company with delusions of grandeur yet only a year away from big trouble with the Japanese authorities. Mitsubishi had hidden customer complaints about faulty cars for years so as to avoid having to have expensive recalls. After the requisite loss of face and promising to never do it again, they had another go at cooking the books in 2011 and then again in 2016 for fudging their fuel economy figures. Highly trustworthy, then. No wonder they fled into Nissan’s arms after the last scandal.

    I had no particular trouble with my 1990 Mitsubishi, and really liked it. It was made in Normal, Illinois at a new factory. It had a very nice DOHC 2.0 litre turbo engine that soon made it into the first Evos of the early 1990s. That now defunct facility in Normal was recently sold for peanuts to someone (Rivian, which is tied up with Ford) who thinks they’re going to set the world on fire with electric pickup trucks.

    Mitsubishi were tied up with Chrysler in North America for decades, replacing the completely undercooked Hillmans sold as Plymouth Crickets in the mid 1970s, and did not do well when the spectacularly inept (Mercedes Benz) Daimler outfit bought Chrysler and managed both to ruin it and lose an incredible amount of money at the same time. Mercedes were hardly world class-leading efficiency automobile assemblers in 1998 but with Juergen E. Schrempp happily bossing midwestern American engineers about for a few years, they reduced Chrysler’s 1990s successes to pillars of salt. It’s called being overly impressed with one’s own company myths. Dieter Zetschke was then dug out of the company vaults as an English speaker after Schrempp was canned and with his spectacular moustache did the crazy German professor routine in Chrysler TV commercials for a few years before the Germans called it quits and fled in 2007. Mitsubishi lost out in the vanities surrounding the Mercedes’ takeover, and it was the beginning of the end from 1999 or so for various models that were sold alongside Chryslers at Chrysler dealers, made at that Normal factory.

    So I look at this Proudia, and wonder a couple of things. Was the racy Cortina GT wing mirror placement still a thing in Japan only 20 years ago? It looks very dated. And second, how did Mitsubishi manage to steal the Volvo S80 rear end styling when that flaccid-mobile was itself just being introduced to market? My doctor went on a crusade against Volvo about his S80’s problems, but that’s another story.

    Mitsubishi had sold its four cylinder engines to both Proton and Hyundai (and chassis design to Proton) over the 15 years prior to the turn of the century, so a tie-up resulting in the first Hyundai Equus was hardly surprising. Let’s put this almost last Proudia down to another Mitsubishi Motors Corporation brainwave of the 1990s and leave it at that. Nice interior, otherwise forgettable.

    The car looks from the front three-quarter view much more like a 1987 to 1994 Lincoln Continental rather than the Cadillac shown. With added class and quality, of course. That era Continental was the first front-wheel drive Lincoln, and did not sell well to people who wanted a “rilly” big car. Such are the vicissitudes of the car world. Mitsubishi tried to palm off a FWD semi-big car when Toyota, Nissan and the Germans were still mostly RWD stallions. It didn’t work.

  8. It is funny to think in certain circumstances the likes of the Mitsubishi Proudia and Mitsubishi Dignity could have easily formed the basis of a flagship European Chrysler prior to the Mercedes/AMC-derived Chrysler 300 (with the Mitsubishi 8A8 V8 potentially finding its way into the 300 between the 3.5 V6 and 5.7 Hemi V8).

  9. Hi Eoin,

    I wasn’t aware of the Proudia and Dignity nameplates. They’re both awful in my opinion, not even funny like Daniel’s Bongo Friendee for example. Proudia is hard to pronounce, I wonder how the Japanese even managed to say it and Dignity is no name for a car, I’am afraid Mitsubushi lost theirs with that one.

    1. NRJ, They’re not great, I’ll grant you. To be honest, I didn’t really want to dwell upon them, as it’s a bit of cheap shot to take – (albeit, when I hear the word Proudia it puts me more in mind of something like a deworming product for dogs) – but the car itself doesn’t seem that bad. At the very least it deserves a straight faced assessment, and I somewhat doubt it would received one elsewhere.

    2. Not only the nameplates are awful, but also the font with which the name is written. It strongly reminds me of that era around the millenium turn, when everyone discovered the new possibility of playing around with WordArt and the associated ‘funny’ fonts on their computers.

  10. Here’s Hyundai’s version of the Proudia, named Centennial. The rear end treatment looks slightly better although it reminds me of the Ford Crown Victoria of the same era.

    …. the “ARIBA” script in the center of the bootlid was added by the owner himself, who owns a business by the same name.

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