Pride cometh before a fall.
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.
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.
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.
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?