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REVOLUTIONISING the runabout

Ryan Borroff
OFTEN it’s the least exciting cars that are the most surprising. Testing an eco model from the most traditionally conservative car segment – the Supermini or B segment – promises to be, if not dull, then certainly a pedestrian experience.

Yet, in a difficult car market, the Supermini segment is where all of the action is. In the UK more cars of this size are sold than any other group and over the last three years it’s been where the majority of the market growth has been.

Increasingly, car buyers want to drive cheaper, smaller, and more fuel-efficient cars. This is why Audi – a company that would have steered clear of this area in the past – has just entered the fray with its new A1. It’s also where there has been a surge of other new model introductions in recent years. Yet as we all move to smaller, less expensive city cars, there’s no escaping the fact that, historically, the conventional urban hatchback has been a little dull. Cars like Fiat’s 500 and BMW’s MINI stand out among a conservative line-up of superminis – the Ford Fiestas, Honda Jazz and VW Polos of this world. Add to this the trend towards even greater economy, and the prospects for motoring joy seem remote.


MASCULINE
Enter the Mitsubishi Colt ClearTec – even the name lacks promise. The car’s attractive enough, particularly its Evo-style face – inspired by a jet fighter, allegedly. The Colt appears more masculine than its peers and its designers have steered clear of anything that’s too kawaii-like, unlike some of its too-cute Japanese competitors.

In fact the Mitsubishi Colt ClearTec is a surprisingly good runabout, even outside the city. The car is nippy, economical and far roomier than I had anticipated. Yet, thanks to a host of eco technologies, its virtual teetotaller of an engine is able to sip small amounts of fuel and still accelerate faster than its more conventional 1.3-litre Colt rival – its 0-62mph is 0.6 seconds quicker than in the regular 1.3-litre Colt). Unusually, the eco option doesn’t feel like a trade off.

It’s really the tech that enables the Colt to combine such economy and low emissions with what is by anyone’s standards a fairly tidy performance. A start-stop function increases the economy and reduces emissions by switching off the engine automatically at junctions or in traffic when the driver slips the gear into neutral. It then restarts automatically when the driver presses the clutch to engage a gear. It works so well I had grown used to it in a single trip and it may be the best system of its type I have driven. Also, there’s an indicator to tell you the best time to shift gears to maximise fuel and emissions performance, though I confess I never used it. Add to this low-resistance tyres and an adjusted final gear ratio – which means lower revs and thus greater economy – and it’s clear that Mitsubishi have worked hard to maintain driver interest without losing superior economy.

So confident is Mitsubishi in the economic credentials of its ClearTec technology that it no longer sells a diesel engine for the Colt in the UK. With diesel now so expensive here, low mileage drivers – those that run a car in the city for example – are increasingly turning their backs on diesel and looking for better alternatives.

The Colt ClearTec is an ideal city car. There is lots of room, particularly in the back, even for adults. In terms of its handling it punched high above its weight and felt more of a hot hatch thanks to zippy cornering and good steering feedback. Though there was some road noise from those low resistance tyres, it was only at speed on the motorway.


LUGGAGE SPACE
Fold flat seats mean the car has as much as 1,032 litres load space when the seats are folded down. That’s space in which you can pack in a large amount of holiday luggage or Ikea furniture. With the addition of a roof top box the Colt easily shifts from being a city runabout to a holiday roustabout, without too much aggro, for a family of three.

Residual values are some of the highest in the class – Mitsubishi claims around 40 per cent after three years. With combined economy figures that match that of the Toyota Prius, the Colt ClearTec is on at least on par with most of its B-segment diesel rivals. What’s more, the drive is spirited enough to become a serious option for those who need a nippy and clever little city car that offers more practicality and character than its trendier rivals and which will perform well without breaking the budget.

THE FACTS:
MITSUBISHI COLT 1.3 CZ2 CLEARTEC

PRICE: £10,099
0-62MPH: 10.4 secs
TOP SPEED: 112 mph
CO2 G/KM: 119
MPG COMBINED: 65.7mpg