The cars we loved.
Back when Japanese automotive design had more in common with Syd Mead’s futuristic drawings than anonymous appliances of today, cars like the Mitsubishi Cordia sat firmly in the public’s imagination. The future seemed written all over it with acronyms worn proudly on the doors highlighting the various mechanical and electronic bits that made Japanese cars so interesting in the 1980s. As one of the first cars from Mitsubishi sold in America without Chrysler’s help, the Cordia gave US buyers their first real glimpse of the future as styled by a Mitsubishi un-chained from Chrysler’s influence.
Few Direct Competitors
The Chrysler partnership produced mostly duds, with a few low key successes. Cars like the Colt and Arrow had begun to attract a following in America. The Cordia and to some extent the Tredia sedan would be competing not only with fellow Japanese cars, but with some of Chrysler’s also. The coupe only, front wheel drive Cordia was overlooked until it was endowed with a turbo in 1984. With 135 hp, it had a more favorable power to weight ratio than Dodge’s Daytona Shelby Z and cost much less.
The overall packaging of the Cordia suggested that it would compete directly with Honda’s Accord hatchback coupe. Honda had no sporty version of the Accord (that it sold in the US), leaving the Cordia Turbo up against more accomplished cars like the Nissan 200 SX. It may have represented something of a bargain if you did not mind its styling and had a good relationship with your mechanic.
Odd Form and Conventional Function
For starters the boxy shape had a low 0.33 coeffecent of drag giving it a sporty wedge-like profile. The design was not just Space Shuttle sporty, it had practical benefits also like making rain water blow off the window at highway speeds due to the angle of the rear hatch. There was a considerable amount of technology in the Cordia, however superficial, like its sedan counterpart the Tredia. The Cordia featured a mission control like instrument clusters that looked as if it could be the console of some fancy audio/video system (which Mitsubishi was also building). While not the first in a Japanese car to go digital dash, it was one of if not the most inexpensive.
A cutting edge four speaker audiophile stereo with a AM/FM electronic tuning radio featured an auto reverse cassette deck with Dolby noise reduction highlighted the entertainment options. This was Japanese GoBot tech at its best and most garish. There were enough lights, graphs and bars to make Pontiac blush. Speaking of GM, about the only other cars to have this much Star Wars in its was the new C4 Corvette and Camaro Berlinetta. They cost much more than the $11,000 Cordia Turbo. Subaru and others followed Mitsubishi’s lead with their own versions of what a future dashboard would look like.
While engines ranged from 1.4 to 1.6-liter units in base cars (with nearly 100 hp), they were initially designed for leaded gasoline until 1984. Mechanically, the Cordia was nothing special beyond its Mac Pherson strut front suspension. What the Cordia lacked in pure grunt, it made up for in handling and initial value. In 1984 the Cordia would become the performance bookend to the Starion once the Turbo model made its debut. It became a favorite for driving enthusiats due to its light weight and comparatively high power output.
Unfortunately, the Cordia was not the most reliable car by the Japanese standards of the 1980’s. Even cars like Cavalier or the homely Horizon were less troublesome. To its credit, the Cordia employed more technology than most small cars of the era. Interestingly, it was more old fashioned troubles, not electronic ones that plagued many Cordias. While Mitsubish’s heart was in the right place, Honda and Toyota would remain the poster children for mainstream Japanese Technology and had the sales to prove it.
Mitsubishi’s early 80s infatuation with futuristic design led to a distinct style that became synonymous with Japanese cars by most peoples standards. Although very few would be seen beyond the West Coast, the signature Japanese style of the Cordia made it the unfortunate subject of anti-import rallys by the end of the decade. Angry auto workers usually in the Midwest would take to burning Japanese cars in bonfires that would make it to the national news. Fortunately for them, many Cordias were easy to get as used cars because so many of them would end up in junk yards. They (the factory workers) were convinced that cars like the Cordia were undercutting them and their way of life. The truth of the matter was that the Cordia sold in such small numbers that it was unlikely that most Americans had never seen one in person.
More Popular Over There
In Europe and especially Australia the Cordia was a much bigger hit. After 1988 Cordia sales ended in America. The car carried on in Europe and Australia until 1990. By the end in America, the Cordia line had simplified to one 1.8-liter engine in normally aspirated or turbo form. There were more variations outside of America. At 135 hp, the Cordia Turbo still had plenty of get up and go, but its styling had become dated. In many ways mid-level versions of the Mitsubishi Eclipse would replace the Cordia Turbo. The GS models with their normally aspirated engines produced the same amount of power in a more modern design.