Challenge of the Day: “Say One Nice Thing” – The Other Japanese Brands


Reliable. Well-built. These are compliments not welcome in this week’s Challenge. Today, I present you with two Mitsubishi products, one Honda and two Suzukis. You know the drill by now: try and find one nice thing to say about these oft-maligned cars that doesn’t revolve around their dependability or build quality.


When I last spoke about the final generation of Mitsubishi Eclipse, it yielded some rather negative comments from Curbsiders. The Eclipse was derided as a “bubble on wheels”, was said to look “constipated”, “sad” and like a “rubber blob… with cartoonish proportions”. And that was just some of the comments!


Clearly, the Eclipse’s design rubbed people the wrong way. The Eclipse had long ago lost its turbocharged engine, all-wheel-drive and boy-racer credentials and for its final generation had gained a further 300+ pounds in weight. The base engine was an outmatched 2.4 four-cylinder with 162 hp and 162 ft-lbs, left to haul 3200+ pounds of Eclipse. But the new, bigger 3.8 V6 put out 263 hp and 260 ft-lbs, good figures for the day; there was a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic (five- and four-speeds, respectively, in the 2.4). It was still a rather heavy, front-wheel-drive coupe and convertible but the Eclipse rode and handled quite well by 2006 standards. Alas, Mitsubishi – as with its other Project America vehicles, the Galant and Endeavor – left the Eclipse to wither on the vine. By 2012, it was very much outdated and Mitsubishi mercifully pulled the plug.


Mitsubishi axed the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor at the same time, instead focussing on smaller models in the North American market. The old Mirage nameplate was dusted off for a new subcompact hatchback that would be one of the cheapest cars on sale today. Reviews of the new Mirage have been fairly critical, as the little hatch is built to a price and powered by a tiny 1.2 three-cylinder engine with just 74 hp and 74 ft-lbs. Bright colors and high fuel economy, as well as that low list price, help sweeten the deal for consumers who just want a cheap new car with a warranty. But the Mirage is thoroughly outgunned by the nearly identically-priced Chevrolet Spark, which looks better inside and out, drives better and is more powerful.

suzuki x-90 3

The Suzuki X-90 had a bright color palette and dimunitive dimensions like the Mirage but that’s where the similarities ended. I’ve covered Suzuki’s bizarre leisure vehicle before but to recap: the X-90 was based on Vitara/Sidekick mechanicals but featured a two-door, three-box body with removable roof panels. Goofy looks, poor practicality and a higher price than the mechanically-related Sidekick made these utterly pointless vehicles which sold only on their dubious stylistic merits. Still, the basic mechanicals meant that – in 4WD guise, at least – the X-90 was capable off-road.


While many remember the X-90 as a peculiar curiosity from the 1990s, the 2002 Suzuki Aerio (also known as Liana) has been almost completely forgotten despite a lengthy six-year run in North America. Suzuki’s tiny dealership network and non-existing advertising are most to blame. So, what was the Aerio? It was a spacious albeit oddly proportioned compact available as either a hatchback or sedan. While in Australia our Liana received only 1.6 and later 1.8 four-cylinder engines, the North American Aerio came with 2.0 and later 2.3 four-cylinder engines, the latter of which produced a healthy 155 horses. Available all-wheel-drive also made the Aerio one of North America’s cheapest cars so equipped.


Common complaints were the Aerio’s poor handling, overly soft ride and cheap interior. As General Motors then owned 20% of Suzuki and also owned Daewoo (now GM Korea), in 2004 the North American Suzuki lineup was supplemented with the Daewoo-sourced Reno and Forenza. Although the Aerio was a higher-quality vehicle, it was neither as attractive nor as cheap as its new showroom-mates. The Korean Suzukis outsold the Aerio by more than 2-to-1 and now nobody can remember the little Aerio except its loyal owners, like my friend Maree. Despite now driving a Toyota Supra, she still has fond memories of her little Suzuki.


The Accord-derived Accord Crosstour (later, just “Crosstour”) was a huge disappointment for Honda, consistently and markedly outsold by the conceptually-similar Toyota Venza which itself wasn’t successful enough for Toyota to continue beyond a single generation. Count me as a fan of the Crosstour, however. For those who wanted all-wheel-drive – not available in the Accord sedan – and a little bit of extra versatility without going full mommy-mobile and buying a Pilot, the Crosstour had merit. Some find the design ugly whereas I find it mostly attractive. It’s really just a jacked-up mid-size hatchback and has all the basic merits of the regular Accord.

Go ahead, try and say one nice thing about these cars. If you’re feeling really generous, try and say something charitable about the Acura ZDX which Gerardo discussed earlier this week.