CC Capsule: 1996 Mitsubishi Diamante 30M — Rough Diamond Or Plastic Gem?

There hasn’t been much written on CC about this Mitsubishi as yet, but what there is has not been too complementary. And I would be quite inclined to follow suit and kick this Diamante down the pike some more, but I may have stumbled upon one of the few of its kind worth saving, and certainly worth writing up. Probably explains why it’s still around and in such a nice shape.

Most people, myself included, seem to like the first generation Diamante (1990-95), especially in its “faux-door hardtop” guise, which only Japan and the US were privy to, and the wagon. It was like a FWD version of a big BMW, with a nice 3-litre V6 and plenty of toys. It was a surprise hit for Mitsubishi during the dying days of the Bubble Economy and helped the carmaker gain a foothold into a new market segment.

Following that kind of success was bound to be a difficult undertaking, and so it proved to be. The second Diamante arrived in January 1995, initially as a sole pillared hardtop. The previous generation’s six-light saloon was dropped, and the Australian-made wagon (above) only joined the range in 1997.

The initial engine choices for foreign markets (chief among which were North America and the Asia-Pacific region) were the bigger 3.5 litre V6, but Japanese clients were given the option of either 2.5 or 3.0 litres — not an atypical situation. Also as per usual, the JDM cars had everything from low-powered poverty-spec fleet car to gadget-filled quasi-sports saloon. Our model is one of the latter.

The former, i.e. fleet cars, had been a key part of the first gen’s surprise hit: taxi and police cruiser versions were a very welcome way for Mitsubishi to increase economies of scale. Alas, with the second gen, only three police departments came back for more: the second generation’s reputation was really atrocious, and that became a well-known fact early on.

So here’s the best of a bad bunch: the 30M. Under the hood is the well-known 3G72 3-litre V6, but this was the DOHC 24-valve MIVEC version churning out 270hp. The North American market cars, though endowed with the 3.5 litre engine, only had 210hp to offer. There were AWD versions, but those had to make do with less frenetic engine options; the 30M was a front-driver only.

The interior was uncooperative on the feature car (curse those big sunshades!), so here’s a factory photo of one. Toys unique to the better trimmed JDM cars included a head-up display, satnav and a distance/lane-keeping system. The wagons and foreign market cars had a 4-speed automatic fitted as standard, but the JDM saloons had a 5-speed auto.

Above: Mitsubishi Diamante JDM brochure, 1997-99; below: US-market Diamante LS, 2003-05

The Diamante lived its tranquil and uneventful existence through to the end of 2005 in Japan, but left the scene a bit earlier from North America due to slow sales, despite an extensive last-gasp rhinoplasty that the JDM cars never got. The only way to tell the Japanese Diamantes apart was the rear lights, which changed slightly in 1997 and again in 1999. Nothing much changed under the hood though: the 30M kept its 270hp engine (shared with the GTO) till the end, but remained a closely-guarded JDM-only secret.

The actual top-of-the-line was the 30M-SE, which included BBS alloys as standard and other minor improvements. Our feature car has ugly aftermarket rims instead of the relatively discreet wheels it came off the production line with and might have been lowered some, but that’s not too shocking on a car like this.

In the end, the Diamante’s position became untenable: a growing Galant cannibalized the model’s lower end, and a shrinking customer base for big Mitsubishis in general meant that the ailing carmaker had to cut and run from that segment as a whole, after a mere decade and a half of partial success. Pretty good metaphor for Mitsubishi as a whole, really. This car’s gemstone-based name is kind of a misnomer, but then “Mitsubishi Cubic Zirconia” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.


Related posts:


COAL Capsule #13: 1997 Mitsubishi Diamante LS–Rough, But No Diamond, by B3Quattro

Vintage Reviews: Car And Driver’s 1997 New Car Issue – Asian Brand First Drives, by GN