Future Classic: 2021 Mitsuoka Buddy – In The Friend Zone

It was only a matter of time: Mitsuoka have finally succumbed to the long-running SUV pandemic, which has spread to the top-end sports and luxury marques of late. Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin – everyone that’s anyone is now at it. At this point, it’d be easier to list the ones who don’t have an SUV in their lineup. Let’s see here: Ferrari, Koenigsegg, Lancia, Lotus, MacLaren, Morgan and… er… is that it?

Until a couple weeks ago, because I hadn’t really kept my eye on the plastichrome ball, I’d have added Mitsuoka to that list. But it turns out I had missed a crucial communiqué from the smallest Japanese carmaker (or should that be the biggest Japanese kit-maker?) dating back to almost exactly a year ago, on 26 November 2020, that announced the launch of the Buddy. Please forgive me, CC! This particular earthquake did not register on my personal Richter scale at the time. Mea culpa.

The world was obviously ready and willing to welcome the first Mitsuoka-badged SUV, as it allegedly took only four days for the firm to fill their order books till 2023. It does help that the Buddy’s production numbers will be extremely limited. They announced only 50 units for 2021 and 150 units for 2022. So there ought to be 50 of these in circulation (at best) at the present time, which explains why this is the first one I’ve come across.

As per nearly all Mitsuoka models, the Buddy is essentially a tarted-up regular production car, in this case the Toyota RAV4. As luck would have it, CC’s own Jim Klein reviewed the current model Toyota RAV4 earlier this year, so we can compare and contrast that standard version to the Mitsuoka. The Buddy pretty much mirrors the JDM RAV4’s underpinnings, to wit: either two- or all-wheel-drive, and either a plain 2-litre (171hp) or a hybrid 2.5 litre (178hp) DOHC 4-cyl.

Weirdly, the fact that our feature car has chromed door handles means it’s AWD; 2WD cars have body-colour ones. MRSP for this big Buddy starts at ¥4.7m and can reach ¥5.9m (US$45k-57k), so we’re talking about getting one RAV4 for the price of two, here. Seems that’s the sort of deal some folks just cannot pass up. One born every minute maybe not, but 50 to 150 year? Yeah, that’ll work.

I was pretty sure that the Buddy’s owner was eyeballing me from afar, so I skipped the interior pic. Here’s something Mitsuoka shot themselves instead. As far as I can tell, the dash is 100% stock Toyota; the seat cushions, on the other hand, look a bit “special,” in every possible sense of the word.

I guess they saw that, even in Japan, Chevy K5s were becoming the hipster conveyance de rigeur, as that’s what that front end is meant to evoke. And if that’s the case (kind of) for the front end, what, pray tell, is that rear end supposed to have drawn its inspiration from? I’m getting a faint Cadillac vibe (and certainly no hints of classic Suburban / Blazer), but that’s about it.

After the 2018 Rock Star, this is the second Mitsuoka in a row to attempt something in a more American vein, when the company made their name (and still make a lot of their bottom line) on British-inspired retro designs. The Rock Star, which kind of mish-mashes a C2 Corvette and a Miata, is an exciting proposition. I only caught a glimpse of one, but I really hope to catch one curbside and in vivo someday. Our Buddy here, on the other hand, is just another cookie-cutter SUV. And the bespoke Buddy bits of bling are nowhere near outrageous enough to be eye-catching. It’s a Meh-Tsuoka from me, I’m afraid.