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Mitsubishi Starion:
Japanese Glam Rocker

February 18, 2012 by Matt

Mitsubishi Mitsu Starion Chrysler Dodge Plymouth Conquest Silver Gray Grey Wide Body Widebody

In the Editor’s Letter of the March ’12 issue of Car and Driver, Eddie Alterman offers an endorsement of the latest sports cars to emanate from Japan—the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S twins—by comparing their spirit to that of the fun, iconic Japanese sports cars of the ’80s—the Mitsubishi Starion among them—and contrasting them with the output of the past 10 years or so:

The Supra turbo, the 300ZX TT, and the RX-7 died 10 or more years ago, supplanted by a veritable tea ceremony of Priuses, Insights, and Odysseys. Certainly, there were some enthusiast holdouts such as the S2000, the Evo, and the reborn, simplified Nissan Z, but even these had made some concessions to common sense, having undergone the sort of tempering that made them smoother and less idiotic than the glam-rock Starions of yore—proffering either too many doors, too few cylinders, or too subdued styling.

It’s a succinct set of adjectives to describe the appeal of the Starion: Idiotic, with glam-rock overtones. In other words, bold, brash, loud, flamboyant, somewhat immature and underdeveloped, but strangely endearing and able to have a good time like nobody’s business.

Mitsubishi Mitsu Starion Chrysler Dodge Plymouth Conquest Interior Inside Cockpit Dash Dashboard Instrument Gauge Cluster

Given its extroverted nature, it’s ironic that the Starion is frequently forgotten about whenever ’80s Japanese sports cars are discussed, overshadowed by the epic battles of the day that raged between the RX-7, Supra and 300ZX. Fundamentally, it’s a good car, if not quite as well-sorted as its rivals, and it really does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as its competitors from Mazda, Toyota and Nissan.

Offered from ’83 to ’89 in the US and powered exclusively by Mitsu’s 2.6l, turbocharged 4G54 engine, the Starion was one of the very first mass-market turbocharged cars available. A generation newer than Nissan’s aging 280ZX Turbo, it heralded a new wave of sport car sophistication from across the Pacific, and was also offered for a time as the badge-engineered Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth Conquest as part of the DSM consortium. During its 7-year model run, there were slight design variations (narrow and wide body, small bumper updates, etc) and detail changes (interior refreshes, engine management revisions, etc), but a few things remained constant: a ~150 hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, RWD, the option of a manual transmission, and a curb weight of around 2,900 lbs. Its performance was competitive when it first burst on the scene, but was rapidly eclipsed by the arrival of the considerably quicker and more refined Supra Turbo and RX-7 Turbo II. The Starion was primarily hampered by a SOHC, single-point-injection engine and a generally crude feeling compared to its rivals, whose development teams had substantially more experience than Mitsubishi’s in fine-tuning sports cars.

Mitsubishi Mitsu Starion Chrysler Dodge Plymouth Conquest Engine Motor Bay 4G54

That said, it still retained (and retains to this day) its appeal. If not quite the gem Mitsu’s later 4G63 engine is, the Starion’s 4G54 engine is quite responsive to upgrades, and the basic chassis layout of the car means handling is perfectly in line with how a front-engined, RWD sports car should feel. And its expressive styling paired with its rough-around-the-edges-nature give it a sort of “Japanese IROC-Z” feeling. Couple that with the car’s rarity—the “What is that?” factor—and you have a recipe for an irrepressibly fun ride.

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Japanese Glam Rocker