Pros: Economy. Bullet-proof engine. Fit and finish. Superior anti-lock braking system.
Cons: Original equipment Yokohama tires. Timing-belt maintenance strictly a dealer procedure.
The joke that was going around at the time I bought my new Eagle Summit Wagon was: Name a five letter automotive disaster that starts with E. Answer: Edsel - no . . . Eagle! When Chrysler purchased the ghost of the once-proud American Motors Corporation for the popular Jeep lineup, the need for passenger cars to balance the product line led to the creation of the Eagle division. Aside from the cab-forward Vision, all other examples offered were re-badged French or Japanese sourced products. This showroom freak show underwhelmed the car-buying public to such an extent that within a decade, the Eagle name had disappeared, and Jeeps could now be found at the local Chrysler dealership.
A car by any other name . . .
The Eagle Summit Wagon is in reality a Mitsubishi Expo LRV (light recreational vehicle), built by Mitsubishi Motors of Japan - one of several Mitsubishi vehicles re-badged by Chrysler beginning with the original Dodge Colt in 1971. Although a Summit sedan was also offered, it had nothing in common with the wagon, having a completely different platform and engine availability, with the exception of the shared 1.8 liter power plant. The front-wheel drive Summit Wagon has basically the same configuration as a minivan - two front doors, a passenger-side sliding door, and a rear liftgate. Two trim levels were available: the entry-level DL, and my choice, the option-rich LX.
The little engine that really could . . .
The standard equipment engine on the LX series is the transverse mounted 2.4 liter single overhead cam four cylinder developing 136 horsepower @5500 rpm, and 145 lb-ft of torque @ 4250 rpm. Fitted with multi-point fuel injection, this is the stalwart Mitsubishi truck engine of decades past, given the 16-valve treatment in the early 1990's to become the base engine for the Galant series. This engine is still in production, (also the base engine on the Outlander) insuring unlimited future parts availability.
A shifty little devil . . .
The optional fully-electronic 4-speed automatic transmission inspires confidence with smooth upshifts regardless of throttle position. Downshifts are achieved through anticipation of changes of grade giving the driver an optimal rpm range for economy and power availability. The shift points are determined by the computer - cold weather starts favor longer lower-gear times to achieve a faster warm-up and a subsequent leaner mixture - its all about the numbers in the world of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard. The overall flexibility and silent operation of this transmission make it one of the best automatics I have experienced.
Pretty impressive underpinnings . . .
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of coil springs with MacPherson struts with lower wishbone in front, and semi-trailing arms with coil springs at the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are also fitted to the vehicle. All parts are either machined or cast - the suspension includes no stamped-metal components. Suspension travel is not in the French car category, but is more than adequate. I and my six passengers made the 30 mile trip to the opposite end of Maines Lake Sebago over less than stellar roads with no noticeable decrease in handling or comfort. The added weight actually made for a smoother ride. (Never exceed the total passenger and cargo weight figures found in your owners manual.)
Safety features . . .
The Summit Wagon comes with a drivers side air bag, manual three-point shoulder restraint for the driver, and automatic shoulder restraint with manual lap-belt for the passenger. The optional power-assist anti-lock braking system includes four-wheel disc brakes resulting in remarkable stopping power. While driving a local highway in heavy rain, a pick-up truck made a last-second decision not to take the upcoming exit. I was in his blind spot when he cut back into traffic. Standing on the brake pedal resulted in a straight and rapid deceleration amidst the lifesaving chatter of the anti-lock components. I believe I am alive today because of this vehicles capabilities.
Optional equipment . . .
My Summit Wagon was equipped with every available option with the exception of a sunroof, and the premium rims. The cruise control lever can be operated with both hands on the wheel. The controls are simple, and the system anticipates grade changes smoothly with no perceptible lag, unlike most similarly equipped cars I have driven. The steering wheel is height adjustable by way of a lever located on the underside of the column. The power side mirrors are well-placed, and are two-way adjustable by means of a toggle switch located on the center console. A six-speaker Mitsubishi (pre CD) AM-FM stereo cassette sound system delivers the goods in FM mode, and is an adequate AM receiver. The non CFC factory air conditioning is effective enough to use the interior of the vehicle as a meat-locker - a great cooling capacity despite the large interior. Power door locks with keyless entry are operated from a key fob, and a dash-mounted rocker switch. When the system is activated by the remote, you have ninety seconds to open the drivers door before the doors automatically re-lock. I learned this the hard way when I opened the passengers door and put the keys down on the seat. Luckily I was home with the second set of keys at the ready.
Interior appointments . . .
The premium interior includes full carpeting and durable gray with red hounds-tooth patterned upholstery. Dash layout and instrumentation are conservative - none of the cats eye/teardrop styled weirdness common in contemporary Japanese econo-cruisers of the period. A central speedometer is bracketed by oversized temp and fuel gauges, backlit in standard green. A row of lights representing every color of the rainbow greets the driver at the turn of the key. Notable warning lights include ABS, SRS (air bag) and low coolant. All essential information is in the drivers field of vision, with the exception of the radio with its tiny buttons located below the central air vent outlets. The gray vacu-form style dash looks as good as new, with no sign of deterioration from heat or sunlight. A rear bench seat will fold and flip forward, or is removable for an available 79 cubic feet of total cargo space behind the front bucket seats.
Driving impressions . . .
Youll never mistake the seats for those of a European car - these are classic Japanese firm, but without the feeling of sitting on a tree stump that plagues the entry-level offerings. The drivers seat is three-way adjustable, so a comfortable position is easily attained. At 6 foot 3, I would appreciate a couple more inches of backward travel, but headroom is exceptional. The large expanse of glass gives the interior a larger feel and the resulting visibility makes for virtually no blind spots when underway.
Maneuverability and handling hold no surprises for the driver. Power assist steering is light and predictable with moderate lean in corners if pushed hard. The original P185/75R14 all season Yokohama radial tires were unforgiving, and contributed greatly to the Flintstones type ride. I replaced them with a set of P195/70R14 Cooper Lifeline Classic IIs ($325), resulting in a significant improvement - increased ride comfort, less noise at speed, and none of that stuck-pig squeal the originals would deliver rounding an exit ramp. On the 160 mile trip to Sebago I would average 31 miles per gallon on the winding and hilly back roads of western Maine - not bad for a 3,100 lb. vehicle.
Repairs under warranty . . .
At the ten-thousand mile check-up, a service bulletin called for replacement of the front stabilizer-bar connector links - a job that took about thirty minutes. At fifteen-thousand miles, the check engine light came on. This car is equipped with on-board diagnostics 1 (OBD-1). The non-specific nature of this first-generation diagnostic tool can set the best technician on a fishing expedition. The code number generated in my circumstance pointed toward an emissions malfunction. Three trips to the dealer resulted in the installation of an EGR, and two other components. A fourth trip found the culprit - a bad check engine light trip sensor. At a $70 per hour (current) labor rate, this kind of comedy gets old fast after your warranty has expired. Starting with the 1996 model year, most manufacturers began using the second-generation (OBD-2) diagnostics, which are more condition specific, resulting (theoretically) in less wasted time, and therefore expense when seeking repairs. Something to keep in mind when shopping for your next used car.
Repairs after warranty . . .
The flick of my air-conditioning switch one day created the sound of an angry squirrel from beneath the hood. The rubber cushion embedded in the crankshaft pulley designed to absorb the impact of the A/C compressor kicking on had begun to separate, and required immediate attention. My ace local mechanic charged $105 for the job, and installed new rear struts ($100) as well, which I provided, charging me $35 for labor. The factory-installed exhaust system is stainless-steel from the converter back - after 12 years the non-stainless front pipe needed replacement ($75), a task I performed. A 2002 brake job using top-quality rotors and pads cost $225 for the parts, and a November afternoon (indoors, thankfully) for that stop-on-a-dime new car feel.
My faithful luxury puddle-jumper . . .
After more than a decade of New England winters, there is a complete absence of rust anywhere on the unibody of my Summit Wagon. Ive never had a squeak or rattle, and the only lights Ive replaced are the front side markers. All the power accessories (including windows) work perfectly. The engine sounds aggressive when pushed, but is smooth and silent at idle, and uses no oil (Mobil 1 10W-30) between the 2,000 mile oil change intervals. I test drove a Mitsubishi Outlander, but couldnt bring myself to part with my Turquoise green machine quite yet. Relegated to local cruiser (long drives call for the Mercedes 300-D Turbo-diesel) it still has a long way to go. When that time finally arrives, I will buy another Mitsubishi. As far as ratings go, my head says four stars, but my heart says five.
Some of us are hopeless . . .
I hang with a group of motorheads whose idea of a rockin Friday night is a cooler full of some new micro-brew, some rock-and-roll, and a car to detail. Nothing says fun like spraying your bushings with silicon, applying protective oil to exposed metal brake lines, and attacking your dashboard with Armorall, tooth-brush and Q-tip. My appreciation (and/or apologies) to the ladies who are still around this far into a car review. Yes, some men really are nuts when it comes to cars. I am one of those lunatics - the older the car, the better. All guys in agreement, say it loud and proud as you dream of your next rolling toy.