Monday, April 20, 2009
Nostalgic Subcompact: Tall wagon triplets—Mitsubishi Expo LRV, Eagle Summit Wagon, and Plymouth Colt Vista
The Mitsubishi Expo LRV (Light Recreational Vehicle) was my first car, and was the vehicle that really got me into subcompact cars. It was the first vehicle I ever really worked on an modified (yes, I added some mods to mine ... more on that later). I even ran a Web site called the "Mitsubishi Expo LRV Pages," which included a gallery and forum for this vehicle.
The Tall Wagon
When released to the U.S. market in 1992, the Mitsubishi Expo LRV, Eagle Summit Wagon, and Plymouth Colt Vista triplets were pretty unique to the U.S. market, and were closest to a class of vehicle that included cars such as the Nissan Stanza Wagon, the Dodge Colt Vista, the Honda Civic Wagon, and the hard-to-remember Nissan Axxes. However, other than the Axxes, the previous tall wagons had ceased to exist in the U.S. This bodystyle was (and is) popular in other parts of the world, and was sold as the Mitsubishi RVR (Recreational Vehicle Runner) and Space Runner elsewhere. It seemed tall wagons weren't popular in U.S. market, but Mitsubishi was going to give it a go one more time.
All three vehicles were about the same size as a first-generation Scion xB, but featured a sliding side door like a mini van instead of four traditional doors. Under the Mitsubishi brand, there was also the Mitsubishi Expo (no "LRV," just Expo), which was a bigger version with four doors.
The vehicles were powered with the SOHC Mitsubishi 4G93 1.8-liter engine generating 113 hp. and 118 ft./lbs. or torque. It was available with an automatic or five-speed transmission, and all-wheel drive was an option, too. Fuel economy was rated at 21/26 for the FWD model with five speed; 18/24 with the AWD and automatic.
The next year, the Expo LRV and its cousins, gained a SOHC 4G64 2.4-liter engine on all models, sans the base version, which maintained the 1.8-liter mill. This bumped horsepower up to 136, and torque up to 145 ft./lbs. and made the vehicle quite a bit faster. Fuel economy went to 19/26 with the larger engine.
As a side note, the Mitsubishi RVR/Space Runner was available with other engines including a diesel, the non-turbo 4G63 out of the Eclipse, and the turbocharged 4G63T found in the Eclipse and EVO. In fact, there was a version called the Mitsubishi RVR Hyper Sports Gear (at left) that was essentially an Evolution III wearing an Expo/RVR body. Do want.
All three tall wagons rode on a 99.2" wheelbase (168.5 overall length) and weighed in at about 2,700 lbs (FWD). The vehicles had front and rear independent suspensions, too, although the suspension was very soft, which didn't help cornering (we used to joke that "LRV" stood for "Likely to Roll oVer"). Rolling stock consisted of 14" steel wheels with an alloy option. However, the ride wasn't bad at all. My '92 Expo LRV had four-wheel disc brakes and ABS, which was optional.
The interior was the highlight of these vehicles; not because it was ultra luxurious, but because it was ultra versatile.
Open the sliding rear door and there was a bench seat that could seat three. When it came time to haul cargo, the bench worked its magic: The back could fold down, it could fold down and flip forward, or it could be completely removed. I was able to get stuff in my Expo LRV that my mom wasn't able to get in her much larger 1997 Montero Sport.
Nothing too special about the front passenger's compartment. Two comfortable, albeit, unsupportive bucket seats up front. The 1992 model year had no airbags but did have the much-loathed motorized seatbelts. In addition, the '92 model year didn't have a tachometer. I believe subsequent years did, though.
In 1993, the vehicles got a passenger's side air bag; 1994 years got dual bags.
In 1992, there were a decent amount of options, too, including cruise, power windows/locks, rear defrost, AM/FM/Cassette, air conditioning, roof rack, power sunroof, rear window wiper, and more.
I remember the vehicle was praised by Car & Driver, and was referred to several times as a great alternative to larger vehicles due to its great cargo capacity.
Regardless of any praise, options, or performance, these vehicles may have proved too niche at the time for the U.S. market ...
The demise of the tall wagon triplets
Things started to fall off for these vehicles early on: 1993 was the last model year for the Plymouth Colt Vista wagon. The following year was the last for the Mitsubishi Expo LRV, although the full-size Expo continued on to 1995. The last to go was the Eagle Summit Wagon, which lasted until the 1996 model year.
The automotive market essentially went five years before another tall wagon came to market: That tall wagon was the PT Cruiser in 2001. Then, in 2004, Scion introduced the xB and xA, which were also tall wagons.
My Mitsubishi Expo LRV
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of my old Mitsubishi Expo LRV. I had a ton of them for my old Web site, but no more. My Expo LRV was the "sport" version in Barbados Blue with Gray cladding, and the 14" steel wheels. It was a FWD version with a manual transmission and no tach and no rear windshield wiper. (To get the rear wiper, at least on 1992 versions, you had to get an automatic transmission.)
When I started the Mitsubishi Expo LRV Pages in 1996 or 1997, I believe, I ran across other fans of these vehicles. One person even had begun to modify his. I followed his lead and installed a custom-bent 2.5" cat-back exhaust system with the Midas "high-performance" muffler (e.g. a non-straight-through muffler without fiberglass); I modified the airbox and installed a K&N drop-in filter. At 19 years of age, I thought it sounded great. However, I look back and it did sound like a weed eater. I eventually had a resonator installed in the exhaust system which helped.
After nearly 120,000 miles on my Expo LRV, I traded it in on a 1999 Nissan Sentra SE Limited, which was much cooler. However, it wasn't nearly as versatile. Eventually, I went the way of the tall wagon again in 2005 and bought an xB. However, they say you always remember your first, and my Expo LRV was my first car.
My dream project car has always been to have an Expo LRV with the 4G63 turbo engine from the Eclipse. It'd make a smokin' sleeper. Some day.
1993 Mitsubishi Expo LRV Review by Cars.com
Internet Archive for my Mitsubishi Expo LRV Pages site
Edmunds.com (good amount of Expo info there)