Considering that the model has been on sale in Japan and some Far East markets for at least a year, Mitsubishi's new Colt supermini, to be launched at the Geneva motor show, has taken the slow boat to Europe - it finally goes on sale in May and right hand drive versions don't hit UK showrooms until at least September.

This is the first vehicle from the Mitsubishi DaimlerChrysler Alliance and it will be built in Born, The Netherlands, at Mitsubishi Motors Corporation's NedCar plant previously shared by Mitsubishi's Carisma and Volvo's S/V40 line. The Colt will share space with another DaimlerChrysler product, the new Smart Forfour five-door hatchback, which in turn shares its platform and engines with the Mitsubishi.

A Mitsubishi press release says the European Colt "differs substantially from the Colt sold in Japan with an all-new interior and dashboard, redesigned front end, plus different engines, gearboxes, chassis settings and seating flexibility".

However, at first glance, the Japanese and Dutch-built versions, from outside, appear identical. Look closely and the Euro-Colt's "redesigned front end" is actually little more than a minor restyle of the lower front bumper. Side rubbing strips have been added to the lower doors and the wheel trims are different.

"Differs substantially" is a more accurate description of the new dashboard which is quite different, much more stylish, and symmetrical (easy LHD/RHD conversion was surely a factor here) with round vents, bright silver control knobs for audio and climate controls and made from much more attractive materials.

Inside and out, there are many styling similarities between the Colt and Honda's two-year-old Jazz (Fit), which has been a hit in Europe and will be one of the new Mitsubishi's key rivals.

The Japanese market Colt engine line-up includes a 1.5-litre double overhead camshaft petrol engine bolted to a CVT automatic transmission with dash-mounted shift lever.

That wouldn't go down too well in manual transmission-obsessed Europe where the new baby Mitsubishi will have that 1.5-litre motor coupled to a five-speed 'box with conventional floor mounted shifter. Other engine options are 1.1 and 1.3-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel and, if that line-up sounds familiar, it's because it's also destined for the Smart Forfour. An automated manual transmission (i.e. a manual with an automatic clutch) will be optional on some versions, prviding competition for Ford's Fiesta and GM Europe's Corsa lines.

Mitsubishi will also debut in Geneva the CZ3, a proposal for a three-door coupé spin-off version

The 3.87 metre-long Colt will be the first B-segment Mitsubishi sold in Europe and its maker is claiming class-leading 1,705mm front and rear legroom. Cabin flexibility will be helped by 60/40 split, sliding, reclining, folding, tumbling, and removable rear seats.

Safety equipment will be at least class-competitive with driver/passenger/side/curtain airbags plus standard ABS with EBD either standard or optional according to model.

Mitsubishi is shooting for high 'perceived quality' by using soft touch paint on interior trim, translucent parts and high grade upholstery while features like the in-dash six-disc CD changer and 12V socket in the boot are now expected by European customers, even in this entry-level class.

Spot the differences: Japanese-built Colt left, Dutch-built Colt right