Mitsubishi Motors Europe (MME) is expecting pan-European sales of 10-12,000 units a year for its new Colt CZC coupe-cabriolet model line now being rolled out across Europe, starting with Germany, the UK and Italy.

Total volume for the entire European Colt line - three and five-door hatchbacks built at Born in the Netherlands and coupe-cabriolets assembled by Pininfarina in Italy - is now expected to be around 80,000 units a year.

Surprising, two of the forecast top three markets for Mitsubishi's new folding metal roof drop-top line are hardly known for their long, balmy summers (even if it is 26C and sunny in central England as this is being written).

Germany, (Europe's top convertible market) is expected to account for 5,900 units with over 5,000 already 'wholesaled' to dealers for the launch, followed by the UK (1,000), Italy (1,000), sunny Spain (500) and snowy Switzerland (490).

MME officials told just-auto the Colt coupe-cab line is being launched in 'waves' as it usually does to guarantee a quality production ramp up in line with forecasts. The launch began in Germany, the UK and Italy in mid-May and most other markets will see the car in showrooms this month. Pininfarina is being cautious not to compromise quality by speeding up initial production too fast and Mitsubishi's UK distributor is only expecting to get 600-700 cars by year's end rather than the 1,000 originally hoped for.

For the moment, convertible sales will be restricted to Europe but MME acknowledges that "other potential markets are being explored, with Australia for instance being a strong possibility".

The latest Colt - carrying a Mitsubishi nameplate dating back to the 1960s - is also built in Japan and was always intended to morph into a family of models, including several variants, in order to broaden its appeal in the highly competitive global B-segment.

Japan saw it first, though cars built there have since found their way to some Asia-Pacific export markets, including New Zealand. A couple of years after launch in Japan, Mitsubishi added the Colt Plus, a longer (by 12 inches/30cm) compact station wagon, launched in the domestic market in late 2004, and designed specifically for the Japanese market with right hand drive, petrol engines and a choice of two- or four-wheel drive.

Around the same time as the Colt Plus reached Japanese showrooms, the 'original' Colt five-door hatch finally arrived at European dealers with significant changes. These included a completely new dashboard, manual or automated manual transmissions with floor-mounted lever (Japanese cars are fully automatic with a dash-mounted control) and, most importantly, 1.1-, 1.3- and 1.5-litre Japanese-designed engines made in Germany in a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler.

DC also provided the 1.5-litre turbodiesel essential for B-segment success in Europe.

The European Colt hatchback shares its Dutch factory with DC's now doomed Smart ForFour and both models also share engines and some mechanical parts.

A few months later, in early 2005, the Europe-only three-door hatchback made its debut with normally aspirated and turbo-charged engines. MME sees this as a stand-alone model and it now takes 35% of European Colt sales.

The Colt CZC coupé-cabriolet, developed with Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina, made its public entrance last February at the Geneva show and is now ploughing into a competitive segment established by Peugeot's 206CC way back in 2000.

Since that pioneering Pug, Peugeot itself has added the larger C-segment 307 coupe cabriolet to its line-up, rival Renault launched the C-segment Megane CC (with glass roof panel) and the two-seat Opel/Vauxhall Tigra and allegedly four-seat Nissan Micra - both B-segment rivals for the Colt - have both arrived in the last year.

MME's own figures show that the growing European B-segment coupé-cabriolet market in Europe alone grew 41.5% from 106,000 units in 2002 to 150,000 in 2005.

And more makers are piling in.
In the C-segment, Volvo has just launched the C70 and GM Europe the Astra, Ford's Focus is due soon and Volkswagen is now rolling out the Eos world wide, beginning with Germany and the US. These larger C-segment cars really can seat four; you can't get anyone bigger than a small child (or a small adult sitting sideways) in the back of a Colt, and the Micra and 206 are an equally tight fit.

Unlike the Colt hatchbacks, the Mitsubishi folding tin top is completed at Pininfarina´s Bairo plant, near Turin in Italy with all components not built by the coachbuilder shipped to Italy from MME and its suppliers for final assembly.

The Colt CZC shares 65% of its parts with the hatchback versions.

The NedCar plant supplies body-in-white components and production engineering expertise. It produces body parts in its press shop and sends them together with some small sub-assemblies (like the complete bonnet) to Italy. Most of these parts are shared with the Colt three- and five-door hatchbacks. Some convertible body parts are modified Colt three-door bits like the door panels and some, like the A-pillars, are unique to the drop-top.

The convertible is offered only with 1.5-litre engines that come from Kölleda in Germany (normally aspirated) and MMC in Japan (turbo), the seats are from Faurecia in Sittard (Netherlands), the front bumper assembly is from Peguform (Germany) and cockpit components come from Johnsons Controls (also in the Netherlands). These are all shipped directly to Italy, without involvement from NedCar.

Pininfarina produces the structural reinforcements for the coupe-cabriolet conversion as well as the other specific parts (rear bumper, rear lamps, boot lid) welds the body-in-white assembly, paints and trims it and carries out final assembly.

OASys (Webasto) assembles the retractable hard-top at an in-plant facility within the Pininfarina factory - a similar supplier arrangement operates at Nissan's UK plant which builds the competing Micra CC.

Detail specifications vary according to market and the two-model UK line-up is well equipped with four airbags, all-round power windows, electric, heated door mirrors, remote central locking, MP3-compatible CD player/radio with six speakers, and numerous other features all standard.

Opting for the turbo model boosts available power from 107bhp (80kW) to 147bhp (110kW) and peak torque from 107lb-ft (145Nm) to 155lb-ft and 210Nm. Extra goodies include an alarm, sports exhaust, partial leather trimmed sports front seats with heaters and sports aluminium pedals.

Just-auto spent a pleasant day recently driving a turbo version around rainy, if picturesque, Cotswolds back roads and was impressed, if not overwhelmed. The Colt is very much a 'me-too' entry in the small coupe-cabriolet segment and matches, rather than overtakes the pioneering 206CC - it handles and rides nicely, with a firm sporty feel, has sparkling performance with just two passengers and appears well-built though there is considerable scuttle shake on anything but the smoothest surfaces with the roof down.

The electric roof closes quickly when the inevitable British rain shower arrives and opens just as fast when the sun reappears but if would have been nice had the budget extended to automatic locking - you must relase two catches on the windscreen header rail before prodding the roof switch.

Nonetheless, MME's aspirations are only modest - there are no plans to match Peugeot's 206CC volume - and the new car, albeit a long time coming, is a worthy rival.

That should be enough to put a smile on the faces of European Mitsubishi dealers and the brand's loyalists and we bet it won't be long before it reaches other markets once Pininfarina is up to full speed.

Graeme Roberts

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