By on March 8, 2022

When we last left off in the tale of Dodge, Plymouth, and Eagle’s various Colt branding adventures, it was the late Eighties. After a wave of modernization in 1984-1985 where the first Colt sedan appeared and the range extended into the larger and very forward-thinking Colt Vista, Mitsubishi got in on the Colt action and sold a hatchback with its OEM diamond star up front and Mirage lettering on the back. As the Nineties approached, it was time for a new generation of Colts, and more options from a hot new brand: Eagle.

The sixth-generation Colt arrived for the 1989 model year, as a vastly more modern-looking replacement for the ’85-’88 version. It should be noted that while the smaller Colt was replaced, the Colt Vista (Mitsubishi Chariot) existed in its initial form for a couple more years, even though by the late Eighties it was looking very dated.

For 1989 the sixth-generation Colt was, underneath, a third-generation Mitsubishi Mirage. The Mirage entered initial production in 1987 as a three-door hatchback, and in 1988 a sedan and five-door liftback joined the range. North America received its new Colt after all body styles were available, as Chrysler wanted a full barn of Colt body styles. Though the word hodgepodge was an apt descriptor, as we’ll see in a moment.

While the fifth-gen Colt was sold with three- or five-doors and as a four-door sedan and wagon, things got a bit too spread out for Chrysler’s liking. After the almost immediate discontinuation of the five-door in favor of the Omni/Horizon that Chrysler developed themselves, the remaining Colt sedan, regular wagon, and larger Vista wagon filled out the lineup. The new Colt for America in 1989 was a singular Colt body style, the three-door hatchback. A new Colt four-door sedan was also imported, but for branding reasons was only offered as a Colt in the Canadian market.

The sixth-generation Colt was more rounded than its predecessor and looked as though engineers had finally accepted the principle of aerodynamics. There was little resemblance in old and new Colt hatchbacks, unlike the jump from generations four to five. A flush pair of headlamps wrapped around into knife-edge corner markers, and a simplified one-bar grille up front had COLT lettering in the middle. Both hatch and sedan were more stylish than before, with blacked-out B- and C-pillars adding a sportier look to the hatchback. At the back, there was a rounded rear end, with better-integrated bumpers than before and a Nineties-approved heckblende. Again the cars wore Colt badging but didn’t say Dodge or Plymouth on them. On higher trims, bumpers were body-colored, as Colts stepped away from their extra basic mid-Eighties image. The Colt/Mirage took cues on their looks from the larger Galant, which meant the new generation looked a bit more upmarket than before.

In its transition to Nineties-type design, the Colt grew slightly larger in all dimensions. The old 93.7-inch wheelbase grew to 93.9 inches, while the overall length of 157.3 inches (hatch and sedan) grew to 158.7 inches for the hatch and a long 170.1 inches for the sedan. Width increased notably here, from 63.8 inches to 65.5 inches; a boon to North American consumers who always wanted additional width in their subcompacts.

Engines were simplified over the old model though not necessarily modernized much. The Seventies 1.5-liter G15B Orion family engine persisted as the entry-level motivator, with SOHC and 82 horsepower. The Colt’s base engine received fuel injection for the first time in 1989. It was supplemented by another carryover, the 1.6-liter 4G61 Sirius family engine, with DOHC technology and an output of 123 horses. That engine was available previously, but only on the slow-selling fifth-gen Colt wagon.

The third and final engine option was a new one: the turbocharged variation of the 1.6, the 4G61T. In North American specification it managed 135 horsepower. The turbocharged engine ended up as an exception rather than the rule, as it was offered only in 1989. It’s estimated that just 1,500 sixth-gen Colts were turbocharged, in a special trim called the GT Turbo. There was also a Mirage Turbo, sales of which are included in that 1,500 figure.

Transmission options were three and included a three-speed automatic or four- or five-speed manual. Unlike the fifth-generation Colt where Dodge dabbled in four-wheel drive here and there, all sixth-gen models were strictly front-drive.

While the sixth-gen Colt sedan was on sale in Canada, the fifth-gen sedan and three-door hatch remained on sale simultaneously, badged as an Eagle Vista (not to be confused with the larger seven-passenger Eagle Vista Wagon.) Those old models persisted in Canada only through the 1992 model year, as economy cars for the cheapskate buyer. The Vista name was retired in Canada after 1992, in favor of the Summit. It was an interesting strategy to sell old holdover models at an exciting new brand while bringing new product to Colt.

There was also an elder statesman at Dodge and Plymouth dealerships in the U.S., in the wagon and Vista. Though the hatchback moved on to sixth-gen guise in 1989, the old fifth-gen Colt wagon remained on sale through 1990 and the Colt Vista through 1991. That was in preparation for the new Colt Wagon (and Eagle Summit), which was based on the Mitsubishi RVR and unrelated to the Colt hatch and old Colt Vista.

Now let’s talk Eagle (the U.S. one). Adding to the market mix-ups, while Canadians enjoyed Colt badging on the sixth-generation hatchback and sedan, the sedan was sold in America as the Eagle Summit. Between 1989 and 1992, the Summit was the smallest of Eagle’s offerings. It was equipped the same way as other Colts and Mirages, as one would expect. In 1989 the Summit was only available as a sedan, in two trims: DL and LX. The 1.5- and 1.6-liter engines were available on Summit, but the turbocharged mill was never offered.

The Summit and Colt sedans were known for their interior space, and meant with four doors the car moved up a size class to compact. It was still priced like a subcompact though, which made the sedan somewhat of a bargain. 1990 saw an expansion of Summit trim, with a base model below DL and a well-equipped ES. The ES got a bit more serious about performance and used the 1.6-liter engine along with alloy wheels and four-wheel discs, as well as a sportier suspension setup.

Prices on the Summit started at $9,190 ($20,280 adj.) for the unmarked base and moved to $9,751 ($21,518 adj.) for the DL. Middling LX examples were $10,703 ($23,619 adj.), while the ES asked $11,552 ($25,493 adj.). Though Eagle trims would typically top out at the ES, in 1990 there was also an LX DOHC trim. With the more powerful engine as well as all sports features from the ES, the LX DOHC asked $12,022 ($26,530 adj.).

In addition to building the Eagle lineup as Chrysler prepared for DSM availability in the near future, the brand differentiation allowed Chrysler to shift the larger and technically compact Summit sedan at a higher price. In 1990 the Colt hatchback lineup started at $7,136 ($15,747 adj.) for the unmarked base model and stepped notably to the GL for $8,194 ($18,082 adj.). Above it was the naturally aspirated GT hatchback at $9,406 ($20,757 adj.). That was the starting point for the larger Colt Vista wagon (still in earlier Eighties guise) in DL trim at $9,601 ($21,187 adj.), while the DL 4WD asked $11,430 ($25,223 adj.). The most expensive Colts for 1990 were the Vista wagons, where a front-drive version asked $12,226 ($26,980 adj.), and the four-wheel-drive trim was $13,452 ($29,686 adj.).

Though the Mirage was produced in numerous locations around the world, all hatchback Colts for North America were produced at Mitsubishi’s plant in Okayama, Japan. Sedans were also produced in Japan through the 1990 model year. Thereafter, sedans were made in Normal, Illinois at the new Chrysler-Mitsubishi joint venture, Diamond-Star Motors.

Colt became a more important asset to Chrysler after 1990, as there was a change to the company’s core lineup. It was (finally) time to wave a tearful goodbye to the Omni and Horizon hatchbacks that had cluttered roads with their slowness since 1978. Chrysler had no homegrown subcompact ready, so leaned in fully on the Colt offerings. Car buyers in the more expensive compact class who wanted a pure domestic would’ve opted for the Dodge Shadow or Plymouth Sundance instead.

1990 was a transitional year for Colt, as aged product existed alongside newer hatchbacks, and Eagle joined the fray as a fourth outlet for Colt, if one included the Mirage at Mitsubishi dealers. 1991 would see some product consolidation as the old wagon and Vista made way for the Colt Wagon and Eagle Summit Wagon. That year was also the start of the big push toward Eagle, as Chrysler began to step away from Colt. More next time.

[Images: Chrysler]

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32 Comments on “Abandoned History: Chrysler and the Colt, Captive Economical Import Time (Part V)...”

  • avatar

    Wow…I had completely forgotten about these cars. I remember my high school being littered with these as new cars from parents who bought their high school student a new car. And the GT was actually kind of a bit of fun. In the greater Philadelphia area, these cars were everywhere. And then just as quickly, they seemed to vanish. I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen one of these, but it was such a clash seeing the new-look Mitsubishi vs the very old school Chrysler/Dodge cars. And it is very jarring to see the difference between the Omni and the Colt in that one ad. One looks towards the future – 1990’s melted look vs. late 1970s squared off chrome look.

    @Corey Lewis – it just dawned on me that it has been quite some time since we’ve had a B/D/B. I can see a Colt, 323 hatchback, Suzuki Swift? I remember the Colt and Swift had a “higher performance” model, but I’m drawing a blank with the 323 Hatch.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I’ve been focusing on these longer pieces!

      The performance 323 was the exclusive GT-X, turbo and 4WD.

      • 0 avatar

        I can imagine that take a bit of time to research and type up! I remember the 4WD 323 hatch. I’ll copy spookiness and maybe the Civic hatch from that generation might be a better fit than the 323.

        • 0 avatar

          The 4th Civic SI hatchback was very popular at the time. B/D/B of that era might be Civic SI, GTI, and?? Escort GT? Shadow ES Turbo?

          • 0 avatar

            There’s some mileage that could come out of Corey’s post here.

            1990-era Japanese wagons: Colt Vista, Nissan Axxess, Civic wagon?

            The Civic Si, yes. Gold standard around that time. GTI was decent but that era…well, quality wasn’t Job One. Escort GTs were everywhere, and then they all seemed to vanish at once. The Escort Rapture?

            I’ve always like the B/D/B posts – you see where everyone stands, likes, and dislikes without lobbing explosives like some other posts on this site!

    • 0 avatar

      I like the B/D/B suggestion but I’d also suggest the Captive Import version of it:
      I summon the 1989 Eagle Summit HB against the Geo Spectrum and Mercury Tracer.

      PS: I think the Suzuki Swift/ Geo Metro were on a smaller class than let’s say a 323 or Colt. The Festiva was a better fit size- and pricewise

  • avatar

    My first new car was one of those Plymouth Colt hatchbacks. Totally base, with a 4 speed stick, vinyl seats, no a/c and crank windows. It did have the optional rear defroster, though. I used to beat the crap out of that car.

  • avatar

    I liked this generation of Colt. Being a hatchback guy who had a 83 Civic, I thought the 4th gen Civic was kind of porky. I had a 91, and I was not crazy about it. I thought this Colt was a more trim package overall, and I liked the more blunt kind of nose.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I can’t believe these three words appear together.
    “1990” “Plymouth” “Horizon”

  • avatar

    Compare and contrast the Plymouth Horizon brochure with the “imports” one… wow.

  • avatar

    A friend had one of the rare Colt GT Turbos in 92-93 or so, though I was a bit more enamored with the Isuzu I-Mark DOHC Handling by Lotus at that time. He also had a New Yorker Fifth Ave at around the same time, but that’s more for the Imperial series than this one.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      True not a lot of difference between the K car variant of the Chrysler 5th Avenue and its twin Imperial. I would have picked the Colt over the Horizon/Omni.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I cross shopped the Vista Wagon (in the late 1980s’) with the Nissan Multi, Toyota ‘tall boy’ wagon, the Honda Civic ‘wagovan’ and for some strange reason the Isuzu Trooper.

    Bought the Honda with ‘realtime AWD’, a 6 speed MT (there was a ‘super low’ gear), and dealer installed A/C. Went to trade it for a Caravan when we had another kid. The sales manager of the dealership purchased it for his daughter who was a skier.

  • avatar

    The Mitsubishi vehicles of that era were pretty well screwed together. My Dodge Colt Vista and the later Mitsubishi Expo SP were very good vehicles. And then they began to fade in the late ’90s to present. What a shame.

    • 0 avatar

      They really had it dialed when it came to build quality, looks, performance and reliability, just like Isuzu which had a very compelling lineup by the late 80s-early 90s.
      They built a great reputation just to waste it a decade later.

      • 0 avatar

        The Colt and its derivatives really kept Chrysler afloat with terrific small cars for years. It’s a shame they got away from that because Mitsubishi really did a lot right in those days.

        Mitsubishi Motors NA was my client for four years in the late Nineties-early Aughts. They were riding a good popularity wave with the Galant, Eclipse and Montero Sport. I loved the marketing communications team I worked with.

        The product line was still pretty decent at that point — the 1999-2003 Galant was actually competitive with Accord and Camry. I had a 2000 Eclipse that ranked up there with the Integra in some tests. It never put a foot wrong in the 4 years and 70K miles I owned it for. The Montero Sport and big Montero were the real thing in SUVs. We responded to enthusiast demand and brought the EVO in.

        Going in, I thought they made great cars and trucks and marched to a different drummer. After 4 years, it was clear they no longer gave a crap about product quality either in Japan or North America. Design became dull and derivative, and shared with Chrysler, which was going thru its own Hell with Daimler-Benz. The non-EVO Lancer was uninspiring, but the worst blow was the 2004-2012 PA Galant, a shared platform with the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring. That was a willfully-mediocre design, and it killed all three from being competitive in the mid-sized segment.

        Worse, the U.S. operation was run by crooks. Pierre Gagnon, who ran the joint from 1997-2003 has never worked for another car company again. Remember the Zero – Zero – Zero to Zero Zero ads? It was the automotive equivalent of subprime lending. Anyone that could fog a mirror could drive off in a Mitsubishi. No payments, nothing down, 0% interest, and oh yeah no payments for over a year. When it came time to finally make payments, the defaults were endless.

        Pierre & Co. covered it up for awhile. Japan was all too willing to help. But the credit crunch of 2002-2003 finally revealed the skullduggery. The “success story” of ridiculously high sales gains was often faked, and many of the buyers defaulted on their loans. Zero-Zero-Zero proved that there’s only one way to get something for nothing: masturbate!

        • 0 avatar

          No kidding. No manufacturer has ever squandered more goodwill and reputation in the US than Mitsubishi. Good cars like the early 2000s Galant, the Eclipse, the Montero and the Mighty Max truck were competitive and offered just enough style and quirkiness to attract buyers. Shady dealers, horrible and predatory finance schemes and later, absolutely pathetic product like the later generation Galant killed the brand. The last Galant was such a horrible and ugly vehicle the only one’s I ever saw on the road were owned by rental companies who must have gotten a screaming deal on the homely and awful driving sedan. Other companies like Isuzu, Saab and Saturn have tried to duplicate Mitsubishi’s tumble from grace but none have squandered so much upside potential in exchange for a few more fleet sales and unqualified buyers. Should be a mandatory business case in a college marketing class on what not to do.

  • avatar

    Editors, get rid of the fucking Toyota ad!

  • avatar

    The Vista. Driven by both of the two dorkiest fathers of kids in my high school class. I can’t even see a picture of one without chuckling.

  • avatar

    Hilarious memories of this generation Colt. As part of my divorce proceedings from the first wife, I did some serious car shopping for the soon to be ex-wife and we came up with a nicely equipped, high line Colt in a blue that was acceptable to her. Did the usual three-hour song and dance, ground out a good deal for her, and we set up the deal for her to pick up the car the following day. All she had to do was write the check and take delivery.

    Except in the interim, she saw the other blue that the Colt offered and decided she liked it a whole lot better. So she calls up the dealer, lets him know she has to have to other blue or no deal. Of course, said dealer doesn’t have that shade on the lot, but he can trade with another dealer. A couple of days later trade is done, and deal is closed.

    Of course my know-it-all ex-wife didn’t notice that the real difference between the two blues is that the color she preferred was on the lower equipped model. Which the dealer was more than happy to sell her at my previously agreed negotiated price. Thus wiping out every bit of the deal I had laboriously negotiated for her.

    Hey, it’s her money. And I hate helping non-car-conversant women to car shop.

  • avatar

    Zero mention of the Plymouth Arrow? The Arrow was introduced in ’76 as a counter to the Corolla hatch and Celica GT. A 3rd Hatch with Mustang styling, in ’78 the Arrow offered the “Fire Arrow” GT model that packaged the big 2.6L Silent Shaft “MCA-Jet” engine, a 5 speed and 4 wheel discs. Heady stuff in ’78. A HS buddy got the Arrow GT 2.6L and was the envy of the B-210 and Corolla drivers, along with me and my 1.6L Rabbit. The Arrow was a stylish and good performing car with absolutely zero rust protection from the factory. It was a pile of iron dust in about 6 years in salty South Florida.

  • avatar

    My wife had a ’91 Colt 200 hatchback. They all had A/C buttons even if it wasn’t installed. She bought it used and she didn’t know it had air conditioning until five years later when she pressed the button to see what would happen… which was a minute of cold air, followed by a loud squeal as the compressor seized.

    Personally, I ended up buying a regular Civic DX instead of a Colt turbo. Don’t know if I would have regretted buying the Colt over time, but it would have been fun.

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