By on March 17, 2022

Last time on our Diamante coverage, we learned about the near-luxury sedan’s somewhat delayed introduction to America. In the two-year translation from a Japanese market car to an American one, Diamante lost the majority of its interesting and advanced tech features and adopted a cheaper suspension design. Today we’ll find out what happened when Mitsubishi pitched the new and de-contented Diamante against the Lexus ES 300.

In the U.S., Diamante was offered in the familiar ES and LS trims for 1997. Base price of the ES trim was $26,370 ($47,024 adj.), and stepped to $30,460 ($54,317 adj.) for the LS. But the Diamante was no longer a money-saving device over its direct competition. Mitsubishi felt the Diamante competed equally with the ES 300, so it priced it the same. In 1997, the ES 300 was available in only one trim, at $30,395 ($54,202 adj.). While we’re on the subject, Mitsubishi chose not to benchmark the Diamante’s size against the ES as it had with the Legend: Diamante was about four inches longer than the ES and had two inches over it on wheelbase length.

Mitsubishi fiddled with the Diamante over its first couple of model years and added an ABS system and keyless entry as standard on both ES and LS trims in 1998. There was no sunroof for 1997, though one appeared as standard equipment on LS in 1998. Was that an oversight for a premium midsize car? Slightly. Slow sales caused Mitsubishi to change strategy for 1999 when it offered the Diamante in a singular no-name trim. Based upon its price of $27,669 ($47,779 adj.), it was simply an unmarked ES. ES and LS trims returned in 2000, accompanied by a slight reworking of trim packages on the LS. The ES was the same base model it had been before but had a nice new standard CD player.

At this point, we should talk a bit about sales. The first Diamante was a slow seller, but Mitsubishi moved 22,112 and 25,267 in 1993 and 1994, respectively. By 1995 the old model was on its way out, and sales fell to just 2,718 in its fleet year of 1996. For 1997, the new Diamante breathed little life into the model’s sales prospects, as 11,402 sold. Unfortunately, that year was one of the high points for the second Diamante, as sales in 1998 were 8,563, 9,921 sold in 1999, and 9,219 in 2000.

It was time for a refresh for the ’02 model year to try and boost sales, and the Diamante received a new front and rear clip. At the front, the formerly cohesive grille was split into two parts by a new nose extension, where the metal of the hood extended in a point down to the bumper.

The rear end was also revised, with smaller and more formal European look (think Volvo S80) tail lamps. Said lamps were not fully removed from the styling of the prior lamps, but rather went without the lens portion that formerly extended onto the trunk. There was a new, larger chrome grab handle for the trunk that extended around new, larger reverse lamps. The license plate was festooned and highlighted on the revised Diamante, in a rear-end visual that was a bit overworked.

2002 also brought with it a new trim, the now-forgotten VR-X. Basically a sports appearance package, the VR-X used a slightly more powerful version of the 3.5-liter V6. An impressive 210 horsepower were available on VR-X, instead of 205 in the other trims.

The VR-X featured a more aggressive wheel design, black door handles, and an optional rear spoiler that was really too big. The VR-X was placed in the middle of the lineup, and asked $27,557 ($44,146 adj.) when the ES was $26,247 ($42,047 adj.) and the LS was $29,007 ($46,469 adj.). Worth noting here, the ask in 2002 for the unpopular Diamante was over 15 percent less than it was at the 1997 introduction.

The VR-X was edited slightly in 2003 and featured more distinguishing trim like a black grille in mesh instead of slats, more aggressive lower body cladding, and fender flares. There were also new sport design seats, but they were covered in cloth while the rear seat was leather (what?).

The update seemed to attract new buyers to Diamante, as sales increased in 2001 to 17,227. They quickly dropped off again in 2002, to 14,352. It was downhill from there, as US customers proved they really weren’t interested in the Diamante. But that meant it was time for another refresh, right?

That’s right, Diamante was changed again in 2004. In what would be its final edit and the final year for the model, the Diamante adopted a front look that was very similar to the Lancer. Now why a company would want their most expensive premium sedan to look just like their cheapest sedan offering is vexing, but that’s what they did. There was a new front bumper, new grille, very different headlamps, and a new hood.

Any sense of dignity the Diamante had in 2003 was erased in 2004, as the new sedan looked like a surprised Pokémon. The grille became upswept and more aggressive and was separated by a Diamond Star logo that was larger than ever. Headlamps were enormous and extended back into the fender in a (new generation) Lexus ES sort of way. The lower valance was grinning as much as the grille and headlamps and featured newly reintegrated fog lamps. Though the front end was a drastic departure from before, the rear was not changed, save for the swap of chrome trim for body-colored bits.

Changes on the interior included a different dashboard and center console area, and revised faux wood trim. There were also new paint colors available, and the too-big spoiler on the VR-X was standard instead of an optional extra. It seemed like Mitsubishi planned to keep the hodgepodge and mixed appearance Diamante around for a while.

However, the incredibly incongruous, cheapo effort didn’t work. Nobody wanted a mid-Nineties car design based in 1987 as a premium car in the mid-2000s. Sales tumbled in 2004 to just 4,379 examples. Mitsubishi canceled the American Diamante that year, though a few examples lingered on at dealers through 2005. One-hundred and sixty more were sold that year.

The 2004 Diamante is certainly a Rare Ride in itself, but an otherwise forgettable attempt to dress up an old car as midsize near-luxury. Nobody missed the second Diamante, and nobody who bought a Lexus ES really considered it as competitive. In Japan, the Diamante continued in its original 1995 format through 2005 with no visual refreshes. An eternity for a car to sell without any updates, Diamante of Japan was then canceled.

Diamante’s cancellation in Japan coincided with the cancellation of the Galant in that market, too. Galant carried on as the largest sedan Mitsubishi sold in North America through its end in 2012, as Mitsubishi’s lineup on this continent dwindled to a handful of models. So long, Diamante.

[Images: Mitsubishi]

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21 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Mitsubishi Diamante Story (Part IV)...”

  • avatar

    I would speculate that aside from the hideous facelift, Diamante sales probably declined while Galant’s rose (?). The Galant that IIRC was a few years each side of 2k was fairly nice-looking, seemed more competitive, and increased in size more to US buyer’s liking. Kind of what happened with Nissan? The Maxima declined in sales as the Altima got bigger, better, and more mainstream. Most buyers are size-queens, they gravitate to whatever is biggest for the cheapest price, interior amenities and tech sophistication be darned. Also, I think it was around 2k when Mitsu really started going downhill generally. I recall some dumb financing deals that flooded the market with Mitsu’s driven by people with bad credit for the next decade. This didn’t help their long-term brand image.

  • avatar

    The floating ad for whatever in the middle of the article sucks.

  • avatar

    “Mitsubishi felt the Diamante competed equally with the ES 300, so it priced it the same.”

    I’d say this was a feat of self-delusion not seen since the days of the Fuhrerbunker.

    • 0 avatar

      Something about the ES has this effect on OEMs. Later, Honda made the bonehead decision to price its ES competitor—the RLX—against not the ES but the 5-Series. The result: essentially no RLX sales.

      • 0 avatar

        Not quite, but your perception of the RLX as an ES contemporary is symbolic of why it’s dead. Its predecessor was intended as a 5-series competitor and the RLX looked to continue that trend, albeit with a more pronounced size differentiation from the TLX that also invoked the intermediate positioning Acura previously leveraged against established competitors. But whereas the RL disrupted the segment somewhat with SH-AWD, the RLX arrived with nothing to justify Acura’s ambition. The Sport Hybrid went on sale a year later, but it was too late; the RLX was firmly snarled in the overriding perception of being yet another bland FWD land yacht. And plenty of those were available for less than what Acura asked for the RLX, though they did drop prices and then later let dealers put up to an additional $12k on the hood.

        • 0 avatar

          Acura may have deluded itself into thinking that the RLX could complete with the RWD Germans, but should have known better. From a product perspective, the FWD RLX could not have been positioned more squarely against the ES 350. The Sport Hybrid was a bit of a tweener—reminiscent in that way of the first rear-drive Cadillac STS—but the idea that it could command 535i prices was just daft.

          • 0 avatar

            They should have aimed more for the LaCrosse customer with RLX, and priced accordingly.

          • 0 avatar

            “. . .but the idea that it could command 535i prices was just daft.”

            Agreed. Like most X-suffix Acura sedans, it was an over-diluted take on past virtues. The point I looked to make was that the delusion of charging $50k+ for one at minimum required that the Sport Hybrid be the only version. Pushing the P-AWS model at launch was arrogant and a regression of the standard set by its own predecessor. And for what? The RL didn’t bomb because a ‘cheaper’ FWD version wasn’t available; it bombed because it didn’t have flagship presence and was functionally usurped halfway through its run by the fourth-generation TL.

            “From a product perspective, the FWD RLX could not have been positioned more squarely against the ES 350.”

            I disagree only because that had been the TL’s job for roughly two decades. Its convergence into the TLX resulted in a smaller car that that made concessions to the ES in rear capacities, but the FWD V6 otherwise remained functionally comparable as well as similarly priced. The RLX as launched was (IMO) surplus to requirements and never should’ve been done.

          • 0 avatar

            Nah, the RLX was more of an ES competitor – it was definitely posh on the inside, and had a lot of luxury equipment. The LaCrosse competed more with the Avalon / 300.

            Bottom line is that no one really had much luck competing with the ES, which speaks to how well Lexus executed it. It was a terrific car, and still is.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            @Corey–Below is a link to the Car Wizard that has a pristine 1990 Mitsubishi Sigma in his shop with about 35k miles that EuroAsian Bob bought. You had mentioned this as the predecessor to the Diamante. This car looks like it just came off the showroom.

      • 0 avatar

        Sales of the RLX make the Diamante’s numbers look like a massive success.

  • avatar

    In the fall of 2002, I was looking for a new car. I specifically wanted a V6 4-door sedan. The usual characters popped up – Camry, Accord, Passat.

    I took a look at the Diamante, just to go against the grain. I remember liking it quite a bit, but it was just out of reach, budget wise.

    I ended up with a Saturn L300 sedan – GM was offering 0% at the time, and free money being what it was …. that car lasted me 7 years and 90,000+ miles.

    Thanks for the memories, however.

    • 0 avatar

      I also was looking for my first new midsize V6 family sedan in 2002 since I just established my FICO score and got very good paying engineering job in the Valley. I did not look for familiar suspects, wanted something different. Researching cars it never came to my attention that Diamante even existed. I test drove Galant though but found it to be too small. And Mitsu dealership looked as if was run by drug cartel – very suspicious and in the worst area of town you don’t want to visit and talk with these people again.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    One thing that continually surprises me are the comments from our American posters regarding dealerships. It seems that the dealership requirements/experiences in the USA are much different than that in at least the GTA area of Canada. Here there is very little to differentiate between brands. The Kia dealership in our area is comparable to the Mercedes dealership in terms of building, facilities, location, etc. The Nissan dealership may be even ‘nicer’. Many dealerships are located in ‘auto malls’ with multiple brands all housed in nearly identical buildings. Perhaps this reflects that most dealerships are now owned by conglomerates? Or that zoning requirements in teh USA may be far less ‘stringent’? The primary exception regarding dealership experience was/is GM. They closed down the biggest and most modern dealership in our area. One with a very good reputation in the community. They chose to keep open a much smaller, far less modern dealership that has changed ownership multiple times and which now ‘houses’ our local Cadillac showroom/sales in a tent. They also kept open a small ‘mom and pop’ style dealership about 15 minutes away which ended up closing a couple of years ago. More examples of wonderful GM executive decisions.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @Arthur–We also have auto malls but they are not the majority of the dealership. The big auto mall near me is Kings Auto Mall on the East side of Cincinnati where Kings Island is. I believe Corey lives in metropolitan Cincinnati. Its not so much that the facilities of most dealerships are bad but that most repair facilities at dealerships lack experienced mechanics and staff and the sleazy sales tactics of many dealerships. We also have smaller dealerships but many of those are disappearing because of the large incorporated mega dealerships that own many brands and have dealerships spread out.

  • avatar

    Nobody’s mentioned the 0-0-0 debacle of the early 2000s. No money down, 0% interest and no payments for the first 12 months not only about did in the company in America, but pretty much ever since Mitsubishi has been tainted with the stench of being the car of the last-resort buyer.

    No way you’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Lexus under those circumstances, even if the product was up to the job (and in this case, it absolutely was not)

  • avatar

    I recall that 2004 Diamante refresh like yesterday. Back in those days one of my uncles used to business travel on a bi-monthly basis from TX to CA and would pick a large sedan on the rental counter every time.
    He would spare some of that time to visit us. One of those days he showed up in one of these. It was silver, bland and the bloated Lancer front end didn’t do it any favors. Neither did the mixup of late 90s materials including a previous gen Galant steering wheel. It was roomy, though.

    Next month he showed up on an early 2005 Chrysler 300. Even if it’s long been considered a car with a cheap interior, it was Day and night difference both in and specially outside

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, that was a sad phoned-in end for a formerly nice vehicle. The early 2000s seemed to have a few of those. Pontiac Grand Prix final generation, for example.

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