Mitsubishi is a Japanese car brand that has been in the doldrums for some time.
Once home to some of Japan’s finest performance vehicles, such as the legendary Evo, 3000GT/GTO and the FTO coupe, Mitsubishi seems to have lost its star. The diamonds of the “tri diamond” logo don’t shine quite so bright.
For a while, Mitsubishi’s primary selling point was that they offered the Mirage as one of the cheapest new cars you could buy.
In the last few years, at least here in New Zealand, the brand has undergone somewhat of a renaissance owing to its development of fuel efficient PHEV vehicles such as the Outlander and the Eclipse Cross. Every day I see more and more new shape Outlander PHEVs on the road, with buyers enjoying incredible economy from what is effectively a large, AWD family-sized SUV that is fairly capable when the going gets tough.
The new Outlander PHEV, at least in higher spec trims, is also quite a luxurious car. You get nice leather seats, plenty of gadgets and a finish that wouldn’t look out of place in the carpark of a stock broker’s convention.
But does Mitsubishi have a specific luxury brand (as Toyota does with Lexus, or Honda with Infiniti)?
In this short edition of Car Facts I’m going to answer the question of whether Mitsubishi has a luxury off-shot brand, and also explore some of the history of Mitsubishi’s more up-market attempts.
Hopefully you find it interesting! If you’ve got any questions, queries, or corrections, then feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article – I look forward to hearing you.
Table of Contents
What Is Mitsubishi’s Luxury Brand?
Trick question – Mitsubishi does not have a specific luxury off-shoot brand.
Even ChatGPT says so … and what can’t speak, can’t lie, right?
Has Mitsubishi Ever Had One?
No, Mitsubishi has never “done a Toyota” and made a specific luxury brand like Lexus (or Infiniti for Nissan).
Why, you might ask?
I can’t find any concrete, specific answer from Mitsubishi themselves. However, the company has typically had a reputation for building “middle of the road” vehicles that balance affordability, practicality and reliability.
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Mitsubishi even used very aggressive pricing and financing offers in some markets, in order to push sales – hardly the work of luxury brands.
Has Mitsubishi Ever Had Any Luxury Cars?
Just because Mitsubishi has never operated a specific luxury brand, doesn’t mean they have never made any forays into the world of luxury motoring.
Mitsubishi has actually built some specific luxury vehicles in the past, but all of these have been sold under the Mitsubishi brand name, and to be honest none have ever been runaway successes.
Here are a few of the luxury hits from Mitsubishi’s back catalog:
The Mitsubishi Debonair is a full-size luxury sedan that was produced across various generations from the mid 1960s until 1999, being replaced by the Proudia (which I cover in more detail below)
The Debonair was originally designed to compete with other luxury sedans from Japanese automakers such as the Toyota Crown and the Nissan Gloria, and while it was fairly well-received none of the generations sold as well as the competition.
The first generation Debonair was introduced in 1964, and was known for its elegant styling and advanced features (for the time), which included air conditioning, power steering, and power windows. The first generation Debonair looks very “American” as far as Japanese luxury cars go, owing its styling coming from American designers who had variously worked for General Motors and the Ford company.
Over the years, the Debonair underwent several updates and redesigns, with the most significant update occurring in 1992 when the car received a new exterior design and a more luxurious interior. This was also to help distinguish it from the Diamante, which had been released in 1990 as a bit of a surprise sales hit as a more mainstream executive sedan car.
Mitsubishi also dialled up the amount of tech on offer for the third generation Debonair, incorporating cutting-edge technologies such as four wheel steering, self-closing doors, GPS guidance and even lidar-based collision warning to alert drivers to vehicles ahead (this system couldn’t activate brakes or perform emergency manoeuvres, but was merely to warn the driver) This generation of the Debonair was also re-badged by Hyundai as the Grandeur for some export markets.
The Debonair was powered by a variety of engines over the years, including inline-four, inline-six, and V6 engines, before being replaced at the turn of the new century by the Proudia.
The name “Proudia” was a combination of the words “Proud” and “Diamond”, which were meant to convey the car’s high-end positioning and the company’s diamond-shaped logo.
The Proudia was initially introduced as a flagship sedan for Mitsubishi’s domestic market in Japan (learn more here in our JDM meaning guide) and it was marketed as a direct competitor to other luxury sedans from Japanese automakers such as the Toyota Celsior and Nissan Cima, as well as being the successor to the Debonair model.
The first generation Proudia launched in 1999, and was actually co-manufactured in conjunction with Hyundai, who marketed the vehicle as the “Equus” from 1999-2009.
The discerning Japanese businessman could have optioned his Proudia in A/B/C specification levels, with C being the highest option and giving you a 4.5L V8 as opposed to a 3.5L V6 in the “salaryman” A and B trim levels. All sorts of cutting-edge tech was included (most of which would be found on even basic cars these days, but which was a big deal for the time) such as collision mitigation warnings and lane departure warnings.
The first gen Proudia itself as actually discontinued in 2001 due to sluggish sales, with only around 1250 examples being sold across three manufacturing years. Around this time, Mitsubishi also found itself in dire financial straits – a topic which I’m going to cover in a future article.
Strangely enough, Hyundai’s Equus version sold better, and that stayed in production until 2008 – possibly owing to fewer competing luxury sedans being available from other South Korean brands.
The Proudia badge returned in 2012 for the Japanese domestic market, but this time it was simply a rebadged version of the Nissan Fuga (American readers will recognise this as the Infiniti M70 sedan):
The Mitsubishi Dignity was introduced in 1999 – at the same time as the first generation Proudia – and was effectively a stretched out version of the Proudia (once again, South Korean buyers could opt for the Hyundai Equus equivalent; the regular wheelbase Equus was effectively a Proudia, while the longer limousine wheelbase Equus was the Dignity).
The Dignity was intended to compete with the likes of the Nissan President and Toyota Century, and as such the wheelbase was extended and roofline raised, as well as some additional luxury features added.
The first generation Dignity stopped production in 2001 alongside the Proudia upon which it was based.
As with the Proudia, the Dignity badge was brought back in 2012 as a rebadged version of the Nissan Cima (itself a long wheelbase version of the Fuga of that era). You could only opt for a 3.5L V6 hybrid in this generation of the Proudia, and it was – for all intents and purposes – the same as equivalent Cima.
The Mitsubishi Verada was a mid-size sedan that was produced by the Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors from 1991 to 2005. The Verada was primarily designed for the Australian market, but it was also sold in other countries under different names, including the Mitsubishi Diamante and the Mitsubishi Sigma. As I covered in my article on the Mitsubishi Magna/Diamante Ralliart, the ‘Diamante’ (and all its various regional variants) has gone to be one of the most confusing cars in Japanese automotive history, as different markets wound up with the same car under different names for seemingly no good reason.
The Verada was based on the same platform as the Australian-built Mitsubishi Magna and was offered with a choice of two engines – a 3.0-liter V6 engine or a 3.5-liter V6 engine. The Verada was known for its smooth and comfortable ride, and it was well-regarded for its spacious and well-appointed interior. Long story short, it was the upmarket, more luxurious Magna for the luxury-conscious Aussie battler.
Over the years, the Verada underwent several updates and redesigns, and was ultimately replaced by the Mitsubishi 380 and its various trim levels.
It was an important car for the Australian automotive industry, with the Magna/Verada being one of the first Australian-built vehicles to be exported overseas in substantial numbers.
Overall, the Mitsubishi Verada was a well-regarded mid-size sedan that offered a comfortable ride, advanced features, and a spacious interior, making it a popular choice for families and commuters in Australia and other markets where it was sold (typically under different names).
It was never as luxurious as the likes of the Proudia or Debonair, but was still considered an upmarket choice of sedan car.
Mitsubishi’s Luxury Future
With respect to newer Mitsubishi cars, such as the current-shape Outlander, the higher spec models are rather luxurious as well.
While they might not be up to the standard of say Lexus or the German brands, there is a definite move to offer premium specification models within a given range, in order to appeal to people looking to buy a practical PHEV with luxury touches.
It’s very unlikely that the company ever launches a specific sub-brand – the cost is enormous, and that ship has already sailed with other manufacturers having beaten Mitsubishi to the punch.
Instead, the company will probably continue on its current course of building practical, economical (thanks to electrification) and reliable family-sized vehicles.
Not great if you want to see the likes of the fire-breathing Evo brought back, or a genuine move into higher-end luxury, but ultimately sales performance dictates business strategy.