When you think of JDM luxury/VIP cars, what comes to mind?
The Toyota Celsior (the Japanese market Lexus LS400/430) might come to mind. Perhaps something like a Nissan Cima, or even the Nissan President.
But you probably won’t think of anything from Mitsubishi’s back catalogue.
However, Mitsubishi did make – at various stages – luxury sedans for the Japanese domestic market. You can learn more in my recent article on Mitsubishi as a luxury brand, which was the genesis of today’s article as I came across the Proudia while researching for the previous article.
In this edition of Forgotten Heroes, we are going to look at the Mitsubishi Proudia, which was a short-lived executive luxury sedan with a limousine variant. I love JDM luxury cars more than just about any other automotive “niche”, so I needed to dive deeper into this all-but-forgotten luxury option.
I’ll explain what the Proudia is, how it came to be, the specifications that were on offer to the discerning luxury sedan buyer in Japan in the late 1990s, and go into more detail about some of the interesting aspects of this car.
Table of Contents
What Is The Mitsubishi Proudia?
Long story short, it was Mitsubishi’s flagship luxury sedan in the late 1990s/very early 2000s (more on that in a moment) replacing the ‘Debonair’ which had been in production since the 1960s across three distinct generations.
The name Proudia was a merge of “Proud” and then “Diamond” – in reference to the three diamonds on Mitsubishi’s logo.
The first generation Proudia launched in 1999, although customers could only take delivery from February 1st 2000, according to Mitsubishi’s official press release, which you can read here.
Prospective buyers could purchase their Proudia through special ‘Galant’ dealerships in Japan – this was a proper JDM car, intended only for Japanese roads when sold new.
Mitsubishi’s stated development objective was to buid “Japan’s premier luxury 4-door sedan, offering peerless levels of comfort and relaxation for all occupants” – a big ask, considering the likes of the Toyota Celsior that had been on the market for some time.
Looking at photos and specifications, Mitsubishi clearly “ticked all the boxes” that you’d expect from a full-size JDM luxury sedan, and there are some interesting features that were ahead of the competition for its time – I’ll cover those later in this article.
There were three trim levels available, and the Proudia was also available in a longer wheelbase/higher roofline variant, called the Dignity, which was effectively Mitsubishi’s limousine car (the Proudia – much like a Toyota Celsior/Lexus LS400 of the time – was not really a true limousine but more a full-sized luxury car that a well-heeled individual might own, whereas the Dignity was intended more as a chauffeured vehicle).
According to Mitsubishi, the Dignity variant was so named to “describe the peerless grandeur and majestic stateliness of the model”, and the company proudly boasted that this was the premier domestically produced limousine on the market. I’ll go into more details shortly on the differences between the Proudia and Dignity.
Pricing at time of launch was as follows (in the format of Japanese yen in 1999, and then 2023 USD equivalent, according to ChatGPT’s calculations)
- A trim – 4.6 million JPY (39,899 USD)
- B trim – 5.1 million JPY ($44,279 USD)
- C trim – 6.4 million JPY ($55,618 USD)
- Dignity – 9.9 million JPY ($86,173 USD)
No Dignity In The Proudia’s Demise
Sales of the Proudia and Dignity were discontinued in 2001, owing to sluggish sales performance. There’s no charitable way to put it – this exercise in luxury motoring was a disaster for Mitsubishi.
Mitsubishi set an official target of selling 300 units per month across both the Proudia and Dignity variants. However, when production ceased in 2001, less than 1300 units had been sold. In a March 2021 press release, the company announced that both models would be discontinued in May 2021 (source)
Mitsubishi struggled to gain traction in a fairly competitive market. Consider that other manufacturers such as Toyota and Nissan had incumbent luxury sedan models with superior track records – it was always going to be an audacious goal to unseat these popular rivals.
Furthermore, Mitsubishi was mired in a crisis in the early 2000s owing to historic issues with covering up quality control defects. In 2000, it was revealed that the company had covered up various manufacturing defects for at least 30 years. A police raid uncovered that Mitsubishi had been repairing defects but marking the paperwork to indicate that the complaint should be hidden away and not passed on to the government.
Thousands upon thousands of complaint/repair documents marked “H” (the first letter for the Japanese words for hidden and hold – as in ‘hold from the government’) were uncovered in lockers and filing cabinets, and this revelation resulted in Mitsubishi being forced to recall hundreds of thousands of vehicles for repair in Japan, North America and Europe. This scandal resulted in further declining sales for Mitsubishi, as well as a substantial decline in its share price
Compounding this crisis was the enormous debt that the company was carrying following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which negatively impacted vehicle sales. By the late 1990s, Mitsubishi had over 1.7 trillion yen of debt – roughly $25.5 billion USD in 2023 figures.
DaimlerChrysler acquired a 34% controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors in 1999, and owing to the impacts of the quality control scandal and declining share price, was able to renegotiate a lower price for its stock purchase which stripped cash from Mitsubishi. Various restructurings and product range streamlining efforts occurred, with the Proudia being one of the victims.
Proudia vs Dignity – What’s The Difference?
The Proudia was a full sized luxury sedan, but you could also buy a stretched out (and slightly taller) version that was sold as the Dignity, which was meant to be a limousine/chauffeured car.
To be honest, the Proudia is massive anyway so unless you are a bona fide CEO in need of a chauffeured JDM limousine, the Dignity is just overkill. I’d be very happy to have a white-gloved driver whisk me around in the back of the Proudia any day of the week.
I find it amusing that the official press release – or at least the English translation thereof – which is still archived on Mitsubishi’s website, refers to the fact that the Proudia was intended for “personal use”; i.e. this was for the successful businessman who wanted to drive himself and his family around in unparalleled comfort.
The Dignity also gained some additional luxury features, such as Mitsubishi’s “Super Executive Seat System” that allowed for the front passenger backrest to fold backwards creating effectively a lie flat, first-class style seat. I couldn’t actually find an image of this in action in the Dignity, but this brochure shot from the equivalent Hyundai Equus limousine (more on that later) shows the concept:
I’m not sure if this feature was available as an option on the regular Proudia – if you have an answer, feel free to leave a comment.
The Dignity also included a magazine rack, four zone climate control and fold away tables, among other added touches for those fortunate enough to ride in the plush back seat.
2nd Generation Proudia
I want to give a quick mention to the second generation Proudia.
The badge was resurrected by Mitsubishi in 2012, and it lasted until 2016.
However, unlike the first generation car (which borrowed design cues from Toyota/Lexus but was ultimately its “own beast) the second generation Proudia was simply a rebadged Nissan Fuga – the JDM version of the Infiniti M/Q70 of the time.
As with the first generation Proudia, a long-wheelbase version called the Dignity was also available, which was itself just a rebadged Nissan Cima (the larger Nissan sedan of the time).
I won’t go into too much more detail about the second generation car, as it doesn’t interest me much and ultimately is a simple badge swap from a Nissan/Infiniti that is already fairly well-known.
Mitsubishi Proudia Specifications
At a basic level, the Proudia was available in three specification levels – A, B, and C.
C was the absolute top spec grade, and offered buyers a 4.5L V8 engine and all the luxury bells and whistles. Buyers of A and B grade Proudias would have to make do with a mere 3.5L V6. The V6 engine was the same as found in the Mitsubishi Diamante/Magna/Verada, as well as the Pajero 4×4. Smoothness was the objective with both engine choices, in-keeping with the aim of providing vehicle occupants with a whisper-quiet, refined experience.
All cars came with a five-speed INVECS-II automatic transmission, which offered sport mode and manual shifting in case you were running late to a very important board meeting and needed to get a move on, or you had to escape the tax man in a hurry.
In the best of JDM VIP luxury, seats were upholstered in moquette fabric – no uncouth leather here (read more in my article on why JDM luxury cars typically have cloth/woven seats as opposed to leather). Buyers could opt for either a beige or gray two tone interior.
Across all trim levels, Mitsubishi was eager to point out the spaciousness and grandeur of the Proudia, with luxury appointments and space that rivalled any of the domestic or imported competition.
The car was fitted with all sorts of sophisticated safety tech for the time. In particular, the C class was available with a ‘Driver Support System’ that used both cameras and lidar to alert the driver to vehicles approaching from rear blind spots, lane departure, and even distance control when cruise control was being used. Although all of this kind of tech is standard to even basic cars these days, back in 1999 this was seriously high tech stuff. C trim buyers got rear passenger airbags as standard, whereas A and B trim buyers had to pay for this option.
Other interesting features include:
- Auto soft-closing doors on the C trim Proudia as standard (optional on A and B trim)
- Standard dual zone climate control, with optional four zone
- A 7 inch display showing navigation data and other trip information, as well as the ubiquitous JDM TV option
Handily, Mitsubishi still provide this original specification table from the car’s release. You can see for the ‘Trim Level’ row that the Proudia specifications here are for the C level, whereas only one Dignity trim level was available.
What Makes The Proudia Special?
Although the Proudia was ultimately a sales flop, there are a few reasons why it deserves remembering as a quirky piece of JDM luxury history.
Front Wheel Drive
Whereas much of the domestic competition (and foreign options such as BMW’s 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class) were rear wheel drive or sometimes four wheel drive, the Proudia was front wheel drive.
This meant that unlike a Toyota Celsior/Lexus LS400, the Proudia offered the comfort and space-conscious buyer a totally flat rear floor with additional room to stretch out, because of an unobtrusive centre tunnel.
Driving dynamics probably suffered somewhat, but realistically this car was never intended to hustle along the road – the average buyer would be far too dignified for that kind of nonsense, and your private jet can always wait for you at the airport.
You’d also have to think that the suspension and front tires would take extra punishment owing to the weight and power of the car, but once again that probably wasn’t too much of an issue when you consider the target demographic for such a vehicle.
Mitsubishi’s Only Production V8 Engine
If you want to get technical, Mitsubishi also fitted a 4.7L V8 to the Raider utility vehicle that was sold in the United States in the mid 2000s, but ultimately this powerplant was just an existing ‘PowerTech’ V8.
The Proudia received Mitsubishi’s bespoke 8A80 DOHC V8, with GDI (direct injection) technology. This engine produced a claimed 276hp – although as with most powerful Japanese engines of the time, the “gentleman’s agreement” limit was almost certainly exceeded. You can learn more in my article about why Japanese cars were limited to 276hp for many years.
I don’t have any evidence to support this claim, but I imagine that finding parts for the 8A80 could be a challenge if you do happen to come across a V8-powered Proudia/Dignity.
Maintenance concerns aside, the Proudia deserves preservation just for its unique engine alone. It’s a shame that Mitsubishi’s financial woes of the late 1990s and early 2000s meant this engine was never fitted to any other cars – it would have made for a great addition to the Pajero lineup, for example, or as part of the Diamante range.
It Lived On As A More Popular Hyundai
As already mentioned, the first generation Proudia was a total flop in the sales department.
However, what is worth noting is that although the Mitsubishi only sold from 1999-2001, it was also sold from 1999-2008 as a Hyundai Equus in South Korea. In fact, the car was co-developed with Hyundai’s input for the purpose of providing them with a high-end luxury sedan car that could compete domestically with the Ssangyong Chairman.
The Equus (which had some changes, but was fundamentally the same car) was a lot more popular with Korean buyers than the Proudia was with Japanese buyers.
Sufficiently popular, in fact, that even Doug De Muro managed to find time to cover its “quirks and features”. This particular Equus features a 3.0L V6 Sigma engine, which didn’t have a Mitsubishi Proudia/Dignity equivalent – the 3.5L V6 was the base model in Japan.
Some first generation Equus’ were fitted with Mitsubishi’s 4.5L V8, but that engine requires premium grade fuel that wasn’t so easily available in Korea at the time – cashed-up Korean V8 Equus owners found their new luxury sedans facing performance issues due to the local fuel.
What jumped out to me watching this video and reading the comments was one commenter who said that growing up in South Korea, owning a first-gen Equus was basically a sign you had “made it” from a wealth perspective.
One fact that interests me is that the LWB Equus was just called an ‘Equus’ whereas the LWB Proudia was sold as the Dignity limousine.
The second generation Equus is better recognised outside of Korea, being available from new in export markets such as the United States and also sold in some markets as the Hyundai Centennial.
It’s Something A Bit Different
Ok, I’m the first to admit that the styling is a bit of a rip-off of the original Lexus LS400/Toyota Celsior.
And with your logical hat on, you would surely buy the LS/Celsior if on the market for a Japanese luxury car (or you might consider the likes of a Honda Legend or Nissan Cima).
However, I’m personally a sucker for the weird and wonderful.
Part of the reason I enjoy writing for this website is researching cars that are at risk of disappearing like the sands of time.
While the Proudia offers no real advantage over the JDM luxury category leaders (in fact it’s probably a worse proposition, considering the inherent problems of having all the power going through the front wheels of a heavy luxury car, and its staggering rarity) it’s just something a bit more special and interesting.
I’m a complete tragic, but to me the thought of being able to proudly proclaim you have one of Mitsubishi’s only real luxury cars is appealing.
You’re not buying one of these for the driving dynamics, you’re buying it because it’s truly interesting and you’ll probably be the only person on the road at any given time driving one.
I strongly encourage you to read the official press release that I’ve variously linked in this article – it really is interesting to see how proud Mitsubishi were of this car, and how much they thought it was the market leader in terms of comfort and sophistication.
Should you consider buying a Mitsubishi Proudia (or – if you’re rich enough to have someone else drive you around – the even-larger Dignity)?
Honestly, probably not. I know I mentioned above that the quirkiness and uniqueness of the Proudia is appealing, but you’d really be nuts to buy one.
Because firstly, you’re unlikely to ever find one – at least not a first-generation Proudia. With fewer than 1500 examples ever sold, and production ending 22 years ago, this obscure old JDM VIP car is rarer than most supercars. The Proudia is as JDM as it gets, and with so few sold, even fewer would have found their way to export markets as used vehicles.
The more common second generation Proudia isn’t really worthy of consideration in my view, as it is purely a badge engineered Nissan Fuga/Cima and so you’re not getting much special here (unless you want a Nissan Fuga/Cima but prefer the Mitsubishi brand name).
If you do find a first generation Proudia for sale, your next challenge is going to be keeping it on the road in an economical fashion.
I encountered this with my old Mazda Sentia, which was a considerably more common JDM VIP car. What ultimately killed my second generation Sentia was having the timing belt changed; the mechanic I used to use reckoned they could do the job, but got the timing wrong when putting it all back together again. When I took the car to Mazda for a post-mortem, their service department said that even they had little experience (but would have been able to “phone home” to Japan for advice) owing to the fact the car was a JDM vehicle with a model-specific engine.
You could find all manner of parts, gadgets and gizmos on your Proudia that might be practically unfixable if something goes wrong, simply because of the rarity of the car and the fact that it didn’t share a huge number of parts with other models.
I’d love the opportunity to take one for a spin, or rather be driven around and pretend I am a successful late 90s/early 2000s Japanese businessman who has ascended the peak of the corporate mountain. However, I’m not so sure whether I would want to own one, when you consider that there are cars like the Celsior/LS400 available that have superior parts availability, and a greater wealth of knowledge on how to fix problems.
What do you think about the Mitsubishi Proudia? I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Would you buy one if the opportunity arose? Feel free to leave a comment below.