Used car buying guide: Mitsubishi FTO

As Mitsubishi winds down in the UK, it leaves a legacy of interesting cars. Some were successful models, including the Shogun and this, the FTO. For a long time, the UK distributor refused to import the FTO until, faced with a deluge of unofficial examples, it relented, albeit in the car’s final year of production.

That reluctance is hard to fathom. After all, the FTO looked right; it was light, at just 1200kg; decently quick, at least with the most powerful engine, the 197bhp 2.0-litre V6 MIVEC; and was available with a Tiptronic-style automatic gearbox. This smart transmission learns your driving style in manual mode and applies it when in auto. Around 70% of surviving FTOs are fitted with it.

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The compact, front-wheel-drive, 2+2 FTO was launched in 1994 and immediately won Japanese Car of the Year. Three engines were offered: a 123bhp 1.8-litre four-pot (enthusiasts call it the ‘go-slow FTO’), a more muscular 168bhp 2.0 V6 and that 197bhp 2.0-litre V6 MIVEC (it stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Valve Timing and lift Electronic Control system). All came with a five-speed manual gearbox or that clever fourspeed auto ’box, called INVECS-II. From launch until the 1997 facelift, the 1.8-litre models were badged GS, the 2.0 V6s GR and the more powerful 2.0 V6 MIVECs GPX or plain GP. Both GPX and GP models were offered with an optional, viscous limited-slip diff.

FTO stands for Fresh Touring Origination, but titter ye not because enthusiasts in right-hand-drive markets, including the UK, thought it was far from stale and began self-importing the car in droves. Around 90% of the FTOs exported to the UK were V6s. A prized rarity from this period is the GPX Limited, produced to celebrate the FTO’s 1994 Japan COTY success.

With the 1997 facelift came a larger, one-piece grille, while the previously paired fog and indicator lights became four single units. A new, slightly more powerful 177bhp 2.0 V6 model, badged GX, was launched and ran alongside the regular 168bhp GR, while the 2.0 V6 MIVEC GPX was joined by the harder-edged GP Version R, with stiffened anti-roll bars, a mechanical limited-slip diff and a unique rear spoiler. The optional automatic transmission available with the more powerful 2.0 V6 and 2.0 MIVEC engines also gained a fifth speed.

By the time Mitsubishi had started importing the FTO towards the end of its life, around 20,000 grey import versions were already on UK roads, and it’s these cars you’re likely to see advertised today. Check that the one you’re interested in has been SVA tested and had its speedo converted to mph, its headlights adjusted and a rear foglight fitted. Be sure you know precisely what version it is because, for example, many 168bhp V6 cars are passed off as MIVEC models. Finally, get it on a ramp and poke around, since rust is the FTO’s number one killer.

How to get one in your garage

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■ Suspension and brakes: Listen and feel for worn anti-roll bar suspension bushes and for vibration through the brake pedal, indicating warped discs (a common issue). Unless you know a competent fabricator, badly corroded suspension wishbones are terminal because replacements are virtually non-existent.

■ Body and chassis: Owing to the lack of decent rust-proofing, corrosion is the FTO’s biggest killer. It attacks the two chassis rails, the sills and the rear wheel arches. At the front, it goes for the suspension turrets and behind and underneath the relay box, which is mounted on the nearside. Only one of the rear chassis rails is available as a replacement part: it’s 18in long and costs £700.

Also worth knowing

Letters in the VIN plate on the engine bay bulkhead precisely identify the FTO. Reading left to right, the letter ‘H’ indicates it’s a coupé, and ‘N’, ‘R’ or ‘Y’ that it’s either a five-speed manual, four-speed auto or five-speed auto. The next letter identifies the type of FTO, with ‘U’ denoting a GS, ‘H’ a GR, ‘G’ a GPX, ‘X’ a GX or ‘F’ a GP. Finally, ‘E’ means the engine is a 1.8, ‘M’ that it’s a V6 and ‘H’ that it’s a V6 MIVEC.

How much to spend

£500-£999 Project cars and the like, such as a 1995 GR manual with faulty brakes for £950. It’s likely you’ll need to spend at least £1500 on it.

£1000-£1999 Some runners, including a 1996 GPX auto with 150,000 miles for £1500.

£2000-£3999 Tidier cars including recent rebuilds that have also been modified.

£4000-£5000 Should be the best but few are, so be on your guard.

One we found

Mitsubishi FTO 2.0 GPX, 1996 N, 150K miles, £1499: Supplied with a fresh MOT, this car is otherwise typical of the breed. It’s a pre-facelift model described as being in “average” condition, it’s a manual rather than automatic but it’s had only two UK owners and seems unmolested.