PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 12:00am

Universal Cars' launch of the 1.3-litre, 90-brake-horsepower Mitsubishi Colt (below, $105,800) had better succeed at Ocean Terminal this weekend. Hot on the heels of Ford's new Fiesta, DaimlerChrysler's smart car and just weeks after Nissan's local launch of the March and Mazda2 and the economic Hyundai Atos, the Colt seems another runabout for a Hong Kong market swarming with Honda Jazzes with 'His' and 'Hers' extras and a host of cut-priced 2002-vintage Toyota Echo's, Peugeot 206s and Renault Meganes.

The compact car market is growing, says Universal Cars (2520 0636), pointing to the rise in share of small hatchbacks from 2.5 per cent of all Hong Kong car sales in 1999 to 12 per cent for the first 11 months of last year. Of the 22,785 cars that rolled out of Hong Kong showrooms from January-November last year, 1,449 were Jazzes, 1,064 were Toyota Echos and 400 were Peugeot 206 XTs. But the Colt is special, claims the distributor, adding that it is chic (aimed at happy, house-painting yuppies who wear baseball hats around the wrong way); sporty (but not Alain Prost, with a Mercedes-Benz A-Class-type windscreen and Jazz-like beady eyes on 14 wheels) and high quality (with impressive keyless technology, folding door mirrors, automatic headlamp control and a security alarm).

But despite the dealer's claims that the Colt smacks its Japanese rivals on price, does it match the Jazz - Miss Hong Kong's and the South China Morning Post's compact car of the year? The Foot Down jury is still out. We have yet to test the Colt's nippy looking Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control engine, anti-intrusion brake pedals and an electronically integrated transmission modified for the runabout. But the 'warm' (beige trim with wood) and 'cool' (blue-grey with metal trim) interior options seemed comfortable at a showroom preview in Wan Chai last weekend. There's plenty of leg room but the seats seem high for the tall. The boot seems enough for trips to Wellcome, the dashboard is roomy and safe, there are a host of cubbyholes, and we like the storage under the front passenger seat.

The 3.87-metre runabout's visibility is fine, but Universal Cars' paint shop can expect business for the Colt's scuffable, bumperless front and rear. The Colt also offers a 'sporty' version ($109,800) with a full aero kit, leather steering wheel, an upgrade to 15-inch wheels and dark metal headlamps.

Stear clear, unless you wish to be as much a laughing stock at the lights as, say, a Robin Reliant three-wheeler with an airdam and spoiler. We've sought a road test and invite your initial comments on the Colt on




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