The drama and overstyling of the ’80s made its way to everything from big hair to zipper-festooned red leather jackets — and even to cars. Some executed it better than others. Remember the eggplant-inspired Renault Fuego? That was an abomination, plain and simple. The Mitsubishi Starion (and sister car, the Dodge Conquest), however, was one of the best. It was angular everywhere but the wheels, but it did it right, and it was properly fast, too. Seemingly styled by a guy with a ruler and dreams of mobile origami, the Starion gave Mitsubishi the halo car it needed to make a statement here in America. Though it was only produced for seven years, it marks one of the best designs of the ’80s. Despite the greatness of the Lancer Evo, Mitsubishi has lost its way in the rest of its lineup — and a new, 21st-century version of the Starion could be just the adrenaline injection the brand needs right now.
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From tip to tail the Starion was all about straight lines, dramatic from its chiseled bumper to its angled flip-up headlights to its bent greenhouse and flat spoiler. Even the steering wheel hub and the instrument cluster housing had nothing but straight lines. And all the angularity seemed to escape the realm of ’80s awful, despite the fact that the car will never be classic in the eyes of collectors.
It housed a 2.6-liter, fuel-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 150 horsepower and upwards of 200 hp, depending on the turbocharger type, the presence of an intercooler and the number of valves. The Starion was actually the first Japanese car that used both fuel injection and forced induction, leading the way for future Mitsubishi turbos like the Eclipse and the Lancer Evo.
Seemingly styled by a guy with a ruler and dreams of mobile origami, the Starion gave Mitsubishi the halo car it needed.
Performance and handling were impressive for its time. In base form, the Starion weighed in at a little more than 2,800 pounds, which made it agile and relatively quick. Though the car grew heavier as the years progressed (the ESI-R got more body cladding, which made it chunkier but better looking), it was still a pleasure to drive, with enough juice to get to sixty in about 8 seconds. Though that doesn’t seem particularly fast by today’s standards, it bested the Mazda RX-7 by nearly a full second. The Starion even boasted four-wheel independent suspension and an available limited-slip differential, making it excellent for racing, as proved by several SCCA championships.
Sales never hit big numbers, but that wasn’t Mitsubishi’s goal for the small sports car. The Starion instead gave Mitsubishi a presence in America that extended far beyond its economical offering and made a style and performance statement that will at the very least be remembered by true car lovers. Rather than trying to recreate another tepid version of their rounded Eclipse, a new Starion could very well become Mitsubishi’s new rear-wheel-drive darling and usher in a fresh chapter for the “three diamonds” brand.