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Mitsubishi's sleek new Colts have plenty of get-up-and-go

In the first major update in several years, the Mitsubishi-built Dodge and Plymouth Colts have all-new wedge-shaped, aerodynamic styling and reworked suspensions for 1985, as well as an increased ability to get up and go.

Standard engine on all Colt models is a 1.5-liter ''4'' with overhead cam, aluminum heads and pistons, and electronic ignition. A larger 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, electronically fuel-injected engine is available on Colt DL 3-door hatchbacks and the Colt Premier 4-door sedan.

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Helping it achieve its low aerodynamic drag rating (0.39 for the hatchbacks and 0.38 for the sedans) are the flush-mounted windshield and backlite as well as flush-fitted doors that seat into the roof.

Having driven one for a week or so, I find the Colt turbo to be a snappy, responsive little car, content to remain in a line of traffic on the freeway or whip ahead in a passing maneuver without delay.

Room up front is quite all right, I found, but the rear room is scant. The wheelbase is 93.7 inches. The left footrest is a nice touch, which I'd enjoy seeing in more cars. It's often hard to find a comfortable spot on which to rest one's inactive left foot, especially in the smaller-size cars.

Lights and wipers are controlled by large knobs on the left and right side of the instrument cluster, a handy arrangement that saves fumbling around on the dash for the controls when you're driving the car at night.

The brakes are quick and the handling crisp, although it's not like driving a European sports car.

As a negative, the car windows fogged up on a cold morning (apparently the temperature and humidity level were at a critical point), and it was very hard to keep them dry. But I doubt this would be a frequent problem.

Because of the tight fit inside the car, it was hard to operate the left-mounted seat controls when the car was moving over the road. Without meaning to do so, you might pop open the fuel-filler door and unsnap the trunk. But it's a small car, remember.

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Mitsubishi will continue to provide cars to Chrysler Corporation at least till 1995, when the recently renegotiated contract between the two companies expires.

Chrysler has been importing Mitsubishi-built cars for the past 15 years. Now that Chrysler is out of the pit and making money, the Japanese carmaker appears more eager to be on the Chrysler team.

As a car builder, Mitsubishi is small when compared with Toyota and Nissan, the two largest Japanese car producers, yet it has found a viable niche in sales.

Besides the Colt and its own brand-name cars, Mitsubishi also markets the Conquest and Vista 7-passenger wagon under the Chrysler pentastar. It's clear that even some of the smaller-size Japanese auto firms have a good grasp of what the American car buyer is likely to buy.

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