What it lacks in crowd-stopping style, this medium-sized Japanese contender makes up for with innovation. Introduced in 1995, it was the first Far East car to sidestep import quotas by being built in the Netherlands. More importantly, the revolutionary GDI models, unveiled in 1997, were Europe's first direct injection powered cars.
It may be designed for and built in Europe, but the Carisma also possesses the typical Japanese virtues of reliability and value for money, which make it a smart second-hand buy.
The first Carismas arrived in the UK, in five-door hatch form only, at the end of 1995. These two initial models consisted of an 89bhp 1.6, offered in GL and GLX trim, and a 114bhp 1.8 in GLX and GLS guise. Within a year this line-up was replicated in saloon form. Then, in May 1997, they were joined by a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel, which was also offered as a hatchback and saloon.
However, the most significant arrival wasn't until later in that year, when the 1.8-litre Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) engine was unveiled, offering what was heralded as diesel economy with petrol performance. At the same time, the entry-level 1.6 was given a power boost to 100bhp and there were minor improvements across the range. These included a passenger airbag, an electronic trip meter and new upholstery plus, for GLS models, automatic air conditioning and side airbags. Post-October 1997 cars can be recognised by their new bodyside mouldings.
The range was facelifted and revised again for 99T-registration in September 1999 with a smartly restyled front end that boasted a chrome grille, clear headlights and indicators plus a new bonnet line. The rear had a softer look with fresh tail lights and a revised boot with integral spoiler.
Inside, there was new trim, a restyled soft-touch dashboard, extra storage space and rear seats that could be locked into place for security. Petrol models gained an information centre that combined the radio display, clock and trip computer with optional satellite navigation. 'Lifestyle' badging introduced the new model designations Classic, Equippe, Elegance and Sport.
Significant changes in the suspension sharpened the handling. The 1.6-litre petrol and 1.9-litre turbo diesel engines remained but the mainstream range was now based on the 1.8 GDI petrol motor. Minor changes includes a lower compression ratio and a drive-by-wire throttle which allowed cruise control to become available. Further minor restyles took place in 2001 in a bid to boost the car's woeful sales showing. The price of the base GDI Equippe was booted through the floor, but the Carisma never threatened the top ten UK charts. 2002 saw prices reduced yet further with a sub £10,000 1.6 Classic SE model introduced, as Mitsubishi wised up to the fact that the Carisma was never going to make a credible Laguna/Mondeo challenger. A common rail DI-D diesel engine was introduced in the Spring.