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Beyond Power or Rarity: Embracing the Joy of Everyday Australian Cars

On any given day I’ll find myself on Marketplace at least once, looking at all the juicy old 1990’s and early 2000’s Australian-built Fords and Holdens for sale nearby. There’s still here’s still a ton out there going fairly cheaply – things like VP – VS Commodores and EB – AU Falcons in 6-cylinder low to mid trim levels.. just good honest old cars with plenty of life left in them. The temptation to drop $2,000 on a fixer upper or up to $10,000 on something really tidy is difficult to resist!

But what about the locally built Toyota’s and Mitsubishi’s? Camry, Aurion, Magna and 380? For the longest time I’ve not really known, or cared much about them.

I’ve always heard the Toyota Aurion is a very quick car for the money, putting the fright up Holden and Ford 6’s of the day… but it’s a Toyota. I’m sure they’re reliable, well built cars… but are they actually worth getting excited about?

A few years ago I probably would have said the same about the Mitsubishi Magna – even the $5,500 Magna Ralliart manual I picked up last year. For a car which is so compromised and flawed on paper – a large, front-wheel drive sedan with about the same power as the entry level Falcon or Commodore of the era – it is easy to dismiss.

But you know what? On the first drive I immediately became excited about it, and today I still find it to be one of the the most enjoyable cars I’ve ever owned. Mainly because it makes a good noise, feels light, handles well, and puts power down beautifully thanks to the limited-slip front diff. It’s just tons of fun to drive on the street within the confines of the law.

The Magna Ralliart is comparatively rare, but I could say with relatively high confidence that you’d get 95% of that same fun from the vastly more common Magna VRX or AWD Sports models. Not many people are talking about, let alone chasing these cars currently.

So that got me thinking about what other left-of-field Australian cars I could get – cars which I would have previously dismissed. You’ve got the Toyota Aurion with its juicy 200kW V6, or the Mitsubishi 380 which is supposedly better than a Magna, even if it did put Mitsubishi Australia out of business just a few years later.

I don’t think people could get past the 380’s bland looks, or the fact that the sportier GT was actually slower than the base model. They all had the same engine with the same power output, so the additional weight didn’t help.

But what about the sportier 241kW Aurion TRD, or the infinitely rarer 230kW Mitsubishi TMR 380? Both are supercharged, front-wheel drive beasts offering more exciting levels of power with good looks to match.

The Aurion TRD can be had for around $15,000 these days, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s still a FWD car putting over 240kW through an open front diff – which must be an absolute nightmare in any direction except straight. Even more damning is the fact that Toyota fitted it with a traction control system that can’t be turned off, and I can’t imagine anything more frustrating than that.

Still, 0-100km/h in 6-seconds is pretty stout performance… but is it actually fun?

On the other hand, the TMR 380 is rare as hens teeth (just 20 were made) and seem to command $40k+ whenever one comes up for sale. Compared to the Aurion, it has more torque on offer, and most importantly a proper limited-slip front differential – but the only performance stats I could find painted an interesting picture. One publication repeatedly tested the TMR 380 and could only manage 7.6-seconds to 100km/h, and a 15.4-second quarter mile.

To put that into perspective, a drag racing novice (me) matched those times in a Magna Ralliart at Willowbank raceway last year. I’m sure with the right driver the TMR 380 would have been faster, but from my perspective it’s not really a car us mere mortals need to be chasing.

Perhaps I am showing my age here, but I believe you’d have a lot more fun in a regular $5,000 Falcon, Commodore, Aurion, Magna, or even a 380. Unless you’re doing track days, drifting or drag racing – the amount of power, or whether it’s FWD or RWD simply doesn’t come into it. How the car actually makes you feel is far more important.

Our day to day drives can be so utterly mundane – what with traffic, speed limits and petrol prices doing their best to stifle any enjoyment you’re able to get out of a car. But this is where your choice of car makes all the difference – it’s simply more fun to drive a slow car fast, than it is to drive a fast car slow.

And if you don’t agree with that, perhaps you’re just not old enough yet.

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