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Mitsuoka Rock Star review: Fully Vetted
CAR manufacturers tend to be fairly unimaginative when it comes to model names. They're usually either some sort of trendy buzzword like "EcoSport" (from Ford), a fancy made up word borrowed from another language like "Kadjar" (Renault), or an alphanumeric jumble salad such as "MP4-12C" (McLaren). Rarely do cars have names that accurately describe their character.
The Mitsuoka Rock Star is different. Few cars on the planet come with a better aptronym.
At the very least, the Rock Star boasts the same sort of head-turning looks as Mick Jagger in his pomp. During my test drive I had at least two guys come up to me after I'd parked to ask questions about the car. Then there was the motorcyclist who turned and looked and gave me a thumbs up as he pulled alongside on the highway.
It's easy to see why. The Rock Star's styling is modelled after a classic American muscle car, specifically the Chevrolet Corvette C2 of the 1960s. Details like the round lights front and rear, the chrome bumper trim and side sills make the Rock Star a faithful replica of the American icon, if not quite an exact copy.
And given that Singapore doesn't really have Corvettes running around on our roads, seeing the Rock Star here is akin to seeing an alien walk amongst us. Most bystanders stare at the car with an expression of bewilderment, probably thinking, "What on Earth is this thing?"
For anyone unfamiliar with the Mitsuoka name, here's a quick explainer: Mitsuoka is a car manufacturer in its own right (it happens to be Japan's 10th largest), but it operates more like a coachbuilder. In essence, its work consists of taking cars from fellow Japanese carmakers and crafting whole new bodies for them.
That's by no means a new idea. In its early days the car business saw workshops and engineering firms produce the oily moving bits, while coachbuilders would craft the sexy, comfortable bits. They were usually good at it, too. Classic Ferraris may cost a pretty penny today, but those with bodywork by Carrozzeria Scaglietti are among the most priceless.
Underneath the pseudo-Corvette skin of the Rock Star is a fourth-generation Mazda MX-5, and Mitsuoka's philosophy is to create fashionable and timeless designs for folks who want something a bit different.
A quick browse through its past catalogue brings up highlights such as the classic Jaguar-inspired Viewt (based on the Nissan March hatchback, and also sold here), and the outrageous-looking Orochi, based on the first-generation Honda NSX supercar.
The Rock Star's Japanese roots are clearly noticeable once you delve underneath its Americana skin. The interior is lifted from the MX-5 wholesale, with the exception of the Mitsuoka logo on the steering wheel boss. The folding fabric roof is manually-operated too, just like in the MX-5. Even the infotainment screen displays "Mazda" when you start the car up.
Similarly, the mechanicals of the Rock Star are unchanged from the MX-5. That means you get a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 132 horsepower and 152 Newton-metres of torque. It's not tremendously powerful, and the Rock Star feels more boulevard cruiser than drag strip racer when you put your foot down, but the car is light (it weighs just 1,140kg), another trait it shares with its MX-5 donor.
As such, the Rock Star is a real delight to pilot when you show it a set of corners. If you've driven the current generation MX-5 on which the Rock Star is based, you'll find the experience essentially identical. There is a terrifically balanced chassis under its fancy skin, and the car is a genuine delight for any keen driving enthusiast.
Feedback from the steering is plentiful, allowing you to judge precisely what kind of input you require for every turn. There is plenty of grip and excellent body control, and the lack of power becomes an advantage rather than a drawback in this application, as you can push it to the limit without too much fear of it biting your head off. This is a car that you can have lots of fun in without ever going above the speed limit.
Here's the big question though: if the Rock Star is fundamentally similar to an MX-5, why should you buy one, especially since it costs S$220,800 when including a Certificate of Entitlement, a not inconsiderable sum by any means?
For starters, you'll be driving something unique. The Rock Star is not only distinctive-looking, but it is also exclusive. Mitsuoka is only producing 220 of these cars in total, of which just 20 will make their way out of Japan.
Out of those 20, local dealer MyCar Pte Ltd has managed to snag 10. If you know where to go, you can spot half a dozen Ferraris in Singapore on any given day, but encountering a Rock Star will be a very rare occasion indeed. But driving a car like the Rock Star also says something about you. It says that you refuse to conform and drive a humdrum sedan or crossover that blends into the crowd.
The Rock Star is designed for those who enjoy the spotlight and attention, and the car's entertaining performance under its flashy fashion style means it lives up to its name.
Not everyone gets to hang out with a rock star, but this Mitsuoka can certainly make you feel like one.
Mitsuoka Rock Star
Engine 1,496cc, inline 4
Power 132hp at 7,000rpm
Torque 152Nm at 4,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h 8.3 seconds
Top Speed 204km/h
Fuel Efficiency 6.5L/100km
Agent MyCar Pte Ltd
Price S$220,800 with COE