The turbine-electric Mitsubishi Mi-Tech reminds us what’s great about concepts

Carmakers are increasingly taking a lazy, complacent approach to concept cars. They start with an upcoming production model, future it up with bigger wheels, and market it as a design study. Mitsubishi reminded us what a true concept car should be like when it unveiled the Mi-Tech, an open-top SUV with a jaw-dropping powertrain, at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show.

The Mi-Tech is electrified, like nearly every concept car unveiled in 2019, but it shares little with members of Mitsubishi’s 2019 product range. The Japanese firm decided teaming a lithium-ion battery pack with a four-cylinder engine wasn’t advanced enough. Instead, it kept the battery pack, stuffed it under the passenger compartment, and replaced the 2.0-liter with a turbine that’s both compact and lightweight. Turbine cars were a thing in the 1950s and the 1960s, but most automakers stopped investing money into the technology decades ago. Is Mitsubishi priming it for a resurgence?

It’s too early to tell, but the company pointed out one of the turbine’s advantage is its ability to run on a wide variety of fuels including diesel, kerosene, and alcohol, though probably not the kind you can get in a bar. Specifications such as range, horsepower, and fuel economy haven’t been published, and there’s little evidence the Mi-Tech actually runs, but Mitsubishi noted it made the brake calipers electric to improve their response time.

Four-wheel drive runs in Mitsubishi’s blood, so few will be surprised to learn the firm chose this configuration for the concept. Four individual motors zap the wheels into action, so it can perform 180-degree, tank-like turns. Three wheels can turn forward, while one turns backward, for example. We can imagine this feature coming in handy off-road.

The cabin stands out with a pure, minimalist design. Mitsubishi added a digital display to replace the instrument cluster, but you won’t find a screen (touch-sensitive or otherwise) for the infotainment system. Key information about the car and its surroundings, like its speed and its leaning angle, appears on a huge, augmented reality windshield.

We have bad news if you like what you see. The Mitsubishi Mi-Tech concept would make for an epic exploration rig, one that would satisfy our tech and adventure needs, but the chances of it reaching production are about as good as the odds of winning the lottery. Some parts of it — including design cues from its front end — might make it past the concept stage sooner or later, though, and we might even see the vehicle they end up on in the company’s American showrooms.

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