During the 1990s the Mitsubishi brand was probably best known in the UK for the Shogun.
While the Evo range was still in its early generations and only recognised by performance car enthusiasts, the Shogun had built a reputation as a dependable and capable 4x4.
Good at towing, exceptional off road and with enough ‘bling’ (although we didn’t know the word for it back then) to give it a semi-upmarket appearance it was a desirable alternative to cars like the Land Rover Discovery and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
And with Land Rover, Toyota and Honda enjoying success with new compact models with the Freelander, RAV4 and CR-V there could be a lucrative, growing sector of the market to be exploited.
It commissioned Pininfarina to create this new compact model that (in Europe) was to be named after its designer: the Shogun Pinin.
But despite the name of an illustrious styling house, the Pinin didn’t seem to have involved much effort from the designers. If you were to imagine what a tiny Shogun might look like you were pretty much there.
Available as a three-door or five-door model and with a choice of 1.8 or 2.0 GDI (direct injection) petrol engines this new technology that was launched in the Carisma a few years earlier.
It was intended to be more fuel efficient than a conventional petrol engine under gentle throttle load. But when necessary GDI provided better performance than a standard petrol engine of equivalent size.
Trouble was, apart from offering a bit more horsepower than was typical for an engine of that displacement the fuel economy and performance balance wasn’t really any different from every other petrol engine on the market. Drive gently in any car and you save fuel; thrash it and you use more while going a bit faster.
At this time an increasing number of customers expected the choice of a diesel engine on a compact 4x4.
And the Pinin was compact. It took up about the same road space as the Colt, measuring less than four metres long, and was perhaps more akin to cars like the Suzuki Jimny and Daihatsu Terios than the Freelander and RAV4.
But one of the redeeming qualities of the Pinin was that in its five-door variant, it shared its off-road hardware with the grown-up Shogun.
Offering part-time four-wheel drive, but also four-wheel drive with high or low-ratio (with a locked centre differential setting too) the Pinin was capable of some pretty astonishing feats off road.
Its compact dimensions also made it remarkably agile on road, too. Perhaps it isn’t the best situation to make a judgement, but I first began to really like the Shogun Pinin after executing a perfectly controlled four-wheel drift around a deserted junction on fresh snow.
The Pinin never really caught on in the same way as the full-size Shogun had, nor the medium-sized Shogun Sport, which ran until 2006, did. It eventually disappeared and its originally advanced petrol engines eventually fell foul of tightening European emissions rules.
But in its short time it offered many of the traits of a full-size off roader in a small and affordable package.