The affordable Mitsubishi Mirage makes a solid argument in its base form, catering to drivers looking for a no-nonsense sub-compact with useable cargo space and excellent fuel economy. As select as that criteria is, the Mirage makes less sense as you move up to the ES level, where its biggest asset – the small price – is diminished.
|Engine: Three-cylinder 1.2-liter that makes 74-hp and 74 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Five speed manual or CVT
Fuel Economy: 34 mpg city and 42 mpg highway for five-speed while CVT gets 37 mpg city and 44 mpg highway.
Price: $13,790 with destination, $15,990 as tested
A Mirage in the literal sense, much of this car looks good on paper, but in reality it falls flat. Available in bright paint choices including a purple or lime-green, the Mirage isn't as bubbly or cute as other affordable cars like the Spark and Versa Note.
Under the hood of the Mirage is a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 74-hp, or 10 short of a similarly sized four-banger in the Chevy Spark. The interior, even the ES trim, is disappointingly dominated by out-dated accents and cheap hard plastic surfaces. The Mirage is an unapologetically cheap car that offers basic transportation but not much else.
The only stand out standard feature is the automatic climate control, although even the most basic Mirage gets power windows and locks, keyless entry and 60/40 split folding rear seats. Buyers of the ES model will be treated to Bluetooth connectivity, 14-inch alloy wheels, fog-lights, a push-button starter, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with access to cruise control and multi-media playback buttons.
The ES also adds chrome accents on the exterior, a leather-wrapped shift knob and a four-way adjustable passenger seat. All of that brings a car that costs just under $15,000 before equipping the fuel efficient CVT which tallies up the final price to $15,990. Buyers can also opt for a navigation package for $900 that includes a rear-view camera.
Aside from the standard automatic climate control and push-button start in the ES model, there’s very little about the Mirage that’s exciting unless 14-inch alloy wheels mean much to you.
There are some advantages to the Mirage. At around 2,000 lbs., it’s lighter and larger than the Chevrolet Spark. That combined with either the standard five-speed transmission or continuously variable transmission results in a very efficient package. A week of testing found the CVT-equipped Mirage sip fuel at a rate of just 40 mpg in winter driving. You can expect even better mileage in warm conditions.
However, it’s important to bring up the snowy conditions, as this tester wasn’t equipped with winter tires, just Dunlop Enasave all-seasons which lack grip, even in the dry. Those who drive in snowy conditions frequently, should consider setting aside some money for a set of dedicated snow tires, as the stock Dunlops will leave you with little confidence during winter.
Without a doubt, the Mirage is one of the least enjoyable modern cars to drive. Its suspension crashes and bangs over cracks. It won’t take long before you’re avoiding potholes even more than before. The steering wheel doesn’t give an accurate sense of where the front wheels are pointing and on-center feel has a huge dead-zone. Even worse, the steering wheel doesn't completely return to its natural centered position after you make a turn, giving the car a very lazy feel on the road. Any turn also causes the car to lean and wobble about like it was about to topple over.
Throttle response is solid and the power is acceptable. The car will get up to speed on a highway, although passing and keeping up with traffic can be scary. The cabin has very little sound deadening and that probably contributes to how unpleasant it is to drive the Mirage on highways.
Everything in the car makes noise. The engine racket penetrates the cabin and the whirring CVT transmission is equally annoying. Tire roar, road noise and loud powertrain make this an especially inhospitable place to sit. But the car isn’t just bad at high speed. It shakes at idle too.
If anything, the Mirage is an excellent city car, with solid sight-lines and a tight turning radius. The large trunk is useful on grocery runs and it’s especially easy to park in tight spaces.
The base Mirage can be forgiven for most of these faults because it’s so cheap, but at $15,990, the ES model can’t be. The Mirage is cheap to buy and run. It also comes with a five year, 60,000-mile new car warranty and a 10 year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. However, other cars like the Versa Note and Kia Rio are more comfortable and better to drive. If you only care about price and fuel economy, the Mirage will fit the bill. If you can stand to spend a bit more, do so.