2017 Mitsubishi Mirage GT Review

A Must-Buy Small Car or Merely a Mirage?

Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws may govern the physical universe but there’s a fourth unbreakable rule that has just as much if not more of an impact on our daily lives: You get what you pay for.

Subsisting off fast-food dollar-menus is nothing if not a false economy that’s sure to come with pricey health consequences down the road. Likewise, don’t expect to find a pristine, low-mileage Toyota FJ cruiser kicking around for pocket change. If you do happen to come across such a “gem” it’s probably been inundated by at least two hurricanes or had its wiring harness gnawed to tatters by a family of off-roading raccoons.

But just because a car is cheap doesn’t automatically mean it should be eschewed like Typhoid Mary’s Sunday brunch. The Chevy Spark is small and inexpensive, yet it’s far from a prison cell on wheels. Ditto for the Fiat 500, which despite being hamstrung by quality issues, has more soul than some vehicles costing thrice as much.

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The Mirage is Mitsubishi’s smallest non-electric offering in ‘Murica. A value play, it features a tight turning radius, impressive fuel-economy figures and generous warranty coverage. Still, can we recommend this triple-diamond hatchback or should it be sidestepped like Ms. Mary’s eggs benedict and homemade hollandaise sauce?

Newish and Improved

The Mirage has been updated for the new year, gaining a host of noteworthy enhancements; its exterior has been styled up, its cabin dolled up and powertrain pumped up, though don’t get too riled up because it’s still a rudimentary car.

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Up front, there’s a redesigned fascia and grille, a combo that’s unexpectedly handsome. You also get bi-xenon HID headlights on the top-trim GT model I tested. At the rear, you’ll find LED taillamps.

Inside, there are new fabrics and an updated gauge cluster with a hopelessly optimistic speedometer that reaches all the way to 140 miles an hour (225 km/h). There’s also a reworked steering wheel and an available display audio system that supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Despite having just four speakers, sound quality is clear and unexpectedly powerful.

To be certain, the Mirage’s cabin is budget minded but it’s by no means ruthlessly cheap. The hard plastics look decent, build quality is generally fine and push-button start is standard on higher-trim models. Other than round wheels and transparent glass it even has something else in common with a Porsche; the starter switch mounted left of the tiller.

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One more feather in this car’s cap is a long warranty. Owners are protected by a fully transferable five-year/60,000-mile new-vehicle guarantee in addition to 10 years or 100,000 miles worth of powertrain protection (10-year/160,000 km Powertrain Limited Warranty and 5-year/100,000 km New Vehicle Limited Warranty in Canada).

Still, even with a new face the Mirage looks like a time traveler from 1996. Its flipper-style exterior door handles could have been plucked from a Plymouth Breeze, the backup camera resides in a flimsy plastic barnacle tacked onto the hatch. I fully expected to find a bootleg Macarena disc in the CD player but unfortunately didn’t.

Brace Yourself!

The Mirage is motivated by a full 1.2 liters of displacement. Yep, that’s it. Don’t bother looking for a turbo- or supercharger bolted to this three-lung engine because it’s au naturel.

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For 2017 a fancy new roller camshaft ups output to a thundering 78 horses with 74 lb-ft of maximum torque. A five-speed manual transmission or continuously variable automatic are offered. Much to my chagrin, this tester featured the latter, which, to be polite, didn’t make for a powertrain match made in heaven.

But at least this combination was economical. Thanks in part to the CVT’s inherent efficiency, the Mirage GT stickers at 37 miles per gallon city and 43 highway. Combined it should average 39 MPG, a figure that’s spot on in real-world driving. And that figure would probably be even better if the accelerator didn’t have to be pegged at all times.

The Drive

If you’re not a religious person, you’ll soon become one in the Mirage. Prayer is an integral part of its driving experience because acceleration is so slow you get passed by pedestrians walking in the opposite direction. Have you ever been tailgated by cyclists?

Passing maneuvers are largely out of the question in this car, so don’t try to overtake that trundling garbage truck until it comes to a complete stop.

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The engine struggles for every single mile per hour the speedometer registers, something it’s happy to broadcast as well. Even at idle this asymmetrical oddity is working hard, shuddering the car like a jackhammer at full tilt. But crack the throttle and things go from unfortunate to unbelievable. Noise, vibration and harshness are all present and accounted for in preposterous quantities. In plain terms, this is one of the most unrefined drivetrains ever fitted in a modern car. But that’s not all. The Mirage also assails your senses with deafening wind noise at any speed greater than stop.

Further spoiling this Mitsu’s driving experience is the steering, which is deader than Howard Hughes and even more reclusive. It LITERALLY has no feel, provides no sensation whatsoever. It’s the most isolated of any vehicle I’ve ever driven, and that includes tractors. Making things worse, the wheel was misaligned, with the triple-diamond logo listing a few degrees to port even while going straight ahead.

At least the Mirage’s curb-to-curb turning radius is a super-tight 30.2 feet (9.2 meters), which makes it a snap to maneuver in urban environments. Also, thanks to my test example’s skinny 15-inch wheels it handled snow and winter driving conditions without any trouble.

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As for comfort, there’s little to be had. The front buckets offer minimal support in any direction and their lower cushions are far too high, which makes it feel like you’re perched atop a barstool.

If there’s any solace here it’s that even though this humble hatchback rolls on a wheelbase of less than 97 inches (4,251 mm), its back seat is hospitable enough for six-footers. In fact, the Mirage also offers more maximum interior volume than a Chevy Spark or even a Ford Fiesta. If you’re curious, its curb weight is scarcely more than a ton, which is an unheard-of figure in the 21st century.

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The Verdict: 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage GT Review

Despite its modest enhancements, the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage is still too crude to recommend, and that’s even before you look at the price tag. Not counting potential incentives, a bargain-basement model starts at $13,830 including $835 in delivery fees (in Canada, base models are about the same at $14,148 with $1,450 Freight & PDI). However, our upper-crust GT variant stickered for more than 17 grand, which is more insane than financing your retirement with lottery tickets. Top-trim SEL models in Canada are almost $20K if you can believe that ($19,748 with $1,450 Freight & PDI rolled in). You could get any number of much nicer used cars for that outlay, or even a midrange Fiesta hatch, which is orders of magnitude more fun to drive and probably more reliable to boot.

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I like cheap-and-cheerful small cars, I really do, but the Mirage is an insult to its breed. Perhaps all those irrefutable laws of the universe aren’t completely set in stone after all, because with this Mitsubishi you don’t get what you pay for – far less, in fact.

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