2014 Mitsubishi Mirage- The Small Car With A Big Responsibility

CAM00753 Forget about the children.  Today’s cars are also suffering from the epidemic of obesity.  To put it bluntly; they’re fat.  Overweight and plump from being laden with enough airbags for the Mars Pathfinder landing and enough tech goodies to put a Game Stop to shame, and despite the extensive use of lightweight materials, they continue getting heavier each year.  The average car in 1987 tipped the scales at 3,221 lbs, while in 2010, the common car crashed through them at just over 4,000 lbs., or about a 25% increase over 23 years.  Most of us can probably relate to gaining that percentage of mass in the time frame as well.  I often hear car buyers as well as enthusiasts complain that there’s no simple, lightweight cars anymore.  Surprisingly, many clamor for such cult classics like the original Geo Metro of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  With an uncomplicated three-cylinder engine, miniscule dimensions, cheap price of entry, and no luxuries that add a burden to weight, the Metro, along with its Japanese tri-cylinder comrades, the Subaru Justy and Daihatsu Charade, were able to achieve well over 40 mpg without hybrid technology in an era when gas was just peaking over a $1.00 per gallon.  During their tenure, they were little more than just curiosities on our immense American roads and were the butts of many jokes, and the idea just never took off during such good economic times.  The last three-cylinder Metro, which had long outlived the Subaru and Daihatsu, was phased out in 2000.  As they say, timing is everything.  During the recent recession and gas spike, demand for the thrifty old Metros skyrocketed and spawned the famous urban legend of some examples selling for $8,000 on Ebay, or about the same price as they were brand new 20 years earlier.  It also begged the question; why can’t GM, or anyone, introduce a simple, basic, and fuel efficient glorified scooter that offers the same mileage as the hybrids for half the price?  There was obviously a demand.  In that time, with the exception of the puny Smart ForTwo, no one had attempted to reintroduce a three-cylinder car to America.   That was until this 2014 model year, when Mitsubishi stepped up to the plate with the all-new Mirage.

CAM00748Give Mitsubishi credit for having the cojones to take a stab at introducing this tiny little car to American shores.  But when you think about it, Mitsubishi may not have much to lose as sales are only a fraction of what they were for the company just over a decade ago.   In 2002, the brand moved over 345,000 vehicles into American driveways, but in 2012 it was a just a sliver of that number; about 58,000 cars.  The midsize Galant, reviewed last year, has since been discontinued, along with the sporty Eclipse and rugged Montero.  But there is hope; in addition to the launch of the Mirage, and a redesign of the Outlander SUV, there are some new products in the company’s lineup and sales were up 8% last year and this year’s numbers are even more promising.  Mitsubishi is counting heavily on the Mirage selling in solid numbers and appealing to younger, cash-strapped buyers who will stay in the Mitsu family as their incomes increase and can move onto larger, more lucrative cars within the brand.  The future of Mitsubishi in America rests heavily on this car.

CAM00682I’m guilty of it myself, but it’s easy to label the Mirage as a “modern day Geo Metro.”  Having owned a Metro myself in high school, among other three-cylinder cars, my immediate reaction was of joy when it was introduced and to harken back to the glory days of simple motoring.  I love basic, little cars and they force the driver to rely on the bare essentials.  My Metro did not have power steering, air conditioning, airbags, power windows, power door locks, or even a rear defroster or wiper.  It truly was the ABC’s of cars.  Aside from the number of cylinders, wheels, and the claims of 40mpg combined, it’s not fair to group the Mirage with the Metro, as it is a thoroughly modern vehicle that has all of the aforementioned features standard on even the base model and is a much more refined creature overall.

CAM00757The problem with the Mirage is that it’s an odd bird; there’s no other car similar to it.  The Daewoo-sourced Chevy Spark is probably its closest competitor in size and price, but it offers a four-cylinder and doesn’t come close to the Mirage’s fuel mileage ratings, and the Nissan Versa is the cheapest car on the market, but comes standard as an awkward sedan.  The Smart ForTwo is only a two seater, hampering its versatility.  The Mirage itself is a Japanese design that is built in Thailand, the first and only mass-produced car sold in the US with this claim.  It’s the only car I can think of that has been discontinued (back in 2001), only to be reintroduced and sold alongside its successor, the Lancer.  With all of this quirkiness, it’s inevitable to just consider it a spiritual successor to the Geo Metro.

CAM00694I was a little reluctant and excited at the same time about getting the Mirage.  This car intrigues me for its sheer obscurity, but if you read most of its reviews out there, you’d be lead to believe that the Mirage is barely a step up from an Indian tuk tuk.  Car reviewers can be the biggest, facetious drama queens, and the deluge of bad write ups made me even more inquisitive to find out if this car was really as God-awful as they made it out to be  However, to do so, I was planning on driving 800 miles through mountains and deserts and that didn’t seem appealing.

CAM00721Fire the teeny 1.2 liter three-cylinder up and there’s a rugged rumble emulating from under the short hood.  It harkened me back to the days of the trusty, old Toyota trucks that sounded rough and ready upon starting up.  Three-cylinders are funny little critters; they are inherently unbalanced and there’s always going to be some vibration as the result of a cylinder igniting out of sequence.  Compared to the three-cylinders of yore, the Mirage’s three-pot is smooth as can be and I have felt more vibrations in the cabin from some newer Hyundai and Kia four-cylinders.  There is just a tiny shutter through the steering wheel at idle, but it’s barely noticeable.  Drive around in my current Daihatsu Charade and the term “engine shake” becomes a clear and all-too-obvious reality.

CAM00746The engine itself is a relatively modern dual-overhead cam arrangement with 12 valves that produces 74 horsepower.  That may not sound like much, and in today’s world of 250-horsepower family cars, it isn’t.  But keep in mind that the Mirage has been on a diet and weighs slightly less than a ton at 1,986 lbs., or about 200 pounds less than an already lightweight Spark.  In everyday driving, the engine felt peppy and eager and proved to be more than adequate around town.  Freeway merges were not as scary as envisioned and the Mirage has minimal trouble getting to 65mph and feels comfortable cruising at that speed.  We also managed to get the Mirage to elevations over 7,000 feet and it still felt sprightly enough.  The three-cylinder has a dramatic nature; sounding throaty and aggressive on freeway merges and mountain grades, and was timid while cruising.  In the reality of modern standards; it’s not all good news.  The engine does get annoyingly loud at times when it’s working hard and it isn’t in anyway fast.  Punch the accelerator full throttle and the car does feel slow to respond initially and seems strained.

CAM00747Part of the blame goes to the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that Mitsubishi decided to pair with the three-cylinder.  CVTs do not have any defined gears and deliver just one continual stream of power through belts.  Mitsu’s logic makes sense in that CVTs deliver better fuel efficiency, but they can be idiosyncratic in that they don’t utilize the most of an engine’s power.  When the car is under full throttle, the transmission just holds one certain rpm CAM00745range and doesn’t let go.  There’s no gears to bite onto for an extra bit of oomph and the Mirage sounds like an overloaded Cuisinart.  Under normal driving conditions, the transmission behaves properly and transparently.  In fact, drive the car normally and it feels more sprightly than when trying to wring as much performance out of it as possible.  I’ve had the chance to take a short drive in a Mirage with the standard five-speed manual transmission and it does change the engine’s persona.  The clutch is feathery light and forgiving, and shifts were accurate, smooth, and utilized the most from the motor.  If you can drive a stick, just like in almost any small car, choose the manual because it’s the most fun and enjoyable way to go on the Mirage.

The suspension is designed for developing countries with pothole riddled roads in mind and the result is a supple and forgiving ride.  It’s sponginess reminds me of some older Cadillacs and belies the Mirage’s small footprint.  It does feel like a larger car in this sense and is more comfortable on rough pavement than many of its stiffly-sprung competitors.  I did take the Mirage on some nasty back roads and it handled ruts and uneven surfaces with ease.

CAM00685Isaac Newton’s famous quote “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” applies to the Mirage’s handling.  That pliable suspension caused plenty of body lean during curves and it was possible to have the car bottom-out during aggressive cornering.  Push the car hard into a tight, hairpin bend and you’re met with prematurely squealing tires, understeer, and enough lean to force the driver to correct their upright posture.  Mitsubishi may be wise toCAM00679 invest in a rear anti-roll bar and stiffer springs for the Mirage to improve the issue.  Where a Ford Fiesta or Mazda 2 beg for more around a corner, the Mirage says “I’m going to kill you!”  Putting things into context, it’s important to remember that the car’s purpose is to deliver cheap transportation and if you keep the car’s limitations in mind, it can still be fun.  It’s relatively easy to hit the Mirage’s cornering capabilities and I did flirt with them a number of times, and it proved to be enjoyable in its own way on the infamous Mulholland Highway and Angeles Crest.  Despite all of the drama, grip from the 14 inch tires is pretty decent and the car had a nimble and tossable feel to it.

CAM00758What doesn’t help either is the lightest steering found this side of a 1963 Chevy Impala.  There is no feedback or feel at all and the electric power steering is way overly assisted. It’s as communicative as the steering wheel on a Fisher Price child’s toy that is connected to nothing.  Judging from the continual change of trajectory, the Mirage’s steering wheel was indeed connected to something, and like the old American yank tanks, could be controlled using one finger.  The sloppy steering didn’t offer any driver confidence in turns, but after a few hundred miles behind the wheel, I had grown accustomed to its odd nature.  In fact, that loose steering is a benefit in constricted parking situations or when navigating city streets, which is maybe what Mitsubishi engineers had in mind when designing the car.  It does have a tighter 30.2 ft. turning circle than the Spark, Fiesta, or Versa; a huge perk in crowded cities.

CAM00697Wind noise around the mirrors and A-pillar are apparent at speeds above 65mph and the car’s lightweight and tall profile do make it feel susceptible to crosswinds.  Tone down the speed to 55mph and the characteristics of the car change; the cabin becomes very quiet and the car isn’t nearly as effected by Mother Nature’s forces or engine howl.  On some two-lane country roads, the Mirage actually felt quite pleasant to ride in.

CAM00708Overall, driving the Mirage is an interesting experience.  In a world where cars purposely try to disconnect the driver from the road and any involvement, the Mirage begs…..no, demands, the driver to be engaged.  It’s not for everyone, but as a driving enthusiast, I had a good time.  The beauty of the Mirage is that it requires the driver to be skilled if they want to push it, but thanks to the meager engine and light steering, can still be an easy car to drive for anyone in day-to-day life.

CAM00733Looks can be deceiving and once any of the Mirage’s wide swinging doors are opened, passengers are afforded more interior room than expected.  The Mirage doesn’t quite have the efficient Japanese packaging of a kei car, like our prior Mazda AZ Wagon, but for a car with a stumpy 148.8 inch long footrprint (or about 10-12 inches shorter than most subcompacts) the car feels surprisingly roomy.  Unlike the Spark, the Mirage does offer five seat belts, but that fifth belt is intended for shorter trips and not longer hauls.  Regardless, it’s nice to have just in case.  The back seat cushion is as flat as Kansas and has absolutely no contouring, yet proved to be more comfortable than it appears.  With 34.0 inches of legroom, the Mirage’s rear seat is actually roomier using the measuring tape compared to the larger Mazda2, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Ford Fiesta, although the cheeky Spark does have a valuable extra inch of legroom over the Mitsu.  Knees will find themselves brushing the seat backs in front, not pressing against them, and the backs of the seats themselves have some give.  Headroom is a little tight for taller noggins, mainly due to the sloping rear roof, and some passengers may find themselves in the chin to neck position.

CAM00734Up front, there is abundant room all around.  The roof easily arches over my tall frame and there is plenty of legroom to stretch out.  Knee room, which is important for taller drivers in small cars, is very good and the low center console and inward sloping dashboard near the footwells afford an airy feel to the cabin.  Compared to the claustophob-inducing Fiesta with its gargantuan and protruding console, the Mirage feels downright huge up front.  The illusion of all this space belies the Mirage’s compact dimensions and it was easy to forget that I was piloting such a small vehicle.  The front seats look a little flimsy and shapeless with minimal bolstering, but were comfortable for long trips.  After 400 miles behind the wheel in one day, I didn’t have a single ache and was able to walk upright immediately after.  Some luxury cars can’t make that same claim.

CAM00728In front of the driver resides a basic but legible instrument panel.  It’s minimalist with only an analog speedometer and tach taking up the precious real estate while a digital fuel gauge is housed with the tripmeter.  I miss having a temperature gauge, especially on such a small engine that could be working harder than an average-sized motor.  Nevertheless, all of the necessary info is easy to read at a glance.  The three spoke steering wheel is shared with CAM00740other Mitsubishi products, even the Outlander, and had a nice grippy feel while driving.  It has tilt adjust but does not telescope, yet the same can be said for many of the Mirage’s competitors.  The front storage bins were ample enough to hold bottles of water and there was an array of cubbies in the center console.

CAM00727Radio controls are large, legible, and not fussy, and it was refreshing to have a simplistic interface that didn’t involve a sea of menus.  My largest gripe was that the large, prominent radio power button does not turn off with a single press, but must be held down for about three seconds.  Despite a massive roof-mounted antenna, radio reception was not as strong as most cars, and selecting “random” mode for my MP3 was anything but.  The radio played many of the same songs tirelessly, and the Mirage took a special liking to “Major Tom” in particular.

CAM00725Against all odds, the Mirage comes standard with automatic climate control.  It was foolproof to operate and added an upscale aura to this economy car.  The A/C worked efficiently considering the small engine that was powering it.  The rear defroster sounded a unique and obvious “beep” when turned on; the only car I’ve ever encountered with that quirk and one that makes it impossible to be indiscreet when clearing the back window.  A few other endearing touches were the obscure ceiling mounted seat belt light, that reminded me of buckling up in an airplane cabin, and the somewhat useless ECO light on the dash; whose soul purpose is to tell you when you’re not flooring the accelerator too heavily.

CAM00735The surround for the radio and ventilation has a classy, piano gloss finish that looked chic.  However, the rest of the interior was dominated by dark plastics that were grainy and hard to the touch.  The Spark has equally cheap materials, but the dimpled plastics add some character and take away the dreariness.  Still, the Mirage is no worse than a Mazda 2 or Nissan Versa in this regard, and it’s fine considering the price point.  All of the interior pieces fit well and the car felt solidly assembled inside.

Considering that the Mirage is one of the cheapest cars on the market, there were reminders of cost cutting throughout.  The average sized glove box opens with a crude “thud” onto the passenger’s knees and the sunvisors bounce back against the headliner, causing a tinny and hollow “thunk”. Mitsubishi’s choices on amenities is baffling.  Simple features like a center armrest, a rear seat pocket, map lights, passenger visor mirror, or rear coat hooks can not be had on any Mirage.  Meanwhile, expensive conveniences such as that aforementioned automatic climate control, power windows with auto-driver up, auto-off headlights, driver’s knee airbag, and a MP3 player with AUX come CAM00722generously standard on the base model.  Upscale ES trims can even include push button start, smart key, navigation, and Bluetooth.  Many of them were not available, or even existed, on luxury cars less than two decades ago, and none were optional on any Geo Metro.  Look how far we have come with basic transportation!

CAM00707Visibility is good all around thanks to a large glass area and relatively thin roof pillars.  The rear hatch pillar is a little thick, but the Mirage has such tiny proportions and the back window is large enough that reversing should not be a problem for anyone.  A rear view camera is available but it seems a little embarrassing having it such an easy to park car.  As expected, getting the Mirage into and out of tight spaces is a breeze.  Side view mirrors were a generous size, but didn’t extend far enough out to cover the blind spot in the next lane.

CAM00736The trunk itself is unexpectedly roomy and well-shaped.  The liftover is low and the opening is wide, making loading bulky items a cinch.  At 17.2 cubic feet, the Mirage’s cargo space behind the rear seat easily trumps the Spark’s 11.4 cu. ft. and even bests the larger Fiesta and Mazda 2.  Fold the 60/40 rear seat down and you’re met with a grand total of 47 cu. ft of usable space behind the front CAM00737seats, which is almost double that of the Ford, and still beats the Spark and even the voluminous Versa Note handily. The seats do fold easily without having to remove the headrests (try that in the Spark; it’s a three-step process), but do not lay completely flat with the floor, creating a tricky bump if trying to load anything heavy. Under the floor is a temporary spare tire, but yet another bizarre Mirage eccentricity, that’s a first for me to encounter, is that the jack is located under the driver’s seat.

CAM00752Styling has been a subject of controversy on this car.  Some dismiss it as frumpy and reminiscent of the Clinton administration.  While not as fresh as the Spark, I still find the Mirage to be appealing and, dare I say it, cuter than its bug-eyed Chevy counterpart.  The look is clean, simple, and uncluttered.  A body crease along the doors and the large roof mounted spoiler adds some character.  There is some logic behiCAM00676nd the mayhem, as aerodynamics were a priority during the Mirage’s development and the smooth, rounded 90’s look gives way to an impressive 0.28 coefficient of drag.  To put that into perspective, the Mirage is more slippery through the wind than a current Porsche 911, Chevy Volt, or C6 Corvette.  The bulbous rear and rounded taillights give the car a toy-like appearance from behind, and the large cats-eye CAM00678headlights combined with a narrow mail slot grill reminds me of an angry Pokémon character from the front view.  Colors play an important role on a small hatch.  It’s a cheap, playful vehicle that isn’t ashamed of it, and some of the available palettes, including a bright green or vibrant purple, give the Mirage an outgoing personality.  An economy car can’t take itself too seriously and any dull silvers or whites scream to the world “I’ve given up on life!”

CAM00705It’s obvious that Mitsubishi is promoting the Mirage’s fuel economy numbers to move the car off of dealer lots.  The automaker’s claim is that the Mirage is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid sold in America, with an average consumption of 40mpg in mixed driving.  In this case. it almost seems like deja vu to the Geo Metro ads from 20 years ago that featured the sad and lonely fuel pumps.  But the Mirage is for sale at a time when gas prices CAM00704[1]are high and fuel economy is important as folks downsize.  The EPA rates the Mirage with a CVT at 37mpg city and 44mpg on the highway, which is almost hybrid territory and outshines any of its competitors.  I averaged 44mpg in a variety of landscape including mountains and city driving, and managed to bump that up to 46mpg on a freeway run.  Despite those numbers being impressive, it’s important to CAM00730remember that the Mirage only has a 9.2 gallon tank and it drank through the tank quicker than expected; causing me to be a little concerned in a remote corner of the California desert when the low fuel warning came on with no civilization in sight.  I’m pleased to say that there was a happy ending as I, and the Mirage, made it 50 miles to the nearest gas station without drama.  On a side note, Mitsubishi recently held a Hypermiling Challenge from Las Vegas to LA to see who could get the most out of an ordinary Mirage using stingy driving techniques; the winner managed to squeeze an average of 74mpg during the 250 mile drive.

CAM00739[1]My tester had 6k miles on the clock and there were no defects.  Everything worked perfectly and there were no rattles or buzzes, even over rough roads.  The driver’s seat did show some bunching and wear in the six months that this car had been in service.

CAM00699[1]Prices for the Mirage start at a low $12,995 for the DE trim with a manual transmission and comes standard with 14-inch steel wheels, a rear spoiler, keyless entry, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, automatic climate control, a tilt-only steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seats and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and USB and auxiliary audio inputs.  A CAM00754Versa undercuts the Mirage with a base price of $11,990 and a Spark starts out at $12,170, but none of them offer the level of standard amenities that the Mirage does or have the piece of mind of the 10yr/100k mile powertrain warranty that Mitsubishi includes.  Our DE tester’s only option was the CVT transmission that added a cool grand to the price.  Adding the destination charge brought the grand total of our Starlight Silver Mirage to $14,805, not bad CAM00703value at all versus the competition and considering all of the luxuries included.  Most subcompacts are going to be about $2-3k more comparably equipped.  If you check every option box, including navigation, it is possible to bump a Mirage to over $19k, at which stage the value isn’t there.

CAM00710[1]It’s easy to pick on the Mirage and many reviewers have; it’s cheap, small, and has a three-cylinder, making it an easy scapegoat.  Even though I personally took a liking to this eccentric car, I can’t say it’s perfect either.  To many, it’s just basic transport for the masses and a city runabout.  Still, it’s a modern, competitive vehicle that is ambitious.  It has got to be, as Mitsubishi’s future in America mCAM00742ay rest on it.  If the company would just improve on some of the basics; namely the steering and handling issues, it would be close to the perfect little car.  I took the Mirage way, way, way out of its comfort zone through mountains, deserts, and American highways and both I, and the car, came away unscathed.   We survived.  We lived to tell about it.  The Mirage proved to be an enjoyable companion and shouldn’t be readily dismissed.  I found it fascinating.  Sometimes amusing.  But overall, it was impressive, proving how far econoboxes have come.  If you’re looking for a simple car that will pamper you, can carry loads of gear, and save money at the pumps, the Mirage can’t be beat.  Word on the street is that these kinds of cars can be worth a fortune on Ebay in the future.  There is a demand and kudos to Mitsubishi for listening.  A decent 3.5/5.0 boomerangs







3 Responses

  1. Wotta great review this is for the Mirage. Bravo! Just when I thought that this little critter of a vehicle is not the type of machine I would consider purchasing, because of all its bad reviews, I come across your road test of it and I’m now convinced that this machine is the one I should get…no matter what the naysayers may think. I want simple, inexpensive transportation that in itself makes a positive impression…not to others but onto myself. Do I make sense? I’d just add an after market power sunroof to the ES model and I’m a happy camper, no matter what anyone may think. Anyway, thanx for the positive outlook on this machine. Peace!

  2. You make perfect sense Aladdin. When it comes to judging a car like the Mirage, it all comes down to perspective. It’s never going to be a BMW or Mercedes. And it doesn’t want to be. If you’re looking at it as a cheap, fuel-efficient, and pretty well-equipped small car, then it fits the bill perfectly. There’s a lot of people out there who have been spoiled and easily dismiss the Mirage before even sitting in one. It’s not perfect, and Mitsu could really improve the handling. but it was a likeable and enjoyable companion for the time I had it. Don’t let the naysayers persuade you

    There is a site out there for owners and enthusiasts of the Mirage: Mirageforum.com It’s been invaluable with some of the research needed for this blog

  3. Just bought one. Glad i did, fit my needs to a T. Always thrust but verify

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