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Car Report

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage Test Drive

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“You’re too bendy!”

That’s a concise, but surprisingly accurate critique of the handling characteristics of the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage courtesy of my five-year-old son, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The all-new Mirage is the most old-school econobox in showrooms today.

Priced at $14,790 it is one of the lowest priced cars in showrooms, but for that you get a five-door subcompact with seating for five, an automatic transmission, power windows and locks, keyless entry, USB port and not only a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, but five years of roadside assistance to help quell your bargain basement concerns.

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A model with a 5-speed manual transmission is also available for a thousand bucks less that has a combined fuel economy rating of 37 mpg, but that’s the city rating for the automatic, which delivers 44 mpg on the highway and 40 mpg combined, the most of any car that’s not a hybrid or electric.

Sounds pretty incredible, but it’s not magic, just the result of the time-tested formula of low cost production, low weight and low power.

The Mirage is built in Thailand, and the first car imported from that growing automotive manufacturing center to the United States. Think Japan in the 1970s, Korea in the 1980s or Mexico in the 1990s and you get the idea.

It also tips the scales at under a ton, which is hundreds of pounds less than typical small cars, even the teeny tiny Chevrolet Spark.

Perhaps most important, it’s powered by a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that produces just 74 hp, making it the second wimpiest car in America behind the Smart Fortwo.

Since the Mirage is so light, that’s enough power to get it around, but to enable all of the above, it leaves a few things in its wake, including refinement.

Although the cabin is relatively attractive, it’s built from the most complete collection of hard plastic I’ve seen in a car in years. The fit and finish is so-so, and there doesn’t seem to be any insulation underneath it.

Road, wind and engine noise fill the cabin at will, the last of those sounding something like a broken duck call. The aural assault can be physically exhausting on log trips, which is unfortunate because the cloth-upholstered seats are pretty comfortable, if shapeless.

Then there’s that bendy thing.

Around town, the Mirage is an ace. Its overboosted steering and tidy proportions give it a rodent like ability to scoot through traffic and slip into parking spaces, while its super-soft suspension sucks up potholes like they’re painted on.

Out on the open road it’s a different story.

Around turns, the Mirage rolls like it’s at sea, then springs back in the other direction before settling down. Hit a heave in the surface and it’s the same thing in the vertical plane.

My kids were literally putting their hands in the air and yelling “woaaaaah” as I navigated off-ramps at below the posted speed limit. Pick the right road, and you can skip the summer trip to the amusement park.

Additional savings? Perhaps, but you’ll work for it.

Still, those mpg numbers aren’t illusory. Combined with the upfront cost, the Mirage is an economy car of the highest order.

One problem with the Mirage is that you can get the larger Nissan Versa with an automatic for pretty much the same money, but it only gets 30 mpg, which is a big difference. On the other hand, if you opt for the upscale Mirage ES with fog lights, alloy wheels, Bluetooth and add the optional navigation system you’re looking at a seventeen thousand dollar car and a whole lot of alternatives at that price point tempting you with their 21st century style.

But not everybody is looking for that. People always ask me why they don’t make affordable, economical, back to basics cars like they used to. Well, they do.

At least Mitsubishi does.

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage

Base Price: $13,790

As Tested: $16,890

Type: 5-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive hatchback

Engine: 1.2-liter 3-cylinder

Power: 74 hp, 74 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT automatic

MPG: 37 city/44 hwy