2017 Mitsubishi Mirage Hatchback
1.2-liter inline-3, DOHC (78 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 74 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)
Continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive
37 city / 43 highway / 39 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
36.3 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price: $13,830
As Tested (GT): $17,330
Prices include $835 destination charge.
It’s been the butt of jokes from journalists for years. It’s too small. It’s underpowered. It’s noisy. It’s funny looking. It’s cheap.
I’m not going to disagree.
Yet I don’t hate the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage GT. Granted, I wouldn’t look forward to taking a cross-country journey in it with the family, but it’s not a bad choice for the right combination of driver and road.
The GT trim level name, however, must be a joke. There is nothing grand about touring in any city car. Reviewers seem to forget exactly for what and whom the Mirage is meant. This is an inexpensive car meant for commuting at minimal upfront cost, and with similarly low costs to run.
The Mirage is refreshed for 2017 with mature, sharper lines that make the car look more stately. Without knowing anything about the car or spying badges, the new Mirage looks vaguely like some sort of European Ford. My tester wore 15-inch alloy wheels in place of the 14-inch units fitted to lesser trims, and they fill out the wheel wells nicely.
Out back, though, is an unsightly appendage: a tacked-on housing for the rearview camera. To my slightly OCD eye, it looks turned just a hair off vertical, which seriously bugged me. It could be better integrated into the hatch somehow, but as the Thailand-built Mirage is offered in many markets without the costly feature — indeed, the base ES trim doesn’t have a camera — I’m sure stamping two distinct hatch panels is much more costly than fitting this camera with a couple screws.
I’m not willing to say the Mirage is the best-looking car in the class, however. Toyota’s Yaris is probably the winner of the lot, though the Nissan Versa Note looks decent when fitted with the factory alloys. There’s only so much styling that can be done with a tiny hatchback, and the competition has simply done a better job than Mitsubishi.
The low-cost nature of the Mirage shines through in the interior. Its GPS antenna is glued to the dashboard in front of the passenger seat and the microphone for the Bluetooth phone is similarly glued atop the steering column. Both accessories have exposed cables leading behind their respective panels. Furthermore, the USB input for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is a female port on the end of another generic black cable in the glove compartment. Nearly every other car on the market with these now-essential features have integrated the ports into the interior seamlessly. I understand the cheap-yet-functional nature of these bits. I can also recall myself as a kid being left alone in my mother’s car: if I had a little black blob sticking to the dashboard, I’m certain I’d have fiddled with it, eventually breaking the glue loose.
Otherwise, the interior was perfectly functional, and surprisingly roomy. I had plenty of room front and rear, with legroom to spare in the rear seat after adjusting the front seat to my liking. The seats themselves were not the most comfortable — I found them flat, offering little bolstering or lumbar support — but at least this GT’s heated front seats had perhaps the most powerful heaters I’ve encountered in any car, which loosened the tightness I found in my lower back after a long drive.
Cargo space isn’t cavernous, though I had no problems carrying a half-dozen cases of Thin Mints.
(To be clear, I was delivering the cookies with my kids. I’m not that much of a glutton. Not anymore, at least.)
With the seats up, Mitsubishi quotes 17.2 cubic feet of cargo area, and 47 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. There is plenty of space for a weeks’ worth of groceries or a carry-on bag. This compares nicely to the competition: only the Versa Note has more seat-up storage with 18.8 cubic feet, versus 11.2 cubes for the Chevrolet Spark and 15.6 for the Yaris hatch.
The passenger compartment is quite narrow as expected, so I did miss a center armrest. Three kids fit side-by-side in the rear without eye gouging, so that’s a plus. However, there’s a dearth of cupholder space throughout; two portals mounted forward of the shift lever, requiring some contortions to fit larger drinks beneath the protruding dash, and a single center-mounted holder between the front seats, causing arguments among the kids over who got to bring along their sugarwater.
The audio system fitted to this Mirage is surprising — a 6.5-inch display for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. No satellite radio is offered, though I’m sure this cost savings for Mitsubishi won’t be missed by most buyers, who will likely stream audio via Bluetooth or the aforementioned smartphone cable in the glove box. The four-speaker audio system sounded genuinely good for what it was. I did notice a bit of distortion with bass-heavy tunes, though I never noticed any rattling of interior panels with the sound turned way up – something I can’t say about other cars I’ve tested.
The Mirage was a perfectly capable commuter for much of my test. My suburban commute varies between 20 and 50 mph depending on the timing of the various school buses and garbage trucks, and I had little trouble keeping up with the flow of traffic. Even when I ventured onto the interstate, I found the Mirage maintained a somewhat extralegal cruising speed. Oops.
78 horsepower out of a 1.2-liter three-cylinder doesn’t sound like much, but consider sports cars from a couple of generations ago. The beloved Triumph Spitfire, at best, managed roughly 75 hp without the fuel economy expected of a modern car. Generations of enthusiasts lusted over sports cars with significantly less power than this Mitsubishi.
The transmission does let the engine down. The top-trim GT package I tested is only available with a CVT, and it seems to be an older generation that has so many of the drivability issues found in CVT-equipped cars of 10 years ago. Mashing the throttle from a stop or a low-speed roll yields nothing but noise from the thrashy three-cylinder for several beats until the engine is turning closer to 4,000 rpm. Steady cruising is uneventful on flat ground, but engine speed and noise varies the moment the road begins to undulate as the transmission hunts for an ideal ratio to maintain forward motion. The Mirage deserves a better option — a five-speed manual must certainly be an improvement, or a traditional torque-converter automatic could improve drive quality at a minimal cost to fuel economy.
As the Mirage is nearly 200-pounds lighter than any other car in the class while employing a smaller, less powerful engine, the fuel economy is commensurately better. The Mirage is rated at 39 mpg combined, where the Versa Note, Yaris, and Spark are in the 33-34 mpg range. Those 20 to 30 fewer horsepower may make for less frequent visits to the pump, but the tradeoff is a more nerve-wracking driving experience in the Mirage.
The ride is quite acceptable over most surfaces, though the short 96.5-inch wheelbase doesn’t overcome expansion joints and potholes on the typical Ohio interstate. As compact as the Mirage is, one can typically avoid such pavement imperfections on surface roads. I did note significant body roll during spirited cornering, though.
Would I buy one? In a word, no. With two kids approaching their teen years, I need more room for hauling the kids and all their stuff to the various games, practices, and other events, and no subcompact can offer what I need out of a car.
At the price of the car I tested ($17,330), I’d have to believe there are plenty of options. The Nissan Versa Note can be had in the midrange SL trim with more power and comfort for $17,540, and the Toyota Yaris LE, again similarly equipped, can be had for $18,170. Both are slightly less fuel efficient than the Mirage, offering shorter warranties, but I’d argue the gains in performance and comfort are worth the minimal extra cost.
That’s not to say the Mirage isn’t a good car – but like I said, it’s a good car for the right person. If one can forego the smartphone integration, rear-view camera, and cruise control, a five-speed equipped Mirage ES can be had for $13,830 after destination charges — or less with frequent incentives. For someone needing a reliable, efficient commuter on a budget, with the assurance of a 10-year powertrain warranty, the base Mirage is hard to beat, yet I can’t fathom dropping seventeen large on this GT trim. There are better options across the automotive spectrum for that kind of money.
Still, it’s also worth recalling that inexpensive, reliable cars are what sealed the fortunes of Japanese automakers here in the U.S. Cheap and cheerful is a heritage to which Mitsubishi can subscribe. And while that heritage is being misappropriated by YET ANOTHER CUV, the Mirage can rightfully claim a place as another good car from a storied marque.
[Images © 2017 Chris Tonn]