Mitsubishi has come up with an affordable fuel-sipper. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback sedan is rated as the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline car in its class sold in the United States if equipped with its continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmission.
That should be impressive enough to get the thrifty or those on tight budgets interested in this subcompact, which has been sold overseas since 2012.
The Mirage’s estimated highway economy with its CVT is an impressive 44 miles per gallon, while the city number is 37. The Mirage also comes with a five-speed manual gearbox. Estimated figures with the manual are 42 highway, 34 city.
The Mirage should be especially appealing to young buyers with only a small to moderate amount of money for a new car—thanks partly to the lack of jobs and generally plodding economy. Surveys show those buyers are primarily interested in low-priced, highly economical cars.
Mitsubishi also offers its fairly new “i-MIEV” electric car. But it has been known in recent years mostly for its small gas-engine trucks, not cars. In 2013, the Japanese automaker sold 37,262 trucks, compared to 24,965 cars.
The Mitsubishi U.S. car operation suffers because it lacks the size and promotional budgets of larger rivals. Most car buyers here don’t know that Mitsubishi has built fast, innovative autos and done well in tough overseas rallies. The relatively small number of car buffs know the automaker’s fierce Lancer Evolution model is among the fastest rally-style cars sold in America.
The Mirage is a front-drive four-door hatchback with attractive aerodynamic styling, offered in base DE and better-equipped ES trim. It lists for $12,995 to $15,195, without a $795 destination charge.
Tough, better-known rivals include the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris.
Powering the Mirage is a moderately quiet 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 74 horsepower. Only three cylinders? Yes, but the Mirage only weighs approximately 1,865 pounds. It thus provides spirited city driving—although moderate 65-75 m.p.h. passing on highways.
I tested the Mirage ES with the CVT and doubt that it would be much faster with the manual transmission.
Even the base Mirage is fairly well-equipped. Standard items include keyless entry, automatic climate control, 140-watt four-speaker sound system with a CD player, keyless entry, tilt (but not telescoping) wheel, split-folding rear seats and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Move to the $15,195 ES and added are a pushbutton starter (oddly, put to the left of the steering wheel), cruise control, height-adjustable driver seat, a nicely sized leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth phone connectivity, metallic interior accents and 14-inch alloy wheels instead of the same-size steel wheels on the DE.
Optional on the DE and ES are front-rear parking sensors, but a rearview camera is only available for the ES, which has an optional navigation system.
Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes (front discs, but rear drums) and front and side-curtain air bags, including a driver knee airbag.
The Mirage is small and light, so handling is nimble and the turning circle is small.The electric power steering is quick with decent road feel, and active stability and traction controls help keep the car stable if it’s being driven too hard.
The Mirage is a handy city car, but I found it’s also a no-fuss 65-70-m.p.h. cruiser. At 65 m.p.h. the tachometer only reads a little more than 2,000 r.p.m.
The ride is generally supple for a short, 97-inch wheelbase car. The brake pedal has a linear action, although it’s soft during initial engagement. Stopping distances are good.
Wheels are stretched to the far ends of the Mirage to enable good front-seat room and a generally roomy backseat. A tall passenger behind a 6-foot-tall driver with his seat shoved back all the way will want more legroom. However, such a driver will have comfortable room without his seat moved all the way back and allow a 6-footer behind him to have decent legroom.
Front seats provide good support, but the rear split seat is hard and doesn’t have much cushioning. All doors open wide for easy entry/exit.
The speedometer and tachometer can be quickly read in the generally quiet interior, but radio controls are a little offbeat and the black-on-green dashboard readouts are hard to see in daylight. The interior has a lot of hard plastic, and there’s no visor mirror for the front passenger. There isn’t much interior storage space either, despite storage/bottle holders in the front doors.
The nicely shaped small cargo area can be greatly enlarged by flipping the rear seatbacks forward. The hatch has an indented area to help close it without getting fingers dirty on outside sheet metal.
The solidly built Mirage has a 60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Mitsubishi had higher U.S. sales in 2013 than in 2012, but still lags behind the 100,000-plus units it annually sold before 2008. It needs more new products such the Mirage, which should help boost sales.
Pros: Fuel sipper. Fairly roomy. Easily maneuverable. Decently equipped. Hatchback practicality.
Cons: Moderate highway acceleration. Stiff backseat. Hard plastic interior.
Bottom Line: All-new small hatchback for tight-budget folks.
Dan Jedlicka has been an auto reviewer for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.