Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Mirage - hatch range
Turning circle, economy, lightness, affordability, Bluetooth phone and streaming, 3-cylinder zest, strong air-con, dash design and functionality
Room for improvement
Flat seats, disconnected and overly light steering, sluggish CVT acceleration, soggy handling, low-cost cabin ambience, tinny feel
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15 Mar 2013
Price and equipment
MIRAGE by name, and mirage by nature.
If you’re a satisfied owner of the rakish, 1996 to 2004 era, CE three-door predecessor, look away now. This is not what you might be expecting.
Why Mitsubishi elected to squander a badge with enough currency to fight the VW Polo and co. on an ultra low-cost economy car aimed at the Nissan Micra and Suzuki Alto is a mystery.
Indeed, drivers of Colt, the previous Mitsubishi light-car that has been usurped by this Mirage, may be shocked at how down-market the Thai-built five-door has gone. This is a cheap car and feels it.
Stylistically the newcomer captures none of the futuristic or sporty charm of its respective predecessors, looking more like a non-descript 1990s Japanese Kei car. But only slightly wider.
But with that off our chests, it’s important to consider what the newcomer does actually offer, especially for an astounding $12K driveaway (or $14,250 in ES CVT auto guise as tested).
Firstly, it’s no stripper. Equipment levels include electronic stability control of course, front, side and curtain airbags, air-conditioning, remote central locking, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary connectivity, a leather-bound steering wheel with audio and phone controls, and 14-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
Auto models also score the advantage of Hill-Start Assist.
So, how does Mitsubishi do it for the money? Surely there’s a catch somewhere?
Not in here.
To its credit, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited listened to the barrage of pre-release criticism, to create a Mirage that’s far more suitable to local palettes than some more basic overseas models.
Among the changes include better-grade seat trim, two-tone cabin colouring, and more sound-deadening material.
From an aesthetic and aural point of view at least, the upshot is a cabin of two halves.
The off-white plastic on the doors and lower dash area may be hard and hollow, but they make the Mirage feel less down-market than the unrelenting monochromatic cheapness inside the Nissan Micra.
Similarly, piano-black console surrounds, a handsome leather-wrapped (though tilt-only) three-spoke steering wheel, and some subtle metallic-plastic infusions dotted around the dash further lift the ambience above most sub-$13K runabouts – VW’s austere but classy Up being the obvious exception.
We applaud Mitsubishi’s sensible yet stylish switch layout, clear and comprehensive instrumentation, ample ventilation outlets (are you listening, VW?), effective air-conditioning, and sound overall build quality.
From a packaging perspective everything is present – deep door pockets, a big glovebox, sufficient front-seat space, and a driving position that ought to work for most folks. Relatively deep windows also help take the guessing game out of manoeuvring a Mirage.
Excellent Bluetooth connectivity, with the bonus of remote audio streaming, is a further bonus.
But the flat front seat cushions lack support they need more rearward travel for taller drivers the light trim scuffs too easily and there’s too much road noise entering inside.
The latter is much more noticeable in the drab second row – which can only fit three people if they’re converted to stick figures first.
The rear bench matches the front cushion for flatness, and offers little in the way of convenience features beyond a power window switch and a single cupholder.
Forget about finding a map pocket or overhead grab handle.
On the other hand, the rear windows slide all the way down, increasing ventilation access on hot days for smaller bodies.
Finally, the Mirage’s boot area is larger than most rivals at this price point, offering a trio of child-seat anchorage points directly behind the split/fold backrest (though the capsules themselves need to be no larger than Cabbage Patch Doll dimensions), while the large hatch and deep floor (where the space-saver spare resides) should be enough for most single peoples’ needs.
Engine and transmission
We’re fans of three-cylinder engines, and the Mirage’s unit doesn’t let us down in isolation.
Rorty yet surprisingly smooth and punchy from the get-go, it instils a throaty can-do charm that completely belies the 1.2-litre capacity. It will rev fairly swiftly to the 6500rpm red line, but prefers to stick below that.
Most Mirages will be married to a CVT Continuously Variable Transmission, but unless you’re unable to, we strongly recommend saving $2500 and settling for the five-speed manual shifter instead.
That’s because the three-pedal version doesn’t suffer from the CVT’s languid step-off acceleration. The latter requires a decent dose of revs before it can feel anything approaching sprightly, and by then most urban traffic is overtaking you in pity or rage.
On the go, though, the CVT works fine, responding sufficiently enough to not make the Mirage a chore on the highway, but you’ll never choose this Mitsubishi as your preferred overtaking vehicle.
On the flipside, outstanding official combined average fuel consumption is up for the offer, but our constant foot-down driving just to keep the CVT moving along around town and inner ‘burbs meant we rarely fell below 7.0L/100km.
Note that while there is no Tiptronic-style sequential shift mechanism, an engine braking option below ‘Drive’ does come in handy for slowing down without needing to apply the brakes. Also, a hill-start assist function is fitted to help with those pesky inclines.
, Ride and handling
So where has MMC saved its pennies?
Just one spirited drive will reveal a chassis much happier around town than on Aussie rural roads.
What feels relatively absorbent and controlled in an urban environment, with light and tight steering for a delightfully tight turning circle, deteriorates into roly-poly raggedness the moment you push on a bit, with copious body leaning and plenty of tyre scrubbing being the name of the game here.
Fitting high-walled 165/65 R14 Bridgestone rubber probably doesn’t help here.
Furthermore, over 100km/h the Mirage lacks the surefooted feel of any modern little car we’ve tested lately, and is too susceptible to strong winds out on the freeway.
Making things worse is steering totally devoid of feel and feedback, so the driver never knows what’s going on down below, while there’s a momentary delay to all steering inputs at the straight-ahead, further divorcing the person from the machine.
This is a slightly unnerving car to place precisely through faster corners as a result, undermined by heaps of rack rattle and that shuddery understeer. Has MMAL specified Thailand-market steering for our Mirages? This situation needs to change right now.
Plus, the brakes feel tinny when required to react above and beyond the urban sphere.
Basically, there’s not much fun to be had here at all. Stick to the city streets and the Mirage will shine. Anything beyond reveals a chassis that feels half-baked for Aussie conditions.
Remember, the Mirage’s aforementioned local makeover included a front anti-roll bar and better noise-quelling insulation. Only the latter seems to have had any effect.
, Safety and servicing
Five-year’s worth of unlimited kilometre warranty, with fixed-price servicing included, is no surprise from a Mitsubishi nowadays, but the five-star ANCAP crash-test rating is excellent.
Well done here, Mirage engineers.
For warranty, cabin presentation, gearbox efficiency, engine refinement, fuel economy, and crash-test ratings, the Mirage outshines the more expensive and less well equipped Micra.
But the Mitsubishi lacks the charm or capability of its Nissan nemesis, and is nowhere near as accomplished as the Up, with sluggish off-the-mark performance, lifeless steering, sloppy handling, and a tippy toed feel at speed that undermines what could have been a real class contender.
In CVT guise at least, the Mirage delivers less than its nameplate and specifications suggest, and so must rank as one of the disappointments of the year.
Built down to a low price, the ES is closer to an Alto than an Up in character and feel.
Unless you are basically completely town-based, we recommend you save up for a Lancer, find a near-new Colt, or look elsewhere instead.
Volkswagen Up 5DR, From $14,990 plus on-roads, The global segment benchmark is right here, with impressive capabilities oozing out of every orifice. Only poor face ventilation, feeble air-con, and no auto option jar. Haggle on price.
2. Nissan K13 Micra ST, From $13,490 plus on-roads , Now almost three years old, the three-cylinder five-seater ST remains a bargain, being a cheap, spacious, spirited, and well-equipped way to get around. But it is a bit rough around the edges.
3. Holden MJ Barina Spark CD Series II, From $12,490 plus on-roads, Forget the breathless manual – the (slightly torquier) auto version lifts the roomy and quite upright Spark, but it is still dull to drive and unappealingly cheapo inside.
MAKE/MODEL: MITSUBISHI LA MIRAGE ES CVT
, ENGINE: 1193cc 3-cyl DOHC petrol
, LAYOUT: AWD, transverse
, POWER: 57kW @ 6000rpm
, TORQUE: 100Nm @ 4000rpm
, TRANSMISSION: CVT auto
, 0-100km: 9.9
, TOP SPEED: 190km/h
, FUEL: 4.9L/100km
, CO2: 109g/km
, L/W/H/W’BASE: 3710/1665/1490/2450mm
, WEIGHT: 865kg
, SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Torsion beam
, STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
, BRAKES f/r: Discs/drums
, PRICE: From $12,990 plus on-roads
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