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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Mirage - LS

Our Opinion

We like
Great manoeuvrability and visibility, easy-to-use Bluetooth, audio quality, ride comfort, interior storage and space, climate control works well
Room for improvement
High boot lip, thirsty, slow, noisy, dynamically limp, no USB input, low-rent cabin

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Mitsubishi logo4 Apr 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

WE TESTED the top spec, auto-only, $15,250 plus on-road costs LS variant of the Mirage hatchback. Our vehicle also had Sunrise Orange paintwork, one of five $590 upgrade colours over the standard white. Carpet mats, an $85.80 extra, were also included.

Our pick of the micro car market, the Holden Spark, is priced from $15,690 plus on-roads with an automatic transmission. We reckon the extra $440 is worth it for what is a much more modern car that drives like something from a couple of sizes up, courtesy of Australian-tuned ride and handling, plus better interior presentation and comfort and market-leading 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

But Mitsubishi fights back with a longer five-year warranty, cheap servicing, standard cruise control, alloy wheels and an excellent climate-control air-conditioning system.

Interior

There is no mistaking the Mirage for anything other than a budget car upon stepping inside. It is basic looking, cheap feeling and not everything seems to fit together perfectly. But we never encountered any squeaks or rattles.

Apart from some glossy fingerprint-prone plastics trying their best to imitate a proper piano black finish, Mitsubishi has done the minimum in terms of making this car nice inside. It is logically laid out and reasonably spacious, though.

Storage is also good, with a gigantic glovebox, deep front door pockets and three cupholders within easy reach of the driver. The door pockets are also shaped to take bottles. Shelves are provided above the glovebox and in front of the driver’s knees as well.

Proper automatic climate control is nice for the price and it works brilliantly, although needs coaxing with some manual increase of the fan speed when trying to quickly cool the interior after the Mirage has been parked in sunlight.

Apart from the backrest settings being either too upright or too laid-back, we rarely encountered discomfort from the seats on hour-plus journeys. Likewise, the driving position is OK considering the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment. A central armrest would be nice, and can be had as a $320 dealer-fit option.

We were also impressed to find enough rear space to accommodate tall adults behind similar-sized front occupants. Knees lightly brushed the backrests in front and hair brushed the headlining but there was no need to splay or stoop.

Isofix child restraint anchorages are fitted to outboard rear positions, with three top tethers sensibly located in the boot side of the backrest, under slits in the fabric. Carrying a rear-facing infant seat behind a fully-grown adult in the front seat would be challenging, though. Older kids in forward-facing seats would be OK but they would be able to kick the backrests and annoy adults up front.

A 235-litre boot will just about carry the weekly shop if you are not stocking up on cartons of beer or trying to carry a full-size pram, but this is par for the course in the segment. The split rear bench can be folded to liberate further space, although it is not a completely flat load space and there is a bit of a step between the boot floor and the back of the folded seats. A space-saver spare wheel is provided.

On the move, interior noise levels are high. Engine and road noise are most prevalent at low speeds, while wind roar dominates on the motorway.

Luckily the four-speaker audio system overcomes this with great sound quality and clarity even at high speeds, never sounding tinny or distorted.

The ease of pairing a phone via Bluetooth was also pleasing, as was the simplicity of streaming audio or making calls considering the basic look of the Mirage’s CD/radio head unit. A 12V socket is provided to keep devices juiced up but unfortunately there is no USB input, just an auxiliary audio jack high up on the dashboard where trailing wires will get in the way.

So it’s all pretty basic but we could not fault the function. From an interior point of view, the Mirage is honest urban motoring for the masses.

Engine and transmission

Three-cylinder engines are cool. They can make an interesting sound and tend to provide enjoyable power delivery with more character than your conventional four-pot.

In the Mirage, the 1.2-litre engine puts out 56kW of peak power at 6000rpm and 100Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This means it needs revs to get going and the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) used certainly allows the little engine to spin.

Having just 890kg plus passengers and luggage to haul about, the engine outputs should be sufficient. But in hilly urban areas it really struggles. On numerous occasions we saw pedestrians give us a double take as the Mirage’s little triple screamed its way up an incline, barely managing to achieve 40km/h.

Selecting ‘B’ mode on the transmission, which is designed to provide additional engine braking for long descents, allows the engine to rev a bit more willingly for brisker but even noisier progress. It also makes the driveline feel a little more urgent for urban driving, but the revving and noise soon becomes tiring.

On the motorway at 100km/h the engine is spinning at around 2500rpm and the CVT allows revs to build smoothly when gentle inclines are encountered, enabling fairly seamless progress to be made. But under hard acceleration or when simulating kick-down, the CVT is less smooth.

Throughout our time with the Mirage we felt the engine was working overtime and that a bit more fire-power would make the driving experience more relaxed.

An on-test fuel consumption of 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres confirmed our suspicions, being significantly higher than the official 5.0L/100km combined cycle. Even on the motorway, where the official figure is just 4.5L/100km, we recorded consumption in the low-to-mid sixes.

Flat urban and suburban areas are fine for the Mirage, but it needs to be driven pretty hard even in this environment to keep up with traffic.

Ride and handling

Compared with the benchmark-setting Holden Spark that isolates occupants from rough roads like a much larger vehicle, the Mirage feels every bit the archetypal bouncy micro car.

The ride is clearly biased toward comfort and cushioned us from all manner of potholes and speed bumps admirably, but afterwards it took a while to settle as the suspension rebounded a couple of times.

Similarly it leans deeply into corners, while the slow and vague-feeling steering discourages any spirited driving. Those persisting will be hamstrung by the sluggish drivetrain anyway. And driving on the motorway in a strong wind produces a feeling similar to turbulence in an aircraft. Not pleasant, although at least the steering firms up reassuringly to provide a little more sensation of control at higher speeds.

A sadistic kind of satisfaction can be had wringing this little car within an inch of its life to drive a twisty road flat out from end to end, but flinging it through a few suburban roundabouts is as lively as most drivers would want to get.

It isn’t really responsive enough in driveline or chassis for the fun of diving into gaps in traffic. And that’s where the Mirage misses the point for us.

But the tight turning circle and feeling of lightness when navigating tight streets and parking spots was one of the Mirage’s strongest points for us and will be for the majority of owners.

Safety and servicing

Mitsubishi provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with four years of roadside assistance and a three-year capped-price servicing plan costing $230 per visit. Intervals are 12 months or 15,000km so the Mirage is as cheap to run as it is to buy.

ANCAP awarded the micro Mitsubishi a maximum five-star crash-test safety rating, scoring 34.7 out of a possible 37 points overall with 14.07 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and the full two points in the pole test. Whiplash and pedestrian protection were respectively deemed ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’.

Every Mirage variant comes with dual front, side and curtain airbags plus anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist and electronic stability control. Seatbelt reminders are fitted to both front seats.

Verdict

The Mirage provided a decent answer to the low-cost car question back in 2013 and up until last year, but times have changed with the arrival of better metal in the shape of the Holden Spark and to a lesser extent the Kia Picanto. Suzuki has also shaken things up with the charming Ignis that straddles the micro car and small SUV segments.

We tested the most expensive Mirage, the price point at which you are better off going for a Spark, but rarely do we drive past a Mitsubishi dealership without seeing some crazy deal on Mirages – such as $11 per week finance for the base ES manual – so time it right for a bargain, think hard about how it suits your circumstances and whether you can accept the pitfalls mentioned above considering the price.

But even faced with a tempting discount on a Mirage, we’d save a little harder and drive a hard bargain on a Spark because it would be far more pleasant to live with day-to-day. To us, that is well worth the extra spend.

As a footnote, we encountered a mystery flat battery after not using the Mirage for three days and found the automatic versions cannot be moved without sufficient voltage, as the transmission locks in park unless the ignition is on. Nor was it possible to leave it in neutral in case the battery failed again as the ignition lock refuses to let go of the key unless it is in park.

Our Mirage was the second Mitsubishi to experience some kind of failure in two weeks (the other being an Outlander that sprung an airbag fault).

Rivals

Holden Spark LS automatic from $15,690 plus on-road costs
Seems ambitiously priced until you turn the key and go for a drive. A benchmark-setter for road manners and ride maturity in this segment, while the excellent interior and touchscreen system also shows everyone else how it’s done. The least annoying to live with micro car on sale, which to us is worth paying extra for.

Kia Picanto from $14,990 driveaway
A new one is imminent, but even the ageing Picanto is a strong offering with good ride and interior comfort offsetting the basic audio system. If you can get over the sluggishness caused by its old-tech four-speed automatic.

Suzuki Celerio automatic from $13,990 driveaway
Penny-pinching motoring but feels cramped and even more cheap inside than the Mirage. On the upside, it’s a lot more fun to drive. But a four-star ANCAP rating might put people off.

Suzuki Ignis GL automatic from $16,990 plus on-road costs
The least expensive Ignis is the range sweet spot and provides a lot of funky character plus admirable practicality and driving pleasure for the money.

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