It doesn't offer anywhere close to today's standards of refinement or performance, when we compare it not to cars that are much more expensive but to those that are of the same price range. And those inadequacies can't mask any of its positives.
This Thai-built Mitsubishi, from the start, is an unlikely entry to the U.S. market, as safety regulations have kept some of the world's most budget-strapped subcompact cars and minis out, and cast them to “emerging markets.”
The good: fuel-stingy, spacious, well-equipped
But first, here's a brief outline of what's good about this car: With a fuel-stingy three-cylinder engine, it gets great gas mileage, without the need for (or cost of) the complexity of a hybrid system. It makes pretty good use of a conveniently small (146 inches long) parking footprint, And, at least according to the feature sheet, it's a relatively well-equipped car for the money.
First, over about 120 miles of gentle, careful driving, with sparing use of the climate control and a light right foot (but not accelerating so slowly that we'd inconvenience other motorists), we averaged nearly 46 mpg in our test Mirage ES.
You can also realistically fit four adults in the Mirage, and it rides quite well, provided the road is straight.
And that's about where the positives ended. Over nearly a week driving the Mirage, this fan of economical small cars in general was reminded of how undesirable some subcompacts used to be—and how far small cars have come in recent years, this model excluded.
The 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine in the Mirage makes just 74 horsepower and 74 pound-feet; and even though the Mirage stands as one of the lightest models for sale in the U.S. market, with a curb weight of about 2,000 pounds, the engine seems to struggle at times with our test car's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
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From the first moment you fire up the little three-cylinder, it's abundantly clear that this is not a refined powertrain. It revs up with a promising, unusual off-kilter note that gives itself away as a triple right away, then settles to what's without a doubt the roughest idle we've experienced in a normal production car in years (the Smart Fortwo also has a Mitsubishi triple, but it's nowhere near as uncultured from inside).
When the engine settles down to its 650-rpm low idle, the floor vibrates so vigorously that it looks blurry, and you feel a secondary, syncopated rhythm that quakes through the brake and accelerator pedal when just starting to press them at idle. Over the course of the week we discovered some tricks—for instance, that switching on the A/C brings the idle up to around 900 rpm, which smooths it out.