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2014 Mitsubishi Mirage: Quick Drive Of A Not-So-Quick Car Page 3

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But there are also lots of surprises in design and functionality—unfortunately, mostly of the disappointing kind. For instance, the back seats are split 60/40 but don't actually fold flat. The dash has the hard-and-hollow feel that was quite common in the cheapest models from most Japanese and Korean brands just a decade ago. There's a center console with some bin space, but it's also made of the same thin, brittle-looking plastic and it doesn't quite fit the curvature of the carpet. In our supposedly upmarket Mirage ES there was no lighted vanity mirror—no vanity mirror at all, actually—and the sunvisors themselves a super-flimsy, vinyl-covered affair. Furthermore, the hatch closes with a rattle, and the doors close with a disconcertingly light thunk.

And above 40 mph or so—at least on the coarse road surfaces that are typical around Portland, Oregon, where we drove the Mirage—road noise actually drowns out the turn signal clicks.

Yet amidst all of this, the Mirage has automatic climate control—quite strong, effective climate control, really—which factors in as perverse counter to the lack of civility in so many other ways.

A throwback to 1990s econocars, only at no special price

As you might agree by now, we found plenty of “yes but” responses in our time with the Mirage, as well as plenty of details that made it feel like a throwback to 1990s-era price leaders.

Our test car, in Plasma Purple, carried a bottom-line price of $15,990. For the $1,200 premium of the ES over the base SE, you get alloy wheels with 165-width tires, cruise control, a height adjustment for the seat, fog lamps, steering-wheel audio controls, and Bluetooth connectivity. Again, some surprises...like how the start button only cranks the engine, so you have to hold it down until the engine starts.

That price tag pretty much sealed the deal against the Mirage. Simply put, there's no way we'd ever buy—or recommend—this model over all the better-finished, more sophisticated, and more enjoyable-to-drive models that start in the same price range, like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Spark (or Sonic), or Kia Rio (or the very frugal Toyota Prius C). We'd even much rather take a gasoline Smart Fortwo or a Nissan Versa Note—two of our least favorite models in this segment—over the Mirage, which is saying something.

While Mitsubishi still offers a few good vehicles here in the U.S., like the new Outlander and, to some degree, the Outlander Sport, the Mirage is a flat-out disappointment, and a car that feels dumped here so that an already poorly regarded dealership network can sell more cars to subprime-credit shoppers.

It's probably not what those stuggling shoppers need, and not what Mitsubishi needs either, frankly.

If your definition of a 'perfectly competent' car is to have road manners that match up with those of a 1988 Daihatsu Charade or 1995 Hyundai Accent, then you won't be all that disappointed. But if you drive anything—and we mean anything—else that's new, this is a step backwards. Thinking you're seeing anything else is a mirage.

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