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The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage isn't all that rewarding to drive, and Mitsubishi's budget entry got one particularly bad score on a recent IIHS safety test. For budget-conscious buyers, then, the brightly colored Mirage minicar is the perfect case of getting what you pay for. Add $3,000 or more and can you have a considerably better small car, but with slightly lower gas mileage.
But the Mirage does have a couple of things going for it. It's the most fuel-efficient car sold this year that isn't a hybrid or plug-in electric vehicle, and it's low-priced, starting at just $13,000 plus delivery for the base DE model, which includes automatic climate control and a few other features as standard. Most Mirage buyers will likely step up to the ES for an additional $1,200. That's still reasonable against its competitors, which range from two-seat minicars to subcompact hatchbacks.
Oh, and that single Nissan Versa model that's so stripped down that it carries a cheaper base price? It's what's known in the trade as a "unicorn" for its rarity — its sole purpose is to get you in the door so the dealer can sell you a nicer model.
The Mirage is not only one of the two smallest five-door hatchbacks sold in the U.S. It's smaller than a subcompact–but it actually straddles categories: Its size puts it between minicars and subcompacts. It’s certainly larger than the Smart ForTwo, Scion iQ, Fiat 500, and even a bit bigger than the five-door Chevrolet Spark. But it’s dwarfed by every other subcompact hatchbacks: the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris, and the biggest boy in the class, the Nissan Versa.
The Mirage name was last seen in North America as a new car way back in 2002. The 2015 Mirage is sold in the U.S. and in Canada (where it competes with not only the Spark but also the Nissan Micra, a five-door minicar not sold in the U.S.).
The 2015 Mirage suffers from a soft suspension with a lot of body roll and tire squeal, along with a dead spot in the center of the electric power steering that can find the car drifting toward the edges of the lane with no feedback to the driver. The very small 14-inch wheels and tires may be at least partially to blame. The ride is smooth and quiet on good roads, but acceleration causes the engine noise to rise substantially--and broken pavements and surfaces are frequently jarring.
The high fuel economy comes at a cost, though. With a 74-horsepower 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, the Mirage is neither fast nor powerful. Paired with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), its performance away from stoplights and around town is fine if you work it hard. A five-speed manual transmission is also offered--for $1,000 less--but it reduces the gas mileage to 37 mpg combined. At highway speeds, though, there's very little margin indeed for acceleration or passing, regardless of which transmission you choose.
Looking at the Mirage, about the best you can say is that the design is inoffensive. There's a reason for the bland, characterless front end: aerodynamics, meaning that the rounded nose smooths the little car's path through the air and uses very little fuel to do it. The rest of the car's design is generic small hatchback, perhaps with a hint of last-generation Nissan Versa at the rear.
The materials inside are inexpensive, but Mitsubishi has crafted a straightforward dashboard that doesn't really betray its hard-plastic surfaces. Upholstery is simple black cloth with a subtle purple check (it's not as bad as it sounds). The front seats are comfortable, but the seat cushions are short; the rear seat will fit two adults, but while Mitsubishi calls this a five-passenger car, the rear seat will only fit three if they're exceptionally skinny teens or children.
The Mitsubishi Mirage is offered in just two trim levels: the base DE and the better equipped ES. Mitsubishi says it's targeting first-time buyers and those on very limited budgets.
Beside the standard automatic climate control, all Mirages have power locks, windows, and mirrors; a 60/40 split folding rear seat back (although it doesn't fold flat); and variable intermittent wipers. The AM/FMCD audio system has a USB port, an auxiliary input jack, and there's a 12-volt power outlet in the console. Standard steel wheels are fitted with silver plastic wheel covers.
For $1,200 more, the ES adds alloy wheels, pushbutton start, cruise control, a height adjustment for the driver's seat, leather wrappings for the steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps, Bluetooth pairing, and audio controls on the steering wheel. It has more chrome and silver trim accents as well. Even a top-of-the-line Mirage won't be much above $15,000, and Mitsubishi offers both trim levels with either transmission.
For trivia fans, the Mitsubishi Mirage is also the first passenger car sold in the U.S. to be built in Thailand. A dedicated factory there can build up to 125,000 Mirages a year for global markets. In the U.S., however, Mitsubishi has modest aspirations for the Mirage: It hopes to sell about 7,000 during 2015. The Mirage will likely do somewhat better in Canada, where small and inexpensive cars take a larger share of the market.