The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage is not a fast or powerful car. It comes with just one engine, a 1.2-liter three-cylinder that puts out 74 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque. That puts it among the least powerful cars sold in the U.S., in the same category as the Smart ForTwo (at 70 hp). Even the Scion iQ has 94 hp; the Fiat 500 offers 101 hp, and if you move up the price scale to hybrids, the Toyota Prius C powertrain is rated at 99 hp and the Honda Insight at 98 hp.
The Mirage offers two transmissions: a five-speed manual gearbox or, for $1,000 more, a new and very compact continuously variable transmission (CVT) that delivers the highest gas-mileage ratings. The CVT has a wider range (7.3 to 1) between its lowest and highest ratios than most, because its belt drive is supplemented by a small two-speed gearbox that’s part of the unit.
The Mirage is also, however, a remarkably light car. Mitsubishi put enormous effort into weight reduction in every facet of the car ,and the results are remarkable: This five-door car with seats for four adults has a curb weight of 1,973 pounds in its most minimal form, rising only to 2,051 fully loaded. It’s a remarkable achievement; the Smart ForTwo weighs 1,808 lbs, the Chevy Spark is 2,269 lbs, the Fiat 500 comes in at 2,363 lbs, and so forth.
The Mirage has been tuned for city and suburban use; the CVT version accelerates away from stops smartly. It also has hill-start assist. The manual gearbox, however, has a first gear high enough that moving away without stalling takes a bit of practice. On the top, fifth gear in the manual isn’t particularly high, so the engine is turning over 3,500 rpm at just 70 mph.
And it’s at higher speeds that the Mirage’s lack of power shows up most clearly. To pass a car ahead requires a long clear space and advance planning, and generates a lot of engine noise for very slow gains in momentum. The brakes (discs up front, drums in the rear) have a solid feel and work fine for such a light car. One possible anomaly: A panic stop momentarily overwhelmed the anti-lock brakes on our pre-production car, leaving stripes of rubber on the road. Mitsubishi engineers said they were unable to duplicate the behavior.
The handling and roadholding are only adequate. The electric power steering has a large numb area in the center—larger than virtually any other car we’ve driven lately—that can let the car wander if the driver doesn’t pay close attention. Mitsubishi says it has one single set of suspension tuning for every Mirage, no matter where it’s sold—and the company needs to go back and retune it for North American driving conditions. The ride is good enough on smooth pavement, but sudden maneuvers like lane changes produce a great deal of body roll and a wobbly and uncertain feeling until the car evens out again.
The 2014 Mirage is a nimble urban warrior, though. Its turning circle is a minimal 30.2 feet, so it can make U-turns into parking spaces across the street with ease.
The Mirage is a car that’s much more comfortable running around town than making long road trips—especially if those trips involve hills, lots of passing, or sudden changes in direction. It’s not unsafe, but it’s slow and the handling is hardly inspiring.