2013 MITSUBISHI MIRAGE REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Engine: 1.2 litre petrol three-cylinder | Power/Torque: 57kW/100Nm
Fuel Consumption listed: 4.6-4.9 l/100km | tested: 4.5 l/100km
What makes a good light car? Is it affordability? Value for money? Fuel economy? Perhaps all three?
Mitsubishi marks each of these as key attributes. For 2013, it expects its new entrant to the light car segment - the reborn Mirage - to add significant volume to sales and arrest the company’s declining market share here.
It’s hoping to shift around 1000 Mirages per month; a target that would put the Mirage in the same league as the Suzuki Swift (which last year sold around 12,000 units).
But is the Mirage as good - or better - than Suzuki’s well-sorted hatchback?
It’s been nine years since you could buy a new Mirage from a Mitsubishi showroom. The Colt took the Mirage’s place from 2004 to 2011, but now the Mirage has returned to take its place at the bottom of Mitsubishi’s local range.
Is it good enough to sell as Mitsubishi expects? Its entry price of $12,990 drive-away is certainly compelling, but after our first drive on local roads we’re not confident that the rest of the package is quite up to snuff.
There’s no way to sugar-coat it. The Mirage’s interior looks and feels cheap.
The doors close with a tinny clunk, the sunvisors are flimsy, the door cards are made entirely out of rock-hard plastic and there’s inconsistent fitment to a lot of the cabin elements.
Other lowlights: a steering column that doesn’t adjust for reach, scratch-prone gloss plastics on the centre stack, manual ventilation controls that look outdated, and a rear bench seat that is flat, unsupportive and generally uncomfortable.
It’s not all bad news though, for even the entry-level Mirage ES comes with a decent level of standard equipment.
Keyless entry, power windows with auto up/down for the driver, a trip meter, height-adjustable driver’s seat, leather-upholstered steering wheel a USB input and Bluetooth telephony are all standard on the ES, which makes it one of the better-equipped sub-$13k cars around.
The mid-grade ES Sport adds 14-inch alloys, two more speakers (for a grand total of four) and a rear spoiler, while the range-topping LS gets 15-inch alloys, fog lamps, auto-on headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, push-button ignition, improved seat upholstery and climate control.
Boot space is acceptable at 235 litres, and the 60/40 split rear seatbacks give some extra luggage capacity.
In-cabin storage consists of three cupholders, pockets in the front door, a deep storage tray at the base of the centre stack, and a reasonably sized glovebox with a small exposed tray above it.
ON THE ROAD
The Mirage’s 1.2 litre three-cylinder petrol produces 57kW and 100Nm, which is about par with the Nissan Micra and more powerful than the 1.0 litre three-cylinders of the Volkswagen up! and Suzuki Alto.
Only the Holden Barina Spark 1.2 litre four-cylinder produces more power and torque, and even then we’re only talking a 2kW/7Nm advantage.
With only 865kg to haul (that’s even less than the tiny Alto), the Mirage’s engine has adequate grunt for most urban driving situations, although freeway on-ramp acceleration is, predictably, pretty average.
But it’s in noise and vibration where the Mirage’s powertrain loses big marks. This is a coarse powerplant, and the din it creates is almost a match for the absolutely cacophonous engine of the Suzuki Alto.
The manual transmission also generates a significant amount of noise, with plenty of gear whine in every ratio. The experience is not helped by the manual’s notchy and imprecise shift action, nor the clutch pedal’s vague friction point.
The CVT is not much better, with a general indecisiveness that was particularly noticeable on Sydney’s up-and-down suburban roads.
It’s a more liveable transmission than the manual, but at a premium of $2250 (or over one-sixth of the retail price of a Mirage ES manual) it’s an expensive option.
Australian-delivered Mirages get a front anti-roll bar to aid handling as well as Bridgestone Potenza rubber, but unfortunately neither can transform it into a sharp-steering machine. The rack ratio is simply too high, and although the turning circle is an ultra-tight 9.2 metres, you need to twirl the steering wheel quite a bit to go from lock to lock.
The suspension tune is also very soft, to the extent that any kind of hard cornering makes the tyres virtually roll onto their sidewalls. Dynamically, this car is not in the same league as the VW up! or Suzuki Swift.
On a positive note, there’s all the right safety equipment as standard across the range.
All Mirage models get stability control, ABS with EBD, traction control, three-point seatbelts for all seats, pretensioning front seatbelts with height-adjustable pivots, ISOFIX child seat anchorages and six airbags (front, front side and curtain.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Our first impression of the Mirage was not a good one. As far as light hatchbacks go, it’s far from the best.
That said, with special launch-pricing of $12,990 driveaway for the base ES manual, it is absolutely one of the most affordable options out there.
It is also generously specified with standard features and offers five-door convenience.
However, step into the Mirage from any other car and you’ll find it very agricultural. That the Mirage is designed with emerging markets in mind is obvious; the driving experience conjures up memories of small hatches from the 1980s and 1990s.
We’ll be spending a bit more time behind the wheel of the Mirage in coming months, but unless that experience proves more positive, we think there are better buys out there.