The skinny: The ‘micro’ class in which the Mitsubishi Mirage resides is where many first-time drivers shop. Around $15,000 on the road buys a new-car smell and new-car warranty (in this case, a five-year one), and almost always five-star safety.
The Mirage ES tested here plays ball with all of the above. It’s priced from just $11,990 plus on-road costs for the five-speed manual or $13,990 plus on-road costs for the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) tested here.
That’s $500 higher than last year’s prices, and, right now, drive-away pricing amounts to $13,490 and $15,490 respectively – enough to knock on the door of more popular cars in the class above.
Vehicle Style: Micro city-car
Price: $13,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 57kW/100Nm 1.2 3cyl petrol | continuously-variable transmission
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.6 l/100km | tested: 6.5 l/100km
The Mitsubishi Mirage dominates sales in the most affordable new-car segment in the country - the light car, or city car segment. Its sales, though 44 percent down on last year, are more than double close rivals Holden Barina Spark and Suzuki Celerio.
A full 10 competitors in that class beat the sales tally of the Mirage this year – but does that mean the marginally cheaper Mitsubishi should be overlooked, or given another look?
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, air conditioning, cloth seat trim, variable intermittent wipers, auto-off headlights
- Infotainment: USB/AUX, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, AM/FM radio, CD player, 2 speakers
- Cargo volume: 235 litres
No-frills motoring can provide the simplest of pleasures and the Mitsubishi Mirage ES is most definitely a simple city car.
A Mirage highlight is that its body feels strong, not tinny. The hard dashboard plastics are nicely textured, although the sliding-abacus ventilation controls for the standard air-conditioning are a 1990s throwback.
Storage is plentiful up front (cupholders in the console, bottle-holders in the doors) but none further back due to an absence of map pockets, door pockets or a centre armrest.
There’s a tachometer and steering wheel-mounted audio/phone controls, plus a full complement of airbags (six) and fast glass (four), if not speakers (only two).
The voice-activated Bluetooth system isn’t the most intuitive to sync up with, either.
It does, however, remember your phone and will be fine for regular drivers once connected. The audio buttons are as simple to operate as the plug-and-play USB and auxiliary inputs are to access.
Headlights that automatically switch themselves off are a rare touch in this class, as are the variable intermittent wipers.
Although five seatbelts are standard – rivals such as the Celerio only have four – the Mirage ES has among the least comfortable seats of any new car. The cloth-trimmed front buckets are hard, though they are more supportive than the entirely flat rear bench.
There is decent room to be found back there, particularly as the seats are placed high so legs can first drop down to the floor then slide under the front chairs.
Boot space is generous for such a tiddler and folding the 60:40 split rear-backrest increases volume, although it doesn’t afford a completely flat floor. It’s just a shame the things that matter most when driving – seats – are disappointing all round.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 57kW/100Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: CVT (continuously-variable transmission), front wheel drive
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Brakes: ventilated front discs and rear drum brakes
Steering: mechanical, electrically-assisted, turning circle: 9.2m
Little cars with automatic gearboxes are rarely an ideal combination, so it comes as a surprise that the Mitsubishi Mirage ES with its CVT generally gets along fine.
With the 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine producing 100Nm of torque at 4000rpm and 57kW of power at 6000rpm, the CVT cleverly uses its single sliding ‘gear’ to flare revs off the line and quickly get the Mitsubishi into its sweet spot.
Refinement and fuel consumption suffer in the process, however. The Mirage’s combined cycle consumption figure of 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres doubled around town while the engine growled away, and it only settled to 6.1 l/100km after a freeway run.
The CVT isn’t perfect in other ways. Roll your foot off the throttle at speed and revs immediately drop to idle, leaving the CVT to sluggishly wind back up. You have to prepare things by getting the revs up if thinking about overtaking.
While the Mitsubishi drivetrain is adequate for the price, its steering and suspension fall below average even by ‘micro’ standards.
The steering has a disconcerting reluctance to self-centre when parking or threading through city streets, feeling more like a stick in mud. At freeway speed it is prone to wander and require small corrections to keep it heading straight, which you’ll especially need to do often because the Mirage is easily affected by crosswinds.
Cars like the Celerio and Micra prove that micro cars can be both fun and surefooted, but the Mitsubishi dips out in both camps.
It does however have stability control as standard.
The suspension has all the damping finesse of cardboard, causing the skinny 14-inch tyres to hop and skip over the smallest of bumps.
Add a corner into the mix and there’s little confidence to be found, even at urban speeds. And even at these prices, all rivals provide a more balanced and in-depth driving experience than the somewhat backward Mirage.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Mirage scored 34.07 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS and ESC.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Celerio is the one to beat, being both refined and fun, and as an auto it costs just $13,990 driveaway.
Both the Barina Spark and Micra are getting old and aren’t great buys at their recommended retail prices of beyond $15K on-road with an auto – but each are decent if you bargain hard, because there are deals to be done on both.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s a point worth making relative to today, because at its official retail price of $13,990 plus on-road costs or $15,490 driveaway at the time of writing, the Mirage ES feels overpriced and underdone.
A superior Celerio auto costs $1500 less while the vastly better Hyundai Accent Active auto (from the class above) asks $15,990 driveaway at the time of writing – just $500 more than the Mirage ES.
Life’s tough at this end of the market, but the Mirage needs either a lifecycle upgrade to address its weaknesses, or a significant price cut.