I wasn't expecting much from a subcompact economy car with a 74-horsepower, three-cylinder engine that claims to be the most fuel-efficient, non-hybrid gasoline vehicle in America. But the Mitsubishi Mirage ES surprised me — in good ways and bad.
The Mirage made its re-entry to the U.S. market this year, re-invented for maximum fuel economy. Built in Thailand, it looks like a car for a congested urban environment to maximize capacity for occupants and cargo. It is a roomy five-seat, five-door hatchback with 39.1 inches of front headroom and 34 inches of back seat legroom.
Sold in two trim levels, pricing starts at $13,790 with a five-speed manual transmission. The uplevel ES, today's test car starts at $15,990, including a continuously variable automatic transmission; pricing includes the $795 freight charge.
The tester had no options and was well equipped with such niceties as Fastkey locking and push-button ignition, automatic air conditioning, fog lights, six-way adjustable driver's seat, four-speaker audio system with USB port and Bluetooth phone connection, steering wheel controls for phone and cruise control, alloy wheels and power windows-locks-mirrors.
There is a covered vanity mirror on driver's visor, but none on the passenger's side. The three-blink to pass turn signal is a thoughtful addition still not applied by more expensive cars.
The best part of the pricing may be the basic, bumper-to-bumper warranty of five-years or 60,000-miles and the powertrain warranty of 10-years or 100,000-miles. A parent can buy a Mirage for the college-bound kid and know the coverage will last through school and, maybe, on to a job. It has the room to haul the essentials — 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat and up to 47 cubic feet with the seats folded.
The 1.2-liter three-cylinder has an EPA fuel economy rating of 40 mpg combined or 37 mpg city and 44 highway. A fellow auto critic was able to get 74 mpg on a 275-mile fuel-economy run from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. And in a long-term test he said he was getting 36 to 37 mpg in L.A. city driving and that it was easy to get 45 to 47 mpg when he was more careful.
The good news is that the little engine runs on 87 octane. The bad news for the hyper-commuter is that the gas tank is just 9.2 gallons.
This isn't really the ideal car for the commuter driving 100 miles a day. The suspension is springy-soft and the 14-inch Dunlop Enasave tires (low rolling resistance) have the skinny grip of black checkers. I took a lumpy freeway connector at 65 mph and thought the car was going to jump a lane. Around town, the rear torsion beam suspension let's loose with some clunks when crossing speed bumps and pulling into driveways.
The engine has decent acceleration — with foot to the floor — to merge with freeway traffic. But it has all the launch force of an Evinrude trolling motor. And the harder you press the accelerator the louder the engine gets, until leveled off at cruising speed.
The Mirage is a practical choice for someone who needs a car but doesn't care what it is. Front disc brakes and rear drums had refined smoothness and firm grip. The steering is light and the tiny 32-foot turning circle is empowering in tight parking conditions.
Not everybody lives a sport-tuned lifestyle and there are simplicities to the Mirage that make it an accommodating car. The sightlines are open over the hood and over the shoulder. There is an option for a rearview camera, but it's really not needed. The front seats are not bolstered buckets, which makes comfortable entry for all sizes and ages. And there's enough seat padding for at least a two-hour drive.
Owners in Thailand and other parts of the world may not drive 80 mph for long distances in the daily commute. North American drivers can make the easy upgrade to better shock absorbers. Maybe something by Bilstein, KYB or Tokico.
Upgrading tires is more of a challenge because there are few, good 14-inch tires made by the major brands. The slim P165/65 size looks more like a trailer tire. Bridgestone has a high performance all-season tire that would be my choice and it's the about the same cost (around $89) to replace as the Dunlop.
Good tires and a supportive suspension will make the Mirage so much more enjoyable to drive.
You could throw this little car away after the warranty runs out, but it is a handy runabout that you may grow to enjoy it as I did, even without the upgrades.
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
—Body style: subcompact, 5-seat, front-wheel-drive 5-door hatchback
—Engine: aluminum, 74-horsepower, 1.2-liter 3-cylinder; 74 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm
—Fuel economy: 37/44 mpg city/highway; 87 octane
—Fuel tank: 9.2 gallons
—Cargo space: 17.2 to 47 cubic feet
—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.1/41.7/51.7 inches
—Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 37.3/34/51 inches
—Length/wheelbase: 148.8/96.5 inches
—Curb weight: 2,051 pounds
—Turning circle: 32.1 feet
—Standard equipment includes: Fastkey lock-unlock and push-button ignition, automatic air conditioning, halogen headlights, fog lights, rear wiper, 6-way driver's seat, 4-way front passenger seat, 4-speaker audio system with USB port, Bluetooth phone connection, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, steering wheel controls for phone-cruise control, power windows-locks-mirrors, alloy wheels
—Safety features include: 7 air bags (including driver's knee bag), ABS, brake assist, brake-force distribution, stability and traction controls
—Base price: $15,990, including $795 freight charge
—Options on test vehicle: none
—Where assembled: Thailand
—Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain
Mark Maynard is online at [email protected] Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage. To find out more about Mark Maynard and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.