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The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage: Little, But Not Necessarily Mighty

Currently, the Mitsubishi trades paint with Chevy Spark for the questionable honor of being the cheapest new car you can buy in America. But for one thing, how cheap is $14K? Even after adjusting for inflation, it seems that entry-level Basic Transportation used to cost less. And second, what are you giving up for that extra few thousand bucks? At the end of the day, it worth it to get the cheapest car on the market, just for the sake of having a new car? Let’s investigate.

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First let’s highlight what’s good about the Mitsubishi Mirage. For one thing, for a little bean, it’s got some decent interior room. The rear seats fold nearly flat, which is always nice in a hatchback and opens up a diminutive but cavernous aft cargo space.

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Another plus is that it gets great mileage: the Mirage weighs in at just under 2,000 lbs, and with the ultra-efficient CVT, it’ll do 40 mpg all day long. Finally, as stated, the purchase price is outstandingly low by today’s standards. You can get a base model with a stick shift and nothing on it for $13,790 including destination fee. The quasi-loaded ES, the one I had, came in at a significantly less-justifiable $16K. For comparison’s sake I priced a bare-bones Chevy Spark and Nissan Versa Note, which penciled out to $12,995 and $14,800 respectively (Chevy set the Spark’s MSRP at $12,170 so the total could come in below the $13K threshold after destination). Mix in some aggressive manufacturer- and dealer-level incentives, and give or take a few hundred bucks the Mirage is, price-wise, the bottom of the barrel. Unfortunately, it's bottom of the barrel on most other measures as well.

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Full disclosure: I don’t want to hate on the Mirage! I actually love little, cheap cars, and I love the idea of ultra-fuel efficient people-movers for commuters so that at least some of our planet’s remaining fuel can be saved for our gas-hungry muscle cars. I was looking forward to trying out the Mirage and being able to champion all the great things about it. But the car just gives you so little to go on. The motor is a 1.2L 3-cylinder, so it really is the Geo Metro of our generation.

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It makes only 74 hp, and its struggle under even the slightest load is painful to witness. Merging into brisk traffic, you’d swear that you’re about to blow that pocket-sized powerplant. And that CVT, the one that nets the Mirage such fabulous mpg’s? It’s flabby and boggy on take-off; on a hill, the car almost feels like it’s going to stall, and accelerating at highway speed, the whole drivetrain feels like it’s about to come apart, droning and vibrating throughout the passenger compartment. Throttle response? It’s like flushing a water-saving toilet. With so little power, it’s clear that you need the five-speed to make the most of this ride, but the manual shift wipes out one of the main things the Mirage has going for it: its fuel mileage. Ratings for the manual are only 34 mpg city / 42 highway, compared to the CVT’s 37/44. You really are stuck between a rock and a hard place with this car, though you can take solace in the fact that even a stick would hardly make the Mirage “fun to drive.” The steering is approximate at best, and the dead suspension and dinky 14-inch wheels crack and slam dramatically over even moderately rough city roads. You’d think the short wheelbase would make for a good turning radius, but it won’t U-turn on a normal city sidestreet. Nope, that’ll be a 3-point for you! It’s got a push-button start with the button on the wrong side of the steering wheel, and the sound from the factory speakers is muffled and muddy. Every opportunity the Mirage has to pleasantly surprise you, it meticulously declines.

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Okay, so that’s not completely true. I thought the dash interface was nice, though basic, and had no complaints about the cheap materials that other reviewers found objectionable. (My tester was painted in the flashy Plasma Purple--though both "Purple" and "painted" are slight misnomers, since the engine compatment and many visible interior panels were still in grey primer [cheaper to spray the car with the hood and doors closed, I guess] and the hue insisted on coming out pink in photos and most lights). Still, the subtle purple plaid of the upholstery was cute, even if I couldn’t get the manual seat settings to adjust to any driving position that felt even remotely natural. The rear windows roll all the way down, just one feature of a surprisingly comfortable back seat; and I like the super-analog handle release on the rear hatch was vastly preferable to all the counterintuitive nipples and bleepers that hatchback manufacturers typically require to open the hatch these days.  I feel like I haven’t seen a good old-fashioned tailgate-like handle on a rear hatch since… what, the 80s? Mitsus have seemed kind of retro lately, and this was a nice touch.

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But overall, this car seems like an opportunity missed. Mitsubishi is an underdog manufacturer who I want to encourage to stay weird, in part out of respect to its history but also because it seems they should be stepping in to fill the oddball-shaped void left by Suzuki’s departure from the North American market. With a few decades of scrappy Lancers under their belt, Mitsubishi should be able crank out a fun cheap subcompact with its eyes closed. Why couldn’t they pull it off? Anyone looking for an ultra-cheap subcompact would be out of their mind to drop $14K on this: imagine how far that money would go on an old Honda CRX, Geo Storm, or Ford Festiva instead—you could have the nicest one of any of these cars around, get your 40+ mpg, and come out at least $6K ahead to boot. And for someone with no money who’s really stuck on a new car, the Chevy Spark is all-around nicer, cuter, more powerful, and better-optioned. It’s too bad that the Mirage just doesn’t add up no matter how you look at it. If the car survives to its next generation, I really hope Mitsubishi is able to step it up, address its deficiencies, and make it something that can actually compete in this increasingly crowded segment. The Mirage is an idea that seems like it deserves the effort.

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What’s new: the Mitsubishi Mirage is an all-new offering for 2014

What’s hot: great mileage, good useable interior space for a subcompact.

What’s not: steering is floaty, CVT transmission is awful, and the 1.2L 3-cylinder is beyond gutless.

Get this car if: you want one of the cheapest new cars on the market, you’re averse to making a much more sensible investment on a used econobox, and you’ve got something irrational against Chevy's obviously superior competitor?

 

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This Mirage article is timely to me, especially because I'm putting together a post comparing this car, the Mazda2, and the Yaris. Since I drove both a Chevette and a Vega back in the day, any entry-level car still has a certain "Model T basics" appeal. And today's mobile molecules are certainly better than any small car we had in the 70s. And the 80s. And the 90s.

Concerning the Spark, I'd rather walk (Or better yet ride the CBR500R!) than drive that grotesque, bug-eyed wad of metal and plastic (And I don't like it either!). As far as shifting the 5-speed, 34 mpg city/42 highway, compared to the CVT’s 37/44... well, you're still getting fantastic mileage, so what the heck.

Back in 1981 I bought a new Pontiac T1000, rather than getting a similarly-priced used car. I should have gone to the used car lot. So apparantly asking the question if a cheap new car is better than a better used one for the same cash, well... the more things change, it seems the more they stay the same.

Nice post, Jen!

Horrible article. Great car. The spark is not better. This is a great deal on a great car. 12995 price, 10 year warranty, and 44 mpg. Bad review

I was expecting this hue to make a comeback like teal did. Just didn't expect it on this car. Took me by surprise when I saw these on a Mitsubishi dealer and on car carriers on the freeway, confirming that they weren't one-offs.

The biggest thing that bugs me the most from this car isn't the style (which comes second), it's the name. It's not even called Mirage in other countries. Colt would've been marginally more tolerable. The Mirage nameplate is held highly by me and my fellow countrymen. IMO, this is a step backwards. It doesn't even have independent rear suspension, which the first generation had... in 1978!

...while i expect mirages can be found cheaper with a little searching, it's worth note that i see stripper mazda 2s selling for $13,000 on a regular basis...

What was once a formidable opponent in the compact car arena has been reduced to nothing more than a throwaway commuter car... how sad.

Does a stripped mazda 2 come with all the standard features of a mirage? Or get anywhere even remotely close in fuel economy? And how is its warranty?

74 HP? In an American market car? That's Smart Fourtwo territory right there, which is not a good thing. Credit to Mitsubishi for at least making a four door, theoretically four passenger version, though. Heck, even a Spark gives you an additional cylinder and 10 HP.

Honestly, I'm actually a little disappointed. A 1992 Subaru Justy (non-4WD) came with a 1.2L 3-cylinder, generated 72 HP, and, at least if the one my family had was any indication, could routinely pick up 40+ MPG with careful driving and a 5-speed manual. With 20 years of technology between then and now, I'd expect a little better in this space than what Mitsubishi's offering. Plus, it's not like you can't get a Rio or an Accent with an additional 70(!) HP and maybe a 4 MPG penalty for close to the same price. This car might make sense in foreign markets where fuel and displacement taxes are an order of magnitude higher than they are in the US, but I just don't see the point of this car here.

I saw Mazda 3's, base models in 2008, for 10 grand. Hyundai Accents 2 years ago for 9 grand.

Who on Earth would pay more than 9k for this car? Certainly not me.

It is possible to get incentives, wait for discounts, etc. Also, like we have done, find out what the invoice is, and go below that amount. Dealers get Hold Back.. that is like $800-$1500 AFTER they sell the car, no matter what the amount ends up being.

For example, our Forester had an MSRP of 23k. The invoice in the 17k range. With options, at dealer cost, it was about 18k they purchased it for. We bought it for a little less than that.. they went under invoice due to getting paid over a grand from Subaru once we bought it.

People need to research heavily, buy a Consumer Guide with all the costs listed, before going in to hammer them at the table. Research the costs and any incentives to even further stretch the amount for negotiation further.

With that, I would not be surprised if you could spend 1.5 hrs with the dealer sales guy, then manager for another 40 minutes, finally getting one of these little boxes for about 9 grand. Maybe AC is worth considering, but adding more than that is silly. Get a different model car of stuff like fancy wheels and upgraded trim is desirable.. you will get a nicer car all around.

For the record, I have not driven the new Mirage ( I had an older 2001 Mirage ES that lasted well over 200K). I really want to like the new Mirage as a competent commuter and heck maybe it is. But, the torrent of negative reviews and seemingly Mitsubishi's half hearted attempt to capitalize on this market really is not doing this car any favors. For direct comparison, the new Spark had decidely better interior appointments and more power (subjective in this class). GM wisely added some appeal to their smallest offering and it shows. The new Mirage has the look of mid 1990's appliance (not bad/not memorable). It is just there.

Mazda 2 for 13k?, that is about 2.5k more than one should need to pay after negotiating heavily, if you are smart with avoiding options. Again, these are entry level econo boxes. Not entry level mid size cars.

How many people on here work for a GM company? I test drove all of the 3 cylinder cars and found the fiesta and mirage drive almost identically. The Chevy spark had the worst acceleration of all. Mirage won't beat a muscle car in a race, but it is plenty fast for every day driving(yes even up hills with passengers). The author must have a stethoscope to the floorboard to have the road noise he describes. Of all the 3 cylinder cars of 2014 only the mirage has enough space to pack a lawn mower with the seats down. The price may be steep for a subcompact, but remember the other companies want even more for the same thing. The other companies try to raise the acceleration unappreciably for a loss of about 6 mpg which is a huge loss for no real gain. If someone wants a styling new car to impress others then obviously subcompact is not the best choice.

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