After launching as a 2014 model, the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage subcompact has fresh look and several added features. A four-door sedan, named Mirage G4, has joined the original hatchback.
Appearance revisions for 2017 include a new grille and bumpers. Headlights and foglamps have changed, with new wheels and a rear spoiler. Mitsubishi claims handling has improved courtesy of a stiffened suspension. Seat materials also have been upgraded.
Mirages come in three trim levels: base ES, midrange SE, and upper-end GT. Each holds a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that makes a mere 78 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. Those figures make Mirage the least powerful car at U.S. dealerships.
A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard with ES and SE trim, but an extra $1,200 buys Mitsubishi’s continuously variable transmission (CVT). Promising better gas mileage, the CVT incorporates a two-speed gearbox, boasting a wider-than-usual range between its lowest and highest ratios. GT models come only with the CVT.
Manufactured in Thailand, the 2014 Mirage sold considerably better than expected. Hatchbacks rank among the smallest, most fuel-efficient, and least-costly cars on sale. Skimpy power from a tiny engine is the primary penalty for those virtues.
Positioned between minicar and subcompact status, the lightweight Mirage offers substantially more interior space than expected. On the highway, it’s noisy and sluggish. Ride quality lacks control at higher speeds. Thrift-minded buyers may be delighted, but drivers who anticipate a joyful experience would likely be disappointed.
Safety is another sore spot, considering crash-test scores as well as available features. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the hatchback a four-star (out of five) overall rating, with four stars for both frontal and side-impact crashes.
In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the hatchback earned top Good rating for side-impact and moderate-overlap front-impact crashes, but only Marginal for the small-overlap front-impact test. The G4 scored even lower, dropping to Acceptable for side-impact, and hasn’t been tested at all by the federal agency. All told, Mirage safety scores rank among the lowest.
Only upper trim levels have a standard rearview camera. Active-safety features, such as collision and lane-departure warnings, aren’t available at all.
Mirage ES ($12,995 with manual, $14,195 with CVT) includes air conditioning, keyless entry, steel wheels, a 60/40 split-folding rear seatback, 14-inch steel wheels, and a 4-speaker, 140-watt sound system. Bluetooth is optional. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $835 destination charge.)
Mirage SE ($14,795 with manual, $15,995 with CVT) includes alloy wheels, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, pushbutton start, and alloy wheels. Infotainment with a 6.5-inch touchscreen incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Mirage GT ($16,495) has standard CVT, heated front seats, bi-xenon HID headlights, two-tone 15-inch alloy wheels, and sportier body trim.
Short on style or charm, the Mirage isn’t likely to win any design awards. A new front end for 2017 elevates appearance somewhat, compared to the previous bland frontal look. Even so, the Mirage remains largely anonymous.
Like most rivals, the Mirage is relatively tall compared to its body length. Wheels tend to look even smaller than their 14- or 15-inch size suggests. Deep-set front wheels don’t help with appearance. Awkwardly-drawn body lines at the rear impair visual appeal of the new G4 sedan.
Hatchbacks provide surprising space for four adults, though adding a fifth would be quite a squeeze. Front cushions are somewhat short, but seats are quite comfortable. They’re also better bolstered than some competitors. Back-seat upholstery is rather thin, and leg space could be better.
Hard plastic dominates the straightforward cabin. As in many small economy cars, materials are simple and basic. Though details are better than before, just about every interior element still suggests cheap transportation.
The simple instrument cluster contains a big speedometer, gas gauge, and small tachometer. Upper trim levels benefit from higher-contrast gauges. Large audio and climate-control knobs are intuitive.
Cargo space is ample for a small hatchback: 17.2 cubic feet with back seatback upright, growing to 47 cubic feet with that seat folded. The cargo floor isn’t flat. Luggage space totals only 12.3 cubic feet in the G4 sedan’s trunk.
Impressively maneuverable in an urban landscape, the Mirage falters considerably at highway speeds. Ultra-compact dimensions and a tight turning circle make it easy to park. Ride quality is sufficiently comfortable, as long as the Mirage rolls down good pavement at modest speeds.
Acceleration, too, is satisfactory, even perky, at in-town speeds, but sags painfully on the highway. Passing and merging amplify the sluggishness, which is exacerbated by the continuously variable transmission (CVT).
With 78 horsepower, the Mirage’s engine has nearly no reserve energy to call upon when needed. Hilly terrain is likely to prove troublesome. Although a Mirage cannot necessarily be deemed unsafe, shockingly slow acceleration at speeds past 40 mph is undeniably a concern.
At highway velocities, the Mirage begins to misbehave, wandering and even wobbling, making it one of the least pleasant cars to drive. A sense of floatiness can make the experience even worse. On broken pavement, the wheels crash over every rut.
In addition to being light in weight, the Mirage is set up with soft springs, resulting in weak body control. Electric power steering suffers from a numb area when pointed straight ahead, compelling the driver to remain especially attentive, to avoid drifting. A sudden lane change is accompanied by considerable body roll and a sense of uncertainty.
Manual shift has its own drawbacks, starting with a first-gear ratio that makes it a challenge to move out from a stop. In fifth gear, the engine screams loudly when it should be cruising gently.
Gas mileage, as expected, is a highlight. In fact, the Mirage has earned the highest fuel-economy rating of any gas-engine non-hybrid car. With the CVT, the hatchback is EPA-rated at 37/43 mpg City/Highway, or 39 mpg Combined. The new G4 sedan is a bit less frugal, EPA-rated at 35/42 City/Highway, or 37 mpg Combined. With 5-speed manual gearbox, standard on lower trim levels, ratings dip to 33/41/36 mpg for the hatchback and 33/40/35 mpg for the sedan.
The Mitsubishi Mirage delivers fuel-efficient transportation for a modest price, but it falls short when judged against competitors that cost only slightly more. Essentially, they reach back to the long-gone econocar era. A Mirage can make sense for city and suburban use, but is no pleasure on the open road. On the plus side, four average-size adults sit in reasonable comfort, and a Mirage rides smoothly until the pavement turns harsh. The deal may be an important part of the value story here.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.