In the rush to all things crossover, the floor has fallen out of the subcompact sedan market in America. Mazda, Kia and Hyundai all have pulled their tiniest offerings here, leaving these offerings: this week’s Mitsubishi Mirage, Chevy’s Spark, Nissan’s Versa Note and the Kia Soul. They are four-door, four-passenger models, while the Fiat 500 and BMW’s Mini Cooper are two-door subcompacts. Toyota offers four alternatives all by itself: the Yaris, Yaris iA and the Corolla iM, plus the Prius C hybrid. This entire segment (mostly hatchbacks) generated sales of fewer than 300,000 vehicles last year — less than Toyota’s Corolla all by itself.
Kia’s Soul dominates sales in this class — further proof that buyers want five-door flexibility even in their smallest cars.
The Mirage, one of only two Mitsubishi cars still sold in America, is also one of the smallest cars you can buy in the United States. At only 149 inches long — only the Spark and the Fiat are smaller — the five-door Mirage would seem to be the perfect city/urban car for squeezing into congested parking lots, finding that tiny, elusive curbside resting place or for just minimalist commuting. The Mirage, shown here in mid-level GT trim, weighs less than 2,100 pounds, making it one of the lightest cars sold here, which is a blessing seeing as the 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine generates only 78 hp — the lowest output of any mass-produced car sold in the United States.
Teamed with a five-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission, the Mirage demonstrated its primary virtue with its realized fuel economy. A 150-mile drive from Lewiston to Ellsworth returned a solid 44.2 mpg — one mile per gallon more than the EPA highway estimate of 43 mpg (37/43/39).
At idle, the Mitsu’s engine shakes. At low speeds it moans a lot. At road speed, however, the engine note is exceeded by road noise and is generally subdued until you exercise the throttle for long hills or an attempt at a higher pace. I did pass other traffic, often downhill, but this is a car meant to flow with relaxed traffic, not lead the pack.
While the GT (Grand Touring) moniker is vastly overused throughout the industry, Mitsubishi’s Mirage consists of specialized two-tone 15-inch sport wheels, a large roof-mounted air spoiler at the rear, some GT trim pieces inside and out, front fog lamps plus Infrared Metallic paint. The chassis is unchanged from other Mirages; front drive with MacPherson struts up front, while a torsion beam axle handles the rear.
Inside, the Mirage fights its plebian, budget mission with recent additions meant for greater market appeal. Access is easy, even to the adult-sized rear, however, carpeting consists of trunk-liner material distributed throughout — with exposed metal surfaces clearly evident. Buyers get a sporty push-button ignition — mounted left of the steering wheel like Porsche — a leather-clad steering wheel and decent bucket seats with toaster-oven hot two-stage seat heaters. The steering wheel tilts, but does not telescope and remote access is only available on the driver’s door. The stereo buttons are tiny, yet redundant steering wheel controls assist. There is a CD player plus Apple and Android connectivity, but no satellite radio.
The rear seatbacks fold (not quite flat), producing a flexible cargo hold that also has a removable cargo shelf/privacy shade. GT trim adds a rear-view camera tacked onto the rear liftgate, while cruise and automatic climate control are included.
To the heart of the Mirage’s value, it lacks almost all of the latest electronic driving aids. Only antilock brakes with brake assist plus stability control and hill-start assist are part of this portfolio. Lane departure, blind-spot detection and dynamic cruise are not yet available at this price point.
With a list price starting at $12,995, the Mirage undercuts Chevy’s Aveo by $5 for the least expensive new car in America. With a list price of $17,585, our Mirage GT, however, is crowding into pricing territory for more polished and well-endowed cars that might not deliver the elevated fuel economy realized here but could potentially provide a more rounded ownership experience.
Every automaker designs products to fill particular niches in the marketplace. Drivers looking for affordable transportation with new car features, including a warranty, have several offerings to pick from, like the latest Mitsubishi Mirage.