The Truth About the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
It’s a fact that in base DE trim with a manual transmission and no extras, the Mirage has an MSRP that starts at $12,995, though it can price as high as $17,920 in ES trim with a CVT transmission and additional options. (Note that these figures do not include $810 destination and delivery fees.)
It’s also a fact that based on EPA ratings the Mirage is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car currently for sale in the U.S. It’s powered by a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 74 horsepower, and promises fuel economy of 37 mpg in the city, 45 mpg on the highway, with 40 mpg combined.
Beyond these facts, however, there is plenty of dissension when it comes to opinions about Mitsubishi’s little car. The New York Times and Consumer Reports are among the haters, while Jalopnik, Automotive News, and others see it as a good value. The Mirage slots against the Chevrolet Spark, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta SFE 1-liter, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit hatchbacks, with all except the Spark costing more, and none offering the same fuel economy.
Mitsubishi revealed the practical 2014 Mirage at the 2013 New York Auto Show, promising that it would be both super affordable and super fuel-efficient. The manufacturer has delivered on this promise, but with sacrifices. It’s not luxurious (but neither are any cars in this price range), it can feel minimal and be noisy (like many cars in this class), and it doesn’t perform like a sports car (but that’s a lot to expect from any car in this class without significantly raising the price and lowering the fuel economy).
Base Mirage models are equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, seven airbags, and four-wheel ABS, and feature such standard equipment as a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with four speakers and USB input, automatic climate controls, keyless entry, power windows and doorlocks, body-colored power side mirrors, and automatic headlights. Not a bad starting point for an economy car.
Stepping up to the higher ES adds keyless ignition, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, leather-wrapped adjustable steering wheel, 14-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, and front seat height adjustment.
Option packages include navigation and rear-view camera system with 7-inch touchscreen, front and rear park assist sensors, LED illumination, protective mudguards/molding, and Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Hill Start Assist.
We took the little Mirage on an adventurous, week-long California road trip, from Los Angeles to Crescent City and back. We piloted it along more than 1200 miles of California’s dramatic Pacific Coast 1 and 101 highways, another 500 miles of Interstate, a day’s worth of San Francisco city driving, and even a few unpaved roads through Redwood forests. The goal was to see how far we could take the inexpensive little car on an inexpensive trip, drive it in varied and challenging scenarios, and give it a fair and reasonable evaluation. Much of our route included world-renowned roads that enthusiasts choose to drive in sporty performance cars.
Make no mistake, the Mirage is no sports car: Acceleration from zero to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds means you’ll want to plan your passing, and avoid pulling out in front of oncoming traffic without leaving ample room. Before you bash its acceleration, keep in mind it is within tenths of the Nissan Versa Note and Chevrolet Spark.
The car can sound a little loud and revvy, partly a result of the CVT transmission, as engine RPM and the transmission gear ratio are constantly adjusting for optimal fuel economy and performance. While some may prefer a five-speed transmission, those who have driven both say the manual transmission may lag in performance, while the CVT does a fine job of managing torque and efficiency.
To aid fuel economy, Idle Neutral Logic automatically slips the CVT into neutral when the driver’s foot is on the brake to reduce load on the engine when the vehicle is at rest. A friend asked: “Why no automatic engine/start stop at idle?” While adding this technology could improve fuel economy another few percent, it would also raise the vehicle cost and complicate its mechanics, so it’s a feature that Mitsubishi chose to leave off.
Standard Electric Power Steering also aids the little car’s fuel efficiency. But we found steering feel and feedback to be one of the Mirage’s weakest points. Whether it be freeway driving or tracking through twisty two-lane turns, it seemed that the steering wheel had no tendency to return to center and that the car needed constant aiming. The suspension was on the soft side, and occasionally resulted in moments of bounce-like instability at higher speeds, though we debated whether or not a stiffer suspension with such a short wheelbase might be fatiguing on a model likely to see mostly urban driving. The little hatchback demonstrated body roll, but that’s to be expected with a vehicle of this type, and at no time was it difficult to manage. With realistic expectations, we were pleasantly surprised by the spirited drive that we were able to coax from the Mirage.
Yes, along the way we heard wind and road noise inside the cabin, but at no time did it impair our ability to have a conversation or use the hands-free Bluetooth voice commands. Keep in mind, sound deadening materials add weight to the car and subtract from fuel economy, so this is an expected compromise for this fuel sipper. And as a comparison, road and wind noise in my own (significantly more expensive) Ford Fiesta sedan often interferes with the functionality of my hands-free/Bluetooth interactivity.
Our entire trip used 44.5 gallons to travel 1772 miles, averaging out to 39.8 miles per gallon. That’s pretty good real-life economy considering our car was loaded down with two adults, a week’s worth of clothing and gear, and food and drinks. While the majority of our drive was on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway and Interstates at highway speeds, we did stop often and spent a fair amount of time sightseeing at slow speeds through the Redwood forests, small Victorian towns, and hilly San Francisco. We tracked our daily drives with a high-quality GPS unit, which showed daily moving averages from 42 to 63 mph, and max speeds of 70 to 80 mph, so I think this is impressive real-world fuel economy considering how we drove the car.
Safety is an important aspect of any subcompact car, and Mitsubishi equips the Mirage with four-wheel ABS, and seven airbags including front, front-seat-mounted, side-curtain, and driver’s knee airbags. Active Stability Control with Traction Control Logic monitors the grip of each tire and, if it senses wheel slip, will use the ABS to apply the brakes to the wheels with the most traction.
Engineers fortified the mini Mirage in the event of a collision by incorporating Mitsubishi's Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) impact-absorbing safety cell technology. The RISE structure utilizes an impact energy-absorbing front end along with an abundant use of high tensile steel in key areas throughout the platform and effectively utilizes crumple zones to route and absorb energy to protect its passengers during high-impact collisions.
In IIHS crash tests, the Mirage rated Good (the highest rating) in four out of five of the crash tests, but rated Poor in the important small overlap front test, where it is notoriously difficult for minicars to perform well. “Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage… As a group, minicars aren't performing as well as other vehicle categories in the small overlap crash," says Joe Nolan, IIHS senior vice president for vehicle research.
Rounding out its standard safety and comfort features, the Mirage offers a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile fully transferable New Vehicle basic limited warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile warranty on the restraint system, a seven-year/100,000-mile Anti-Corrosion/Perforation limited warranty, and five-year/unlimited miles Roadside Assistance.
The fact is the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage is an economy car. It is not a high-dollar luxury car. It is not an enthusiast’s gas-sucking performance car. Why criticize it for what it’s not, when it does what it promises so well -- to be an inexpensive, super fuel-efficient subcompact five-door hatchback? Its entry-level price is especially attractive to buyers whose budgets might otherwise limit them to used cars, and its excellent fuel economy keeps it affordable for those with long highway commutes.
That’s the truth.
photos by Scott Harris