These days it seems like almost every manufacturer out there is racing to produce the next greatest fuel saving technology. Gas isn’t getting any cheaper and the best way to your customer is often directly through the wallet. Recently, I’ve had the chance to drive some of the latest and greatest examples of these high tech fuel savers. However, if you’re talking about true economy and savings, the old adage of “less is more” can really ring true. With lower acquisition costs, impressive fuel economy and fewer gadgets to go wrong, subcompacts are still the vehicle of choice for many budget minded drivers from students to commuters. So with the start of a new year, I’ve been given the keys to a brand new 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage SE to find out if a lot less really can be more.
While the current generation Mirage has been available in other markets since 2012, 2014 marks the car’s return to Canada. Through the late 80s and into the 90s, the Mirage was sold in Canada under the Dodge Colt nameplate through a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. However, the car never really resonated with consumers and 1996 was its last year in our market.
My tester for the week was a well-optioned SE model in dark grey. While I was glad the car wasn’t in one of the flashy bright colors Mitsubishi has been offering it in, I do think the brighter colors compliment the cute look and may very well prove to be a hit with this car’s target market. With an MSRP of $17,098, my car came with the optional CVT transmission, heated seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, heated mirrors, keyless entry and a handful of other conveniences. While these are nice to have options, I really can’t help but feel that the sweet spot for this car is the $12,500 bare bones model. At over $17,000 there are a large number of well-established and well equipped subcompacts available, such as the Mazda2 and Honda Fit. This means that my little Mirage has some pretty stiff competition.
My week with the Mirage turned out to be one of the coldest on record in Toronto, so as much as I feel the base model is this car’s sweet spot, I was absolutely grateful for the Mirage’s very hot heated seats and easy-to-use automatic climate control. The rest of the interior isn’t too shabby; the driving position is comfortable, visibility is good, rear headroom is superb and the split folding rear seat opens up enough cargo space for most young couples on a weekend escape from the city. While the interior of the Mirage is far from luxurious, it has everything you’d need, except for maybe an exterior temperature readout, and the overall fit and finish is on par with the rest of the subcompact market.
As I had mentioned, when it comes to building an economy car, less is usually more, and that philosophy is most apparent in the driving dynamics of the Mirage. While powered by a wheezing 74 horsepower 1.2L 3-cylinder and weighing in under 2,000 pounds, the little engine does everything it has to keep the Mirage moving with the flow of traffic. That’s about all it can do though, any attempt at brisk acceleration is met with little more than a deep wallowing grunt from the little engine. That said, never did I feel the Mirage needed more power to get the job done, sure more power would make it a little more fun to be behind the wheel, but that is not what this car is about and it would certainly mean a trade-off for fuel economy. Speaking of which, despite the frigid temperatures and icy roads, I managed an impressive 5.8L/100km in my weeks’ worth of rush hour commuting in and out of the city. This is by far the best economy I’ve managed out of any standard gasoline powered vehicle, and that’s exactly why I can easily see the merits of driving something like the Mirage.
Much less exciting than my fuel savings is the Mirage’s handling characteristics. The Mirage is clearly not for an enthusiast driver as its extremely vague steering, prominent body roll, tendency to understeer and lack of power do make it a little frustrating for someone who may be used to driving a more balanced car. It’s not all bad though; once up to speed the Mirage cruises nicely on the highway and the CVT does a great job of keeping the cruising RPM down near 2500 rpm. On city streets the chassis feels solid and the ride is agreeable. It has a very tight turn radius, making it easy to park for beginners. I did get the chance to drive the Mirage on icy snow covered roads and while the car got the job done, its lack of weight combined with the fact that my tester was not equipped with winter tires, made things a little tricky. The traction control system in my SE model proved to be a valuable aid in combating the frequent understeer encountered on slippery city streets.
Adding to the Mirage’s value proposition is Mitsubishi’s warranty program. In addition to the 5-year (100,000km) bumper to bumper coverage, the Mirage comes with a 10-year (160,000km) powertrain warranty. I generally wouldn’t make a point of discussing the warranty, but for someone whose top priority is the simple economics of purchasing a new car, this type of coverage really helps to minimize operating costs for years to come. Also, Mitsubishi is currently offering 5-years of free roadside assistance, ideal peace of mind for those first time drivers. While I would not recommend the Mirage to any of our enthusiast readers, for the average young city dweller, uninterested in the automotive world, but looking for cheap, safe and reliable transportation, the happy little Mirage will get the job done and is definitely worth a look.
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage SE Gallery