Something interesting has happened since the Great Recession.
Consumers got drunk off of cheap credit. I’m not talking beers on a patio drunk, I’m talking full-on Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs, Hennything can happen, “I’mma let you finish” levels of drunk. As of right now, the average price of a new vehicle (not the 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage, however) in Canada is over $40,000. How are people paying for vehicles this expensive? By leveraging themselves up to their nostrils with low-interest long-term loans.
According to a study conducted by MNP last year, 70 per cent of Gen Z Canadians were $200 away from insolvency, graduating into the worst job market since the Great Recession with no internships, no in-office training and the public transit that’s literally unsafe to use. Even if they have a car, they can’t just pull out a few grand from the bank to buy a cheap replacement should their current set of wheels die. But hey, we still have to get to work somehow.
Enter the 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage, a car that is very much a car. If you believe that what you drive reflects directly on your dignity or if you measure your worth in the amount of soft-touch plastics scattered about your car’s interior, it’s not a car for you. It’s a car for the thrifty, the broke, the jilted, the cynics and the hopeless optimists of youth.
The Mirage comes equipped standard with seats, windows, tires, an engine, all the stuff you really need in a car. It also comes equipped with some stuff you may not expect for $13,858 like automatic climate control with air conditioning, power mirrors and a reasonably informative trip computer. The interior is covered in hardwearing plastics that really couldn’t care less if you try jamming an entire futon inside the cargo area.
The seats are a touch overstuffed but reasonably comfortable for how upright they are. No height-adjustment here, just the basics. There’s a surprising amount of room both front and rear, and the cargo area behind the rear seats is much larger than on the Mirage’s main competitor, the Chevrolet Spark. Another advantage over the Spark is that the Mirage can legally seat three across the rear bench. Perfect for late-night Denny’s runs with roommates.
As for in-car tech, every Mirage comes with a touchscreen but Apple CarPlay doesn’t come standard. Step up to the SE trim and Mitsubishi graciously makes it available. While the Chevrolet Spark does include CarPlay as standard, the Mirage will accommodate any double-DIN head unit on the market which means you can chuck in an eBay unit as soon as the warranty ends. As for the stereo itself, it’s a four-speaker unit that’s leagues better than on anything in this segment. Yes, there’s distortion, but there’s also actual bass and enough output to be reasonably loud.
Seventy-eight is not a big number. However, that’s exactly how many horsepower the Mirage’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine cranks out. This makes the Mirage the least-powerful car sold in Canada since the second-generation Smart Fortwo. However, the Mirage makes up for this lack of power by weighing even less than the aforementioned Smart – only 950 kilograms when equipped with the CVT gearbox. As a result, the Mirage is slow but not dangerously so.
Yes, the three-cylinder engine buzzes anachronistically on the way to highway speeds but once it’s there, everything settles down. The CVT keeps engine speed to a tick over 2,000 RPM for reasonably hushed noise and excellent fuel economy. We saw 4.8L/100km on the highway without even trying.
Perhaps more important than economy is the sense of freedom that comes with driving the Mirage. It has the turning radius of a gnat, the outward visibility of a zorb, suspension seemingly impervious to apocalyptic city streets and an engine that’s happy to sit at redline all damn day.
Pull that u-turn, park wherever you want, zip in and out of traffic if your heart desires – the Mirage is happy to oblige. There’s more body roll on tap here than on most nautical vessels and the steering is wooden enough to make Pinocchio feel like a real boy, but when driven with a flagrant disregard to the green eco light in the gauge cluster, the Mirage is amusing.
As the market moves upscale and low-priced cars have died off, the Mirage sits in a very small niche. At $13,898, it’s the second-cheapest car in Canada. The Chevrolet Spark is a few grand cheaper at $10,398, but it doesn’t come with air-con as standard equipment. To get that, you have to step up to the LS CVT trim with a CVT gearbox for $14,698, at which point a Mirage ES CVT is only $360 more and adds an extra seat, significantly more cargo space and a better warranty.
To further tip the scales in the Mirage’s favour, Mitsubishi’s financing and leasing programs on the Mirage are consistently better than those offered by Chevrolet on the Spark to the point where the Mirage offers cheaper payments. The next-closest vehicles price-wise are the Nissan Versa and the Kia Rio 5-Door, both of which offer a larger size, more features and greater refinement but are a few grand more expensive than the Mirage. A few grand is a lot of money at this end of the market.
The 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage serves as an antithesis to the modern template of bigger, faster, cushier, more expensive. Yes, it’s slow. Yes, it looks a bit homely. Yes, it’s built inexpensively. That’s the point. It’s built for driving, parking, laughing, crying, breeding, feeding, shopping, loving, learning, breathing, dreaming, exploring, moving, resting, jamming, partying, mourning and everything that life brings. Isn’t that really what we need cars for?