QUEBEC -- Mitsubishi says its new Mirage small car will fill a niche in the U.S. auto market for consumers looking for basic, efficient transportation at an affordable price. It's not promising much more than that.
Mitsubishi officials say dealers pushed hard to bring the car to the U.S. market to serve as a new, low-priced point of entry to the brand, whose U.S. product lineup has thinned in recent years. The Mirage's performance won't get the adrenaline pumping, but it could find acceptance with first-time buyers looking to spend less than $15,000 on a car that comes with a factory warranty.
The basics: The Mirage is built in Thailand and was engineered primarily to suit the growing middle class in the emerging markets of Southeast Asia. For the U.S. market Mirage, Mitsubishi added extra materials to the instrument panel and the floor panels to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Bigger bumpers were also added.
The Mirage is small and light, weighing less than 2,000 lbs. and measuring more than a foot shorter than a Ford Fiesta. A 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine sends 74 hp to the front wheels through a standard five-speed manual or optional continuously variable transmission.
Notable features: The upside of the car's small footprint, light weight and pint-sized motor is efficiency. Cars equipped with the CVT that will power the vast majority of Mirages are rated at 37 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway for a combined EPA rating of 40 mpg, which Mitsubishi says is the best combined fuel economy rating for a nonhybrid vehicle in the industry.
Despite the sub-$14,000 sticker, the most basic Mirage comes with power mirrors, windows and door locks, automatic climate control, a USB port and seven airbags among its standard features. The car also has seating for five passengers, while the Chevrolet Spark, a key competitor with a lower sticker price, seats four.
A navigation system with rear backup camera is an available option on Mirages in highline ES trim, but the company expects only a 5 percent take rate for the option.
Compromises and shortcomings: The obvious compromise from those efficiency ratings is performance. Acceleration is predictably sluggish on the highway and the engine thrashes under heavy throttle. However, CVT-equipped models zip around with ease in city stop-and-go driving.
Interior packaging is as basic as you can find these days, with a benchlike rear seat that offers little lateral support. The interior feels well put together, but cheap, hard plastics abound in the cockpit, and the material used to line the trunk feels plopped in place, fitting loosely with lots of exposed sheet metal. However, those issues are typical of vehicles in the Mirage's price range.