It's lean times these days for Mitsubishi fans. With only a variety of Lancer and Outlander models plus the iMiEV electric car on showroom floors, product diversity is definitely lacking.
Fortunately, some relief is at hand in the form of the 2014 Mirage sub-compact.
In the distant past, various Mirages were imported to North America wearing Mitsubishi, Dodge and Plymouth labels (Chrysler and Mitsubishi once worked closely together). That well dried up after the 2002 model year, but it will be at least partially replenished this fall by a small four-door hatchback that the automaker promises will be one of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrids you can buy.
The new five-passenger Mirage hatchback, currently manufactured in Thailand for Mitsubishi's European and Asian markets, is due here this fall. The car is larger than the Chevrolet Spark, for example, in most key exterior measurements by two to three inches. However, it's more petite than other competitors, notably the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent hatches.
A quick walk-around confirms that the vehicle's diminutive appearance is no, uh, mirage. The little zipper is perched low to the ground on tiny 14-inch wheels that would seem right at home on a Smart ForTwo. The rounded and somewhat stubby front gives the car a cute-in-its-own-way appearance that belies its wind-cheating (i.e. numerically very low) drag coefficient. Although the front doors and liftgate are generously sized, smallish rear doors and a sloping roofline hamper three-in-a-pinch rear-seat access.
The interior appointments are simple, yet tasteful, with easy-to-read gauges and controls that gibe with the Mirage's practical nature. The 60:40 split rear seat can be folded down for added stowage (although you won't get a perfectly flat load floor), but even when occupied there's reasonable space for groceries and gear. Just don't plan to stash your golf clubs back there.
Of course, contemplating a vehicle this small usually involves compromises and in the Mirage's case you give up room in return for exemplary fuel economy. Mitsubishi is estimating 37 mpg in the city and 44 highway. That handily beats the Chevy Spark's 32/38 rating and even surpasses the much smaller Smart Fortwo's 33/41 numbers.
The Mirage's pump-passing nature comes from a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that generates a modest 74 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. Matched with that powerplant is your choice of a five-speed manual transmission or optional continuously variable unit (CVT). The latter features Idle Neutral Logic, which automatically shifts the transmission into neutral when stopped to save fuel, then switches back into drive mode when the go pedal is pushed.
Since the sub-compact Spark is on-the-road priced at $13,000, it's likely the Mirage will undercut that price point by about $500, although there's no final word on that yet. The base DE actually comes with a decent list of features, such as automatic climate control, tilt steering, keyless entry, power windows and outside mirrors, 140-watt four-speaker audio system and an eco indicator that lights up when you're operating in a fuel-saving manor.
The Mirage also has seven standard airbags, including a driver's knee inflatable, while CVT-equipped models come with Hill Start Assist that prevents the Mirage from rolling backward when the driver moves his or her foot to the gas pedal from the brake when stopped on a slope.
Move up to the ES and the content list expands with automatic speed control, alloy wheels, steering-wheel-mounted audio switches, fog lamps and keyless entry and start/stop button.
From that point, various option packages contain a navigation system with rear camera monitor, front and rear park assist sensors, interior ambient lighting and an exterior chrome dress-up package.
The Mirage will never be confused for a junior-sized luxury car - leather seats, sunroof and other niceties aren't offered - but as a short-haul urban commuter it's the right car for the job.
What you should know: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive sub-compact hatchback
Engine (hp): 1.2-liter DOHC three-cylinder (74)
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: Owing to their small size, micro models such as the
Mirage enjoy only limited popularity. However they do find favor with multi-vehicle families plus those wanting an inexpensive, gas-sipping commuter runabout.
Points: Understated styling doesn't inspire or offend; Squared hatchback shape a necessity for this size of vehicle; Three-cylinder engine should perform well with only 1,900 pounds to cart around; Excellent fuel economy a major selling feature; Lots of standard content; Mirage's arrival hopefully signals the start of more new models from Mitsubishi.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG: (city/hwy) 37/44 (CVT)
Base price: (incl. destination) $12,500 (est.)
Base price: $13,000
Tiny Chevy is surprisingly spacious. Could use more power, though.
Base price: $16,000
Tiny Toyota offshoot barely holds four people, but has 11 airbags.
Base price: $16,000
Italian-designed hatch looks cute; Abarth model offers extra zip.