The Mirage is back! Well, sort of. The name has a convoluted history, but we Kiwis remember it best as a phenomenally successful small-car from the 1980s.
Powertrain and performance: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol, 58kW/102Nm, continuously variable transmission, front-drive, Combined economy 4.6 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 3710mm long, 1500mm high, 2450mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 235/912 litres, fuel tank 35 litres. Kerb weight 910kg, 15-inch steels wheels with 175/55 tyres.
We like: Awesome little engine, good CVT, styling is dignified for a city car.
We don’t like: Bland interior, wobbly handling at highway speeds.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
The Mirage is back! Well, sort of. The name has a convoluted history, but we Kiwis remember it best as a phenomenally successful small-car from the 1980s. Clearly, there’s a lot of collateral in the name because Mitsubishi New Zealand is making much of the eighties angle in advertising for its all-new Mirage.
Small cars are in, circa-2013 and in launching this one, Mitsubishi is keen to remind us that it’s been rather good at making them in the past.
The new Mirage is very small indeed: it’s a city car with a thrummy 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine and Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Sounds interesting, although it seems unlikely that there will be a Panther version of this particular model.
As an aside, this is actually the third coming for Mirage in New Zealand. You might have forgotten it, but in 1998 it reappeared as a mini-people mover, with squared-off styling and a versatile cabin. That car was actually a European model known elsewhere as the Space Star, built on the same platform as the Mitsubishi Carisma and Volvo S40. Mirages can be many things, it seems.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Slow, but energetic and rather good fun. Three-cylinder engines have unique sound and this one has both a great soundtrack and a fair bit of verve when you put your foot down. Which you have to, rather a lot. But it does put a smile on your face.
What of the CVT? Never the enthusiast’s choice, but this particular gearbox does extract the best out of the tiny engine - you even get a B-for-engine-Braking mode, which increases revs immediately. Handy for downhill stretches or even for a quick boost on the motorway.
The CVT is calibrated to ‘step’ down in revs under hard acceleration, which mimicks the action of a conventional gearbox and mimimises the excessive engine speed for which hard-driven CVTs are often criticised.
The Mirage is definitely a city car and not comfortable away from urban environments. The chassis is soft, the tyres high-profile and very skinny. Even the steering is optimised for town driving: there’s very little self-centering action, which makes it an easy machine to thread through narrow streets but nervous on the motorway.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
Mirage is in an awkward place size-wise. If Mitsubishi’s advertising is anything to go by, it would like you to think of this car as a successor to that original Mirage: supermini-size, in other words, and a much cheaper rival for the likes of the Suzuki Swift, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris.
Problem is, Mirage is tiny.
The styling inside and out certainly sticks to supermini proportions, but in fact it’s 140mm shorter than the Swift (itself one of the smaller offerings in the segment). On the plus side, the Mirage’s wheelbase is exactly the same as Swift, so interior space is comparable. Even if road presence is not.
The 235-litre boot is minuscule, but there’s a nice touch to the split folding seat mechanism. You can only release the seatbacks by reaching in through the cargo area (makes sense, as the car is so small). Unlock the larger part of the 60/40 split and because the two portions are packed so tightly together, the whole seatback drops down; release the smaller part and because it’s much lighter, only it folds away.
Is that by design or a happy accident? Hard to say, but it works nicely.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Yes, on the understanding that you get what you pay for. Mirage is much cheaper than rival superminis but it’s also much smaller. It’s a bit unkind to argue it belongs in the microcar category because it has a lot more dignity than that; what it lacks is the open-road ability of a larger hatchback.
But in town, it’s cheap and characterful transport thanks to that quirky three-cylinder engine. It’s not flash by any means, but in the right environment Mirage can really make you smile.
Air conditioning: Manual
Audio: CD with iPod connectivity
Automatic lights/wipers: No/no
Cruise control: No
Keyless entry/start: No/no
Leather upholstery: No
Parking radar: No
Power seat adjustment: No
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat heating/cooling: No/No
Seat height adjustment: Tilting squab on driver’s seat
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: No