Mitsubishi's Mirage, first seen here in 1978 and a staunch family favourite in the 80s and 90s, is poised for a 21st Century comeback.
At the close of last century over 51,000 Kiwi drivers had chosen the iconic hatchback, and so had 5 million more in 160 different countries. Mirage deserved its popularity: spacious, functional, affordable, fun to drive, and with quirky but embraceable innovations such as its one-out-of-the-box Super Shift twin-lever transmission.
Now, after a decade's absence, a new strikingly styled 5-door, 5-seat Mirage is due in dealer showrooms late February, and Mitsubishi is saying "Let's do it all again!" There's plenty about the car to suggest that's exactly what's about to happen.
The Mirage designers' ambition was to recapture the driving enjoyment and throw-it-all-in-the-back functionality that so endeared the car to Kiwi drivers, while adding massive leaps in safety and green technology, such as its 4.6l/100km fuel economy (the best in the "small auto hatchback" class).
Indeed, the newcomer is packed with features that early owners could scarcely have dreamed of. Back in the car's heyday, what might they have thought of Bluetooth connectivity? Or the active stability control system that kicks in if there's a skid risk? Keyless entry? Electric power steering? Or ABS to prevent wheels locking up in emergency braking? A transmission that had no gearbox? Fingertip audio controls? All-round airbags? Or hill start assist, keeping you safe and steady as you move off up a slope?
The 2013 Mirage incorporates all these once-inconceivable aids to safe driving and sheer convenience, adding to the sense of fun and functionality that helped make its name across the world.
One early Mirage innovation remains unchanged: the very practical 60:40 split-folding rear seat that gives you the flexibility to use every bit of available space. Leave the second row seats in place and cargo room is an ample 235 litres: put them down and available space rockets to 912 litres and frees up a flat area 1.24m by 1.17m. There's no compromise on people space either: seats are snug and supportive and make the most of the car's 1,665mm breadth.
The generation 6 Mirage, just a handspan shorter in length than the Colt it succeeds, is driven by the new 1.2 litre SmartMIVEC engine. Lively and thrifty, it packs ample power for safe motorway overtaking yet uses as little as 4.6 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (or 61 mpg), promising change out of $70 for a Sky City-Beehive run. To keep you in touch with your eco-progress an "eco" lamp lights up when you're driving efficiently.
Mirage's novel SuperShift transmission was consigned to history long ago, of course, though it's remembered for its originality. Now putting the MIVEC power to the road is Mitsubishi's latest INVECS III wide-ratio CVT constant velocity transmission. Sounds hi-tech, and it is. But to drive, it's simple as. INVECS III uses belts instead of cogs: there are no actual ‘gear changes', just a no-nonsense, seamless delivery of power.
Mirage hits the scales at under 900 kilograms, about 160 kg less than Colt. The designers made free use of strong-but-light high-tensile steel to shed weight almost everywhere, helping deliver remarkably healthy fuel economy and correspondingly low unhealthy carbon dioxide emissions, under 106g/km.
All that extra high-tensile steel doesn't just help make Mirage 7% lighter than comparable cars. It's also a crucial element in Mitsubishi's RISE (reinforced impact safety evolution) body design, absorbing and dispersing impact forces in a collision from any direction, while the six airbags stand ready to inflate in milliseconds to protect driver and passengers. That's why Mirage has achieved the highest safety rating possible - a 5 Star ANCAP.
There are two Mirage models, LS and GLS, and both have a level of equipment way beyond what their modest pricing might suggest: including six airbags, SmartBrake, Hill Start Assist, ABS braking with EBS and active stability control, security immobiliser, keyless entry, power windows, electric power steering, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, USP and iPod connectivity.
In addition, the GLS model has 15" alloy wheels, front fog lights, rear privacy glass, rear spoiler and auto air conditioning.
Mirage comes in seven colours: Cool Silver, Wasp, Panther Black, Wasabi, Pure White, Neptune and Red Velvet.