We were left a little underwhelmed after driving the Mitsubishi Mirage at its picturesque Woburn Park launch venue. From its driving experience to its ambiance, the Mirage failed to live up to the impressive numbers its specification sheet promised.
What we didn't know was just how kind we were in comparison to the rest of the motoring press. Our six-out-of-ten score is a full two points higher than its aggregated buzzscore, reviews averaged across the automotive media.
It can't be that bad, can it? Perhaps our brief drive, and the quick tests of most early reviews, weren't giving it the credit it might deserve after longer exposure. A car you love in a day might become tiresome with time; a car you hate after a few hours may grow on you during a week's driving. So that's how long we spent with our little green Mirage.
We can discount looks from our overall assessment. No, it's not a work of art. If it were it might be a Picasso - all oddly proportioned features and curious intersecting lines, but perhaps attractive to some.
It's the shape it is for aerodynamic reasons rather than aesthetics - Mitsubishi claims a comfortably class-leading drag coefficient of 0.27. That number is meaningless on its own, but more impressive next to some more familiar shapes: A typical rival is in the 0.32-0.33 range. A classic Mini is 0.48, and a square box is just over 1.0. This is a slick shape, if not a pretty one, and it's the way it is to enhance fuel efficiency - more of which later.
It's just a pity there's so little visual interest. It's not ugly, so much as a bit dated. Alloy wheels and a spoiler help enliven it a little, as do tinted rear windows and a set of fog lights.
Then there's the colour. Like our last test car, this one is very green. More subtle colours are available. The blue and red look quite pleasant, and they're less likely to make men in white vans laugh at you. Yes, that actually happened.
The tall, inoffensive shape isn't just good for aerodynamics, it pays dividends for interior space too. At 5'9" tall finding the right driving position presented few issues, and with the seat appropriately set there was plenty of head, knee and foot room when sitting behind.
The seats aren't special to look at and don't support you much in cornering, but they feel well-padded and presented no comfort issues during the test. The boot too is suitably large, at 235 litres - larger than the old Colt, and larger than most of the cars it competes against on price.
Quality is a different issue. We don't mind cheap cars lacking touchy-feely plastics, but we at least like to think they'll last. With the Mirage, we're not so sure - a few rattles were already developing at little over 2,000 miles, and your left foot is too easily caught on the edge of the centre console's plastic near the footrest, making a large, cheap-sounding clunk.
There's more: Pull the wheel adjustment lever and it thunks loudly down to its lowest setting. The gearlever looks like it's teleported in from the 1980s. The instruments are slightly less sophisticated-looking than some from the 90s. At least the steering wheel feels okay, and visibility is commendable.
"The Mirage drives how it looks" is how we described it last time. Is it better on second acquaintance? Not particularly.
At the same time, we're finding it difficult to meaningfully criticise, because the sort of people buying the Mirage aren't doing so expecting Fiesta-style incision in the corners. They might not even know what Fiesta-style incision is, and probably don't even care to find out.
What the Mirage does very well indeed is turn in tight spaces. There's plenty of lock to the front wheels, and the steering is light so you can make best use of that characteristic. It's less impressive at higher speeds where it feels like you're spinning the wheel through a tin of custard, the viscosity of which eventually convinces the front wheels to follow suit.
There's actually decent grip to be found in faster corners, but only the screeching of rubber on road alerts you to its limits.
The ride quality is also respectable, and tackling a favourite local terribly-surfaced road, the Mirage felt better equipped at dealing with bumps than the Skoda Citigo a few weeks back. Show it higher-speed undulations though and it sort of gives up - constant corrections are needed to keep it straight on a bumpy country road.
It's actually really hard to fault the Mirage's engine. Its biggest shortcoming is noise - there's an old-school gruffness when it starts up which takes you aback at first. This settles down at a cruise though, and when you're giving it beans the typical three-cylinder burble keeps your ears occupied.
Performance isn't too bad - this 1.2 will hit 60 mph in 11.7 seconds and run to 112 mph, and those numbers don't feel unrealistic. Once again, it's usefully quicker than something like the Skoda Citigo 'Sport' we drove, showing the extra 200cc of capacity really makes a difference.
You don't need to change down as often - hardly a chore anyway with the slick five-speed manual - and there always seem to be more revs at your disposal than you expect. Overtaking isn't even out of the question.
And of course, it's economical - 65.7 mpg officially in this '3'-spec car. We saw 54 mpg on our two-way 70 mph motorway test route, figures in the 50s in gentle cross-country driving, and mid-40s on a bit of a thrash.
Value for money
Here again the Mirage scores. Pricing starts a shade over nine grand, for basic spec and a 1.0-litre engine. Our car, with parking sensors, some glossy trim, foglights, alloys, a 1.2 engine, leather bits on the wheel and a few other goodies is just over 12k.
You could quite easily spend that on a VW Up or one of its ilk, and not have quite as spacious or quite as well-performing a car. The Up would have more kudos though, and if our Citigo experience is anything to go by, be a little more economical and fun to drive.
The Mirage hits back with free car tax whichever model you choose. The Up hits back again with a much lower insurance rating - group 1s and 2s against group 15s and 18s.
And then there's cars like the Dacia Sandero. You can go barmy with the options list and still end up with a car several thousand cheaper than the Mirage. And nicer to drive. With a bigger boot.
Sorry, Mitsubishi. The Mirage hasn't got any worse since we last tested it, though it hasn't got any better either. Its talents still remain - good manners in town, decent performance, plenty of space - but so do its downfalls, such as poor interior quality, lack of refinement and inept handling.
Some buyers will no doubt be perfectly happy with the Mirage, and all power to them. Mitsubishi's UK sales are increasing too, which is great. But since we first drove the Mirage we've had a go in the Sandero and had more time with the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. Further exposure to those convinces us that the Mirage is neither here nor there - neither true bargain, nor bubbly, stylish city car. It has respectable qualities, but so do other cars.
It's just... average.
For more information check out our full summary of the Mitsubishi Mirage alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!