Let’s play a word-association game: If we say ‘Mitsubishi’, what do you think of?
Chances are, it was some sort of pickup or off-road vehicle – the L200 and Shogun have been on UK roads for years, and have developed quite a following. But the company does still make smaller vehicles, and one of the most signficant is the new Mirage.
It replaces the Colt, and it offers a compelling blend of performance and economy for the class. But does it deserve your money in the strongly-contested supermini sector?
To reassure you, the Mirage does come in colours other than radioactive Kermit green. We simply chose that colour as a suitable way of showing off the new car’s styling in our photos, but we’re not sure if the results are that successful.
It’s not that the green doesn’t stand out. Quite the opposite, in fact – it’s been a long time since so many passers-by stared at us as we passed. But had our car been white, black, red, or any of the Mirage’s other colours, we’re not so sure we’d have got the same attention – it’s simply not a very distinctive vehicle.
It’s not unattractive, but after the large, distinctive grille design you’ll find on other Mitsubishis, the front end in particular is just a bit nondescript. In side profile it has echoes of the ASX crossover, and at the rear it’s only the aerodynamics-enhancing spoiler that stands out.
To its credit, it really is aerodynamic – a drag coefficient of 0.27 is several points lower than the 0.32-0.33 class norm.
With the driver’s seat positioned for this tester’s 5’9″ frame, it was still easy to sit in the back seat, with knee room to spare. Headroom is also good, and both front and rear pews seem comfortable enough, despite their rather shapeless forms.
Shapeless forms dominate the car’s cabin, in fact. Like the exterior there’s little to offend, but little to inspire either. If you were to give a designer a brief to pen a small car interior, but gave no other details, this is what he might come up with.
The driving position is good though, as is visibility, and all the controls are in easy reach. There’s not much adjustment in seat or wheel (the latter only moves up and down, not in and out) but we had no comfort issues. The boot is of a decent size too – a little smaller than rivals like the Nissan Micra, but far bigger than the old Colt, at 235 litres.
Not for the first time in a Mitsubishi, it does feel built down to a price. The leather (or imitation leather, it’s hard to tell) on the gearknob and steering wheel feels a bit nasty, while most cabin plastics are very much at the budget end of the spectrum. You can forgive it given the Mirage’s value, but like-for-like most other superminis and city cars now feel of higher quality.
The Mirage drives how it looks. In fact, we can take that analogy further, since its frog-like paint scheme is joined by a distinctly bouncy ride quality which dominates the Mirage experience once you’re outside of city limits.
Initially, the ride seems fine. Small bumps and ripples are soaked up fairly well, and potholes don’t cause too much distress.
Unfortunately, this seems to be at the expense of the car’s ability to deal with more undulating bumps. The soft springs aren’t kept in check by the dampers, so as soon as you’re on a bumpy country road the car seems to hop from side to side, front to back and through all sorts of other motions.
Sometimes, you have to work quite hard to keep the car in a straight line, and it can be disconcerting if you hit a mid corner bump at speed, as the Mirage floats over the road surface like its namesake.
This would be less of an issue if you could feel what was going on with the front wheels, but the light steering has absolutely zero feel. There’s actually quite a lot of grip available, but finding where it ends is complete guesswork.
If you think that’s irrelevant for most drivers, consider how much snow and rain we get in the UK – it’s nice to have a bit of confidence in where you’re placing the car at lower speeds, too.
Now the good stuff: The Mirage has one of the tighest turning circles in the class, making parking a doddle. The light steering is also a boon here, and around town where less weight is a good thing and lack of feel isn’t as important. And thanks to the car’s light weight, the brakes never feel over-stressed, even during harder stops.
Three engine and transmission combinations are available in the Mirage: A 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with a manual gearbox, a 1.2 petrol with a manual, and a 1.2 petrol with a continuously-variable auto (CVT).
We drove the middle of these options, the only one available to us on the launch event. There’s around 80 horsepower on tap, and the car’s low weight and slick aerodynamics mean performance isn’t too bad – 11.7 seconds to 62 mph, officially.
Getting up to speed isn’t difficult, though there’s plenty of noise when you do so. The 3-cylinder’s thrum is always audible, joined by plenty of wind and road roar at higher speeds – Mitsubishi needs to work on refinement, we think.
Value for money
This, finally, is where the Mirage excels.
Buy a base-spec Mirage today, in ‘1’ spec with the 1.0-liter engine and manual transmission, and you’ll pay £7,999. That’s thanks to a £1,000 launch discount across the Mirage range. Our manual Mirage 3 currently costs £10,999, usually £11,999, and the top-end CVT model is currently £11,999.
Throw in the fact that every Mirage gets under 100 g/km of CO2, meaning free road tax all around, economy well past the 60 mpg mark (our test car gets 65.7 mpg, officially) and competitive levels of kit. The Mirage gets safety acronyms galore, and on this ‘3’ model you get alloys, keyless entry, fogs, auto air-con, auto lights and more. All together, the Mirage is a great value choice.
Pick a typical class-leader, like the Ford Fiesta, and the options below £11,000 are minimal – you’d have to plump for a Ford Fiesta 1.25 Style, with two fewer doors, 20 bhp less, an extra five seconds of 0-62 acceleration, less equipment and 10 mpg lower combined economy – and you’d still spend a few hundred quid more.
The gap closes if you compare with rivals like the Hyundai i20 though – which is better to drive and no less economical in the real world – 48 mpg during our drive, compared to an indicated 47 mpg in the Mitsubishi. Or you could opt for the Dacia Sandero, which really does have a budget feel but offers even more kit for even less money.
The issue here isn’t that the Mirage is a bad car, because it isn’t. It’s spacious, easy to drive, and should prove inexpensive to run.
Our score reflects the levels of value on offer, rather than the car’s talents. For some buyers, the fact you can get a fully-loaded Mirage with class-leading economy for the price of a slower, basic-spec Fiesta or Polo will be highly attractive.
But while the Mirage may score points on paper from over expensive or equally-priced, smaller rivals, the real-world difference in passenger space or running costs will be negligible, and beyond those factors the Mirage has little more to give. It’s not particularly refined, there’s little to delight inside and out, while the ride and handling feels half-done.
What the press think
Oh dear – all is not well with the new Mirage. Rarely is a new car slated so heavily in early reviews, but the Mirage’s poor handling is panned and whichever rivals you compare it to, Mitsubishi’s offering doesn’t come out well. Quality, driving characteristics – they’re all rated very poorly by the experts.
Check out our full buying guide to the Mitsubishi Mirage with reviews, user reviews, photos, videos and stats.