So much has been written about Mitsubishi's sexual harrassment problems at its Normal, Ill., assembly plant that its cars have been overlooked.We are guilty of such oversight, having paid little attention to the totally restyled 1997 Mitsubishi Mirage, which is built in Japan, until it landed in the driveway. Mirage is Mitsubishi's best-kept secret. The new styling is sufficiently distinctive so that it doesn't look like just another Japanese economy car. It's roomy and comfortable, a subcompact that feels more like a larger compact in terms of cabin space, and acts more like a compact in peppy performance. Mirage is more comfortable because, in the redesign, it was made wider, longer and taller. It's livelier because the 1.8-liter, 113-h.p. 16-valve four-cylinder teamed with a 4-speed automatic was tweaked to deliver more torque at lower rpms for more low-end, off-the-line response. There's still some of that typical 4-cylinder commotion at initial acceleration, but the noise quickly stops at cruising speed. The Mirage is available in DE and LS sedan and coupe. We tested the LS sedan and were pleasantly surprised by how spirited the 1.8-liter four is, considering that the engine boasts 27 m.p.g. city/33 m.p.g. highway mileage with automatic. The 4-speed automatic features adaptive transmission control management, which means it memorizes the motorists driving habits and adjusts gear shifts accordingly, a feature that results in smoother, quieter shifting. Ride and handling benefit from power rack-and-pinion steering, front stabilizer bar, four-wheel independent suspension, and 14-inch all-season tires, the latter an optional upgrade from the standard 13-inch toy treads that no car--and no motorist--should be forced to ride on. Nice touches include comfortable cloth seats in an excellent color-and-pattern scheme; controls clustered in an easy-to-see/reach/use pattern in the center dash. Dual air bags are standard, but ABS is a $732 option to keep the sticker price down at the $13,690 level. To dress the car properly, however, takes a hefty $2,446 option group value package that includes air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, AM/FM stereo with cassette, intermittent wipers, cruise control, split folding rear seat, floor mats and the larger tires. Add $420 in freight and the car stickers at $16,319--still a reasonable sum for a pleasant performer.
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