In a market crowded with excellent small cars, it can be hard for a vehicle to be noticed.

Take the case of the new-for-1997 Mitsubishi Mirage. By any standard of measurement, this is an excellent subcompact car. But it is competing against the Honda Civic, Saturn SL, Nissan Sentra, Chevy Cavalier, Ford Escort and others. It's like David going up against five or six Goliaths.

The Mirage accounts for barely a trickle in sales compared with those cars, yet the new Mirage is just as good - maybe better - than some of the competition.

I tested a bright red Mirage LS sedan and found that it performed well, looked nice, offered a very user-friendly interior and came with everything I could want in a small car. To top it off, the price was reasonable too.


Mitsubishi builds the Mirage in two- and four-door versions and in two trim levels. The DE coupe and sedan are the base models. They are outfitted with a 1.5-liter, single-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine rated at 92 horsepower.

The LS coupe and sedan come with an overhead-cam, 1.8-liter engine that makes 113 horsepower. Our test car, equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, proved easy to shift and drive in heavy city traffic. It also had plenty of pep.

Mitsubishi makes great four-cylinder engines. I'm convinced you won't find a better four-cylinder than the turbocharged2.0-liter dynamo that powers the Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX.

The engine in our test car performed just like a smaller version of the Eclipse's motor. You can rev it high and it will pull hard. The engine never runs out of steam or gets fussy; it always runs smoothly and quietly. The five-speed gearbox is easy to shift. The clutch works smoothly, so the car won't tire you out when you're driving in stop-and-go traffic. If you would prefer not to shift, $710 will buy a four-speed automatic transmission.

Although the Mirage is not a sports sedan, the four-wheel independent suspension system enables the car to hold the road well. The ride is nimble and compliant but not overly soft.

The power-assisted rack-and-pinion works well. The wheel doesn't require much effort to turn. The turning radius of 32.8 feet gives the Mirage a maneuverable feeling.

Our test car was equipped with power-assisted front disc/rear drum anti-lock brakes that easily slowed the car in an emergency stop and brought it quickly to a halt. However, the anti-lock system didn't seem as refined as those used on many General Motors and Ford vehicles. It made quite a bit of noise.


Although the interior of the Mirage breaks no new ground stylistically, it is very pleasing.

The cloth-covered bucket seats provided excellent support and could be adjusted up and down as well as back and forth. The white numbers on the black analog instruments were nothing flashy, but the gauges were well-designed and easy to read.

Common se nse defines the Mirage's easy-to-use interior. Switches for the lights and windshield wipers were mounted on stalks. These things, plus the rotary controls for the air conditioner, made the car simple and functional.

Though the Mirage is a subcompact, its interior is not cramped. There is good head room for average-sized adults and plenty of leg and foot room too.

Passengers in the rear seat will find getting in and out fairly easy to do and leg room to be tolerable. The rear seats fold forward and expose a passage to the trunk, so that bigger objects can be stored inside the car.

Our test car sported the Premium Package ($1,190), which included an electric sunroof and 14-inch alloy wheels. The Value Package ($2,446) includes an air conditioner, powerful stereo, power windows, door locks and mirrors, cruise control and intermittent wipers. Mitsubishi discounts the car $969 and then offers a $1,000 rebate on top of that, so you are basically paying about $500 for t e Value Package. This may be one of the best deals on the road.

If you are shopping for a well-equipped subcompact, check out the Mirage LS sedan. It comes very well-equipped for about $16,000, giving you a lot of car for the money.

Specifications: Base price: $13,010. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, front and rear crumple zones and side-impact protection. Price as tested: $16,829. EPA rating: 29 mpg city/37 mpg highway. Incentives: $1,000.

Truett's tip: The Mirage LS is a well-made, nicely equipped sedan that is smooth, quiet and quick.