Editor's note: This review was written in January 2014 about the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
When the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage was introduced at the 2013 New York Auto Show, many of us Cars.com editors thought the microcar was a joke. While there's nothing funny about its excellent fuel economy, a more-thorough evaluation did indeed prove that gas mileage is the Mirage's only facet worth smiling about. Turns out, "Mirage" is an appropriate name: Once you drive it, you'll hope it disappears.
The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage takes the term "entry level" to a new low with its crude powertrain, cut-rate cabin and unpleasant road manners; not even bargain-basement pricing can redeem it.
Mitsubishi is resurrecting the Mirage name after a decade-plus hiatus. The car is available as a four-door hatchback and seats five … technically. It competes against other tiny entries like the Chevrolet Spark and Scion iQ (compare them here). The Smart ForTwo is similarly sized, but has only two seats.
Exterior & Styling
The Mirage is probably the most unremarkable-looking car on the road today. Those familiar with the boxy Mitsubishi compact sedan from the late '90s and early 2000s will scratch their heads at the latest iteration of the nameplate and its unbecoming, blob-like silhouette.
Resurrecting a familiar name makes sense from a marketing and brand-recognition standpoint, but the only thing the two generations share is a name, and I doubt owners of the old one will want anything to do with the new shapeless econo-box. In fact, one of our editor's kids said it looks like something Hello Kitty would drive; personally, I think she'd prefer a much cuter ride.
How It Drives
A three-cylinder engine is a rare creature on American roads; kudos to Mitsubishi for giving this global power plant a chance in the U.S. Unfortunately, its application in this slow, loud and overall unpleasant car is not likely to wow the driving public. I spent 145 miles behind the wheel of the Mirage, and none of them were comfortable.
The tiny 1.2-liter engine puts out 74 horsepower and manages to feel like even less. Power from a stop was slow to build and difficult to maintain at highway speeds, often requiring a firm, long stomp on the gas to merge, pass or just keep up with traffic. On Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, it struggled up gentle hills, rivaling The Little Engine That Could. Chevy's Spark has only 84 hp but feels much less lethargic. I did, however, have the Mirage loaded with people and cargo during my weekend test; other editors said power was acceptable in the flatlands of Illinois when saddled with less weight.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but my car was equipped with a continuously variable automatic, which combined with the buzzy engine to result in an unpleasant, appallingly loud cabin. A lot of vibration from the steering wheel and gas pedal added to the discomfort.
Stopping was also unpleasant. Deceleration starts off drama-free but lacks any smoothness by the end, when the brakes pulse and the car shudders to a stop. It came up short in the ride and handling department, too. The Mirage's ride is soft and sloppy, lacking any composure over larger bumps. In corners, it's a downright mess, with SUV-like levels of lean. The steering system is no help; feedback is nonexistent and constant correction is required at higher speeds.
Some of its issues might just be excused if fuel economy is your top priority: The Mirage is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car on the market. With the CVT, it's EPA-rated 37/44/40 mpg city/highway/combined, easily besting the Spark (31/39/34 mpg) and iQ (36/37/37 mpg). The high side of that rating is attainable, too; during mixed highway and city driving, several editors averaged in the low 40s.
If powertrain polish isn't the Mirage's weakest point, then cabin refinement — which it's completely lacking — is. The glossy black panels surrounding the audio and climate controls look nice, but the rest of the interior is trimmed in a spare-parts-bin assortment of hard plastics and what looks like shellacked cardboard.
There's no padding for the door armrest and there's no center console at all. Frankly, there's no room for one; my front passenger and I had to jockey for shoulder space in the tight confines. Headroom and legroom weren't an issue up front, but elbow wiggle room was. By the numbers, front passenger space is more plentiful than in the Scion iQ, but the Spark offers a smidge more.
In back, there's seating for three passengers so long as long as they're three people you don't like. I sandwiched my family back there and it was a bad experiment. The backseat would be adequate for two passengers (like the Chevy Spark's setup), but three is a real stretch. Outboard lab rats over 5 feet 5 inches tall will have to get very cozy with the ceiling, and the lack of legroom forces a knees-into-the-seatback position. The seat itself is firm, completely flat and, oddly, purple, which raised eyebrows in my red test car.
Ergonomics & Electronics
What you see is what you get when it comes to the audio and climate controls. The buttons are logically placed, decently sized and easy to use. Connecting my phone to the Bluetooth wireless system (standard on the uplevel ES model) was infuriating, however, due to a fussy voice-activated setup. There are too many steps and the voice-recognition system isn't very accurate, leading to several maddening errors. After a few frustrating attempts, the system ended up naming my phone "cancel."
Cargo & Storage
The backseat folds in a 60/40 split (which is standard) and Mitsubishi says there's 17.2 cubic feet of space back there — loads more than the Spark (11.4) and iQ (a measly 3.5) list. In truth, this number surprised me because it really doesn't look like that much space. A wide opening and low liftover help, however, and I was able to wedge a small umbrella stroller back there.
Small-item storage in the cabin is just OK; there are two cupholders up front and a phone-sized storage cubby. In back, there's just one cupholder.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage scored good in front, side and roof strength tests, but received a poor score in the small front overlap evaluation. The Mirage has not yet been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Seven airbags are standard, including a driver-knee airbag — unexpected at this price. A backup camera with parking sensor system is optional on the ES model, but only as part of an expensive navigation package. Click here for a full list of safety features.
I installed my daughter's forward-facing convertible car seat in the Mirage, and legroom was a problem; her legs were pushed into the seat in front of her. There's not enough room for a rear-facing infant seat.
Value in Its Class
If Mitsubishi is the Kmart of automotive brands, then the Mirage is a Blue Light Special. The hatchback starts at $13,790, slightly more than the affordable Spark ($12,995) and less than the overpriced iQ ($16,420); all prices include destination charges.
The uplevel ES model ($14,990) is very well-equipped, with features like Bluetooth, keyless entry with push-button start, and steering-wheel radio controls. It also has an interesting options list inclusive of systems you wouldn't expect at this price, like navigation and parking sensors. However, the Mirage's features list is missing some basics: A center console, an external temperature gauge and a telescoping steering wheel are unavailable.
The bottom line is that the Mirage is cheap, but your money will go further elsewhere. The car's purpose is to provide simple, point-A-to-point-B transportation, and that it does. The problem is that other similarly priced cars do that too, only better. I'd advise you save up a bit more money and opt for a Nissan Versa Note instead (it starts at $14,800, including destination). True, it's not as fuel-efficient as the Mirage, but it's a roomier and much more comfortable subcompact.