1998 Mitsubishi Mirage Coupe Road Test

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  • Pricing & Specs
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1998 Mitsubishi Mirage Coupe

(1.5L 4-cyl. 5-speed Manual)

What's That in the Distance? Why, it's a Mirage!

Mitsubishi loves naming their cars, and we love them for it. Yes, you can argue that all cars are named, but alphanumeric titles are just a poor excuse for a lack of imagination. Who can love a 2.3CL? Or a 200SX SE? When’s the last time you said "SC2" with any real affection? A lot of carmakers use the alphanumeric system to generate more acclaim for the marque. It’s the Acura NSX. That’s a Lexus ES300. Otherwise, as is the case with the Miata, the manufacturer is relegated to backup status. But Mitsubishi takes the fearless approach, and they’re not suffering for creative expression. Of course, names like "Eclipse," "Galant," and especially "Mirage" often lead journalists to horrible cliché-ridden prose when discussing the cars, but that’s not Mitsubishi’s fault.

But we wonder why they designated their economy coupe and sedan with the same word: Mirage. The cars share exactly two common exterior parts: deck lid and taillights. C’mon Mitsubishi, use that imagination.

The Mirage’s interior appears to be made of higher-quality material than most cars at this price. The dash in dressed in black, and the driver’s seat gets a Mitsubishi-style wraparound cockpit, very similar to the layout found in the Galant and Eclipse. The only thing we’d do to change it would be to place the radio north of the climate controls. Map pockets in each door are handy for storage, and the center console has a few cubbies of its own.

Front sport-bucket seats are supportive and excellent for long-distance travel. We spent over seven hours driving around in the Mirage one fine day, and there was no pain to report. The rear seats are small, of course, so stay in the front unless you absolutely have to carry more than two people. And make it a short trip, for the love of God.

The peppy little engine delivers better performance than most compact coupes. We found ourselves up to speed and merging onto freeways without any risk of bodily injury. The Mirage is actually fun to drive, with tight steering and a notchy shifter not unlike those same components found in the Eclipse. The LS Coupe gets a front stabilizer bar for better cornering, and we were impressed. Body roll is well-controlled.

The LS also gets another big advantage over the base DE coupe: powered by a 1.8-liter SOHC 16-valve engine, the LS benefits from 113 horsepower, 21 more than the 1.5-liter 12-valve DE. Performance is smile-inducing, like a sporty car should provide. And noise levels are kept to a minimum, giving a perception of luxury that’s not found in a Dodge Neon or Hyundai Tiburon.

Styling is such a subjective point that it probably shouldn’t be mentioned, but the Mirage begs the exception. And we concur. This baby looks cool. Each time we laid eyes on its curvaceous green flanks, we couldn’t help but smile. Taillights are triangular, and they provide the perfect sporty accent to the car’s rear. A rear spoiler does anything but spoil the appearance, though it did attract some unwanted attention from some Los Angeles-area undesirables.

The last place you want to be tooling around at midnight is downtown L.A. But with an empty gas tank and an early flight out in the morning, I decided to be prepared. So it was that this intrepid (read: dunderheaded) editor set out for a midnight petrol run. In the daylight, this particular part of the city is foreboding but somehow has a clean look. Sure, razorwire decorates the top of nearly every fence, but that’s to keep away pesky pigeons, right?

Wrong. Downtown L.A. is a slum full of demons and crazed department store looters – just like on TV. That’s an exaggeration, of course; these are some of the nicest demons that’ll ever mug you. The scene proceeds as follows: Dunderhead takes out his credit card and motions toward the automatic fuel pump. A sly hand comes around from behind the pump, taking my card and inserting it into the slot.

"You need premium oc-tane, my man?"

"No sir. Regular will do."

"Y’know, I used to be a trucker, till they fired me for too many tickets… I got kids to feed… I can get arrested for doin’ this…" He hands back my card, and his other hand starts twirling an unfolded pocketknife-on-a-chain. "They call it ‘trespassin’.’ Whoa!" The mysterious gas-pumping stranger then slips behind the fueling tank as a black-and-white patrol car drives past – on its way to a donut shop, no doubt.

"Man, you got a empty tank or somethin’? This is takin’ fo-evah!"
"Yeah. It was empty." Great idea, Custer. This area seems safe to camp.

Finally, at 13.2 gallons (we were running on fumes here), the fuel pump shuts off. I look into the glazed eyes of the mysterious stranger, and he looks at the Mirage. "Nice car. Real attractive. I need your money."

I pull three singles, all of my remaining cash, out of my wallet, and that same sly hand quickly covers them, thankfully without counting the loot. Mysterious stranger exits quietly into the night.

Wow, I think to myself, scurrying back into the safety of the Mirage. That was a pleasant exchange. A knock on the passenger-side window, and another mysterious stranger asks, "Hey, you got some change?" I let the Mirage talk this time, dropping the clutch and slamming on the accelerator.

Of course, this same scene would have probably taken place no matter what vehicle I might have been driving, except perhaps one of those black-and-white Ford Crown Victorias. But the pearlescent New Zealand Green Mitsubishi Mirage complete with spoiler made quite an appearance under the bright fluorescent lights of the Texaco, and the local hoodlums must have thought they were seeing things: some fool gassing up at midnight. It was a mirage too good to be true.

The next day, with the sun safely up, we bade farewell to the spunky little pocket rocket by driving it through downtown with haste. Any time we get to spend a few days in a car that makes driving fun, it’s sad to get on a plane and sit confined for any length of time. Comfortable, roomy, powerful and in control, the Mitsubishi Mirage Coupe makes a great compromise between daily economy car and sporty road racer. Complete with air conditioning, adjustable steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo with CD player, the Mirage is anything but its namesake. We see real value.

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