2014 Mitsubishi Mirage First Drive

Mitsubishi's Minicar for the New World Order

Mitsubishi dealers must be hoping that the 2014 Mirage is anything but an optical illusion. The company's first mainstream launch since the Outlander Sport of 2011 is a minicar built in Thailand for the global market. Its most obvious rival is the Chevrolet Spark, but Mitsubishi's hoping the Mirage's versatility will also help it pinch sales from subcompacts such as the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit.

The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage made its U.S. debut at the 2013 New York Auto Show and will reach showrooms this fall, but it recently went on sale in Europe, and Edmunds secured an exclusive first drive of the car in the U.K. Although this was a U.K.-specification model, it differs little from those destined to cross the Atlantic.

The Pitch
Mitsubishi makes little secret of the Mirage's intent. This is not a fashion-focused alternative for trendy urbanites; it's sensible transport for those who want a minimum of fuss. Even the promotional materials (documents never known to undersell a car) describe it as "a rational, no-nonsense product."

The reason for this can be traced back to the car's origins. While Mitsubishi's last subcompact, the Colt (which wasn't sold in the U.S.) was built in Europe as a joint venture with Smart, the Mirage is Mitsubishi's own and is built in Thailand. It's a global car that's as important to the developing world as it is to the West. The European and U.S. versions feature a significantly upgraded specification, but at its heart, this is a car focusing on simplicity and value.

This is reflected in its size. At 148.8 inches long, it's longer than a 2013 Chevy Spark (144.7 inches) but significantly shorter than a genuine subcompact such as the 2013 Ford Fiesta hatch (160.1 inches). The wheelbase, though, is only 1.5 inches shorter than a Fiesta's at 96.5 inches and a full 3 inches longer than the Spark's, which has a significant impact on interior space.

Outside in
The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage's styling is unlikely to win any design contests. It has been plucked from the drawer marked "generic subcompact," and while the U.S. showcar in New York featured some additional chrome detailing, this is little more than a token gesture. The Mitsubishi is singularly inoffensive, but it lacks the funky appeal of the Spark or the sophistication of the Fiesta. Maybe that's why Mitsubishi is seeing fit to offer it with an eccentric color palette that includes bright green and violet.

Inside, too, the simple fascia and symphony of gray plastic are unlikely to provoke feelings of wanton lust. The egg-shape fascia could have featured in any subcompact of the past decade. It feels well built, though, and while the plastics aren't up to Volkswagen or even Fiesta standards, they're a match for the Chevy.

This Mitsubishi will also be well equipped. The standard specification will include a 60/40-split rear seat, seven airbags, Active Stability Control (ASC), electric windows, automatic climate control and a four-speaker sound system with iPod/USB connectivity. Options will include a satellite navigation system with a reversing camera, parking sensors and an interior LED lighting package.

The cabin might not be the most stylish, but it is practical. Although the front and rear seats are notably flat, this is a minicar in which four 6-foot adults can travel in something approaching comfort. Indeed, in terms of passenger space, there's little difference between the Mirage and a Fiesta.

There's also a surprising amount of cargo space. With the seats up, its 17.2 cubic feet of space is larger than both the Spark (11.4 cubic feet) and the Fiesta (15.4).

The Driving Experience
In Europe, the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage is offered with a choice of two three-cylinder, 12-valve engines, a 1.0- or a 1.2-liter, but only the latter will be offered in the U.S. It produces 74 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 74 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm and will be available with either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Not surprisingly, it's not what you'd call rapid when it comes to acceleration. Mitsubishi U.K. claims zero to 62 mph in 11.7 seconds for the manual and 12.8 seconds for the CVT, with a top speed of 112 mph (107 mph for the CVT). Modest figures for sure, but the Mirage goes about its business with plenty of spirit. The three-cylinder engine has a throaty, engaging hum and the manual gearbox has a positive action and slips merrily from cog to cog.

In urban centers at least, it has little trouble going with the flow. The turning circle is just 30.2 feet, the electrically powered steering is finger light and the softly sprung suspension copes admirably with London's potholes, which challenge Manhattan's for their scale and quantity.

On the highway, though, the Mirage is less convincing. The ride that felt compliant in town now fidgets awkwardly, making the car a tiring companion. Body roll is more pronounced than you might expect and the lifeless steering doesn't help either. It's a shame, because it compromises the Mirage's appeal as a versatile, budget-conscious all-rounder.

The Economic Factor
Mitsubishi expects the Mirage's running costs to be among the lowest on the road. Indeed, it is claiming that the CVT-equipped car will be the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline vehicle available in the U.S. Although official EPA ratings are yet to be announced, Mitsubishi is expecting to achieve ratings of 37 city/44 highway and 40 mpg combined. This compares with 28/37/32 numbers for an automatic Chevy Spark.

To achieve the impressive statistics, Mitsubishi worked hard at optimizing the Mirage's aerodynamics (the drag coefficient is 0.27) and reducing its overall mass. It weighs just 1,863 pounds versus the Spark's base curb weight of 2,337 pounds.

Expect to see an equally low price when the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage goes on sale later this year. It will need all the help it can get as it faces competitors that leave it in the dust in terms of performance and overall refinement. But as we said, Mitsubishi knows this isn't a flashy hatchback, so there are no false pretenses here. This is an inexpensive car that will deliver outstanding mileage. If you want more than that, look elsewhere.

Year Make Model: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage Base 4dr Hatchback
Vehicle type: FWD 4dr 5-passenger 4dr Hatchback
Configuration: Transverse, front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine type: Naturally aspirated, port-injected inline-3, gasoline
Displacement (cc/cu-in): 1,193
Valvetrain: Double overhead camshaft
Compression ratio (x:1): 10.5
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 74 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 74 @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel type: Regular unleaded
Transmission type: Five-speed manual
Steering type: Electric power steering
0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.): 11.7 (0-62 mph)
Fuel economy, mfr. est. (mpg): 37 city/44 highway/40 combined
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.): 1,863
Length (in.): 148.8
Width (in.): 65.6
Height (in.): 59.1
Wheelbase (in.): 96.5
Turning circle (ft.): 30.2
Seating capacity: 5
Behind 2nd row (cu-ft): 17.2

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.