The next-generation Mitsubishi Mirage is heading to Australia towards the end of the year with a small engine but with big ambitions.
Mitsubishi is building the light-car out of a brand new plant in Thailand, which will keep the price lower than the Japanese-built Mitsubishi Colt it replaces. The previous-generation three-door Mitsubishi Mirage ceased production in 2003 but had managed to build a successful fan base of more than 47,000 buyers in Australia.
Powered by a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine, the new Mitsubishi Mirage is competing in the light class against the Nissan Micra and to an extent, even the Suzuki Swift. With 57kW of power and 100Nm of torque, the 830kg (up to 870kg) Mirage is built for inner-city driving with a big focus on fuel efficiency and emissions. Although official Australian specifications haven’t been released, the Thai version manages a respectable 4.1L/100km fuel economy using 91 RON fuel, which should be similar to what it will do under Australian design rules (ADR).
From the outside the new Mirage portrays a very minimalist design, with simple and conservative styling that Mitsubishi likes to call “frill-free”. Whether or not it will appeal to its target market (under 35s and over 65s) remains to be seen. One can argue that it has lost the edgy character of the previous-generation Colt and Mirage, which were both pushing the boundaries for light cars at the time.
Nonetheless, the conservative styling is relatively aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of 0.29 (which means better fuel efficiency). It also allows for a bigger than expected interior, with generous head and legroom for all passengers. The low belt line and thin A-pillars provide great forward and side visibility.
To test drive the new Mitsubishi Mirage, CarAdvice headed to the Bhira International Circuit, two hours east of Bangkok. Our test cars were Thai-spec Mirage 1.2-litre variants coupled to either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Sit inside and the Mirage offers a modern and clean cabin. There’s an almost overwhelming amount of black colouring used throughout but overall the layout is simple and ergonomic. Like most cars in this class, hard plastics are used throughout the cabin and around the doors. Australia is expected to get two variants, with the high-end Mirage likely to include satellite-navigation (with DVD player) with Bluetooth support and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Both models will get power windows all around, automatic climate control, six airbags and electronic stability control.
The cloth-trim front seats are supportive but can do with more side bolstering. The steering wheel makes do without telescopic (in and out reach) adjustment but the position and size of the wheel means even a 190cm-tall driver will find it easy to drive comfortably. The rear seats are surprisingly spacious, with great head and legroom. They can easily accommodate four adults with a fifth possible if the need arises.
Although some markets will also get a 1.0-litre version of the Mirage, Australia is only taking the 1.2-litre. When coupled to a CVT transmission there’s a slight lag in where the 100Nm of torque comes into play, but ultimately it’s not noticeably different in feel to the Nissan Micra four-speed auto (although the Mirage is around 10 per cent lighter).
Around the Bhira circuit we pushed the CVT to its limits and found it struggling to provide coherent power delivery. Even so, when driven sedately it's smooth and easy to live with, making it the ideal choice for everyday city use. Mitsubishi picked a CVT over a conventional automatic transmission due to the fuel efficiency gains, but as with the Mitsubishi Lancer and Mitsubishi ASX, the CVT does tend to make a fair bit of noise when pushed.
On the other hand, the five-speed manual transmission makes for a far more enjoyable drive. So much so that we initially thought our manual test car was coupled to a different engine. Torque delivery is linear and overall acceleration feel is far superior to the CVT. Operating the manual gearbox is a simple process thanks to a light clutch and smooth gearshifts. Drivers are likely to spend a fair bit of time switching between second and third for inner city driving but otherwise it’s the pick of the two if you can drive stick.
Mitsubishi’s aim with the new Mirage was to create a car for the global market. That meant it had to be affordable to succeed in emerging markets but also sophisticated enough to appeal in mature markets such as Australia.
However, in order to create a car that will appeal to the whole world, the Japanese had to take a slightly different approach in the hope of keeping costs down. For example, the three-cylinder engine lacks the relatively standard direction injection system seen in most new engines. The CVT, although new, doesn’t have preset gear ratios for pseudo-manual driving and there’s no choice of a bigger engine.
Around the race track - clearly not this Mitsubishi's intended domain - the Mirage was relatively well behaved. Our Thai test cars didn’t come with a front stabiliser bar, ABS or stability control, but still proved a fun package when pushed. Steering feel is typical of a light car - light and somewhat dull (which may not be reflective of the Australian delivered vehicles). The Mirage is by no means a Suzuki Swift in its handling characteristics but it’s also likely to be a few thousand dollars cheaper than its Japanese rival.
There are no plans for a Mirage Ralliart or a diesel variant (although we believe a Mirage electric is in the works). The Japanese insist the new Mirage is built on the philosophy of keeping things simple, affordable and efficient.
Although still to be independently crash-tested, the Mitsubishi Mirage was designed and is capable of achieving a five-star safety rating, according to the company. With two front, two side and two curtain airbags, plus a variety of active safety features all as standard kit, it may prove a winner just on its Japanese and safety credentials.
It enters a market that is already well catered for by the Nissan Micra, Suzuki Swift and a variety of other vehicles. Mitsubishi may well hit the sweet spot with the new Mirage if it can find the perfect balance between standard equipment, price position, fuel efficiency and safety features.
No doubt Mitsubishi Australia will aim to leverage the strong Mirage badge as it seeks to sell around 600 units per month when the new model goes on sale towards the end of the year. Prices are expected to start around the $13,000 mark for a base model manual Mirage.