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At $12,990 driveaway, the Mitsubishi Mirage is one of the cheapest new cars on the market.
On sale since the beginning of 2013, the born-again Mirage replaced the largely unloved Colt in Australia's micro-car class to take on the likes of the $14,000 Fiat 500, $12,490 Holden Barina Spark, $13,490 Nissan Micra and $13,990 Volkswagen Up!
It’s a move that’s proved highly successful so far, with the Mitsubishi Mirage quickly establishing itself as the best-selling vehicle in its segment, where it offers a combination of standard items rare for a car of its size and price.
The Mirage is the cheapest car to boast a five-star ANCAP safety rating, coming standard with six airbags (dual front, side, and curtains) and electronic stability control, among other active and passive features.
It is also protected by a five-year/130,000km warranty, one year of free roadside assistance, and is covered by capped-price servicing that ensures customers won’t pay more than $1000 over the first four years or 60,000km of ownership to have their Mirage serviced ($250 per service at 12-month/15,000km intervals).
Standard Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming and an easy-to-use voice control system will also appeal to young, first-car buyers.
The Mirage is also one of few vehicles available in a bright fuchsia finish, dubbed Mulberry, which like all metallic hues is a $495 option.
Naturally, opting for the entry-level Mitsubishi Mirage means making a few sacrifices. The base model ES makes do with steel wheels and a two-speaker audio system, and all variants in the range miss out on cruise control and a reach-adjustable steering wheel.
An extra $1000 buys the mid-grade Mirage Sport, which adds 14-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and a four-speaker audio system. The top-spec Mirage LS is the is the pick for those after the best equipped and best value variant in the range, gaining larger 15-inch alloys, automatic headlights and wipers, fog lamps, climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, and trim upgrades.
The Mirage’s dashboard and instrument cluster are clean but basic. The centre stack’s gloss black finish is neat, though the tactility of some controls – particularly old-school ventilation sliders – leaves a little to be desired in terms of quality. Thin and hard plastics, some ill-fitting panels with the occasional sharp edge, and exposed wires in the glovebox further betray its budget positioning.
The Mirage is surprisingly accommodating for its size, however, offering adequate headroom and decent legroom for two 180cm-tall passengers in the back. The rear seatbacks also split 60:40 and fold almost completely flat to expand the Mirage’s 235-litre boot, which is significantly larger than that of the Holden (170L) and Fiat (185L), and just shy of the Nissan and Volkswagen (both 251L).
The Mitsubishi Mirage is powered by a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 57kW at 6000rpm and 100Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
Paired with either the standard five-speed manual transmission or optional ($2500) automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), Mitsubishi claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 4.6 litres per 100km in ES specification. Our Mirage ES manual test car returned an average of 6.1L/100km in a week comprising predominantly city and suburban driving.
The three-pot engine has that familiar, endearing offbeat thrum at idle and low revs, and though it becomes increasingly noisy above 3000rpm it avoids sounding thrashy and overworked. Loud whistles and whines are an ever-present reminder that the manual transmission is in gear, however, detracting from in-car comfort and refinement.
The gear lever itself feels loose and slightly vague in your hand, sometimes clicking and clunking into gear rather than sliding smoothly.
That vagueness extends to the steering, which lacks feel and a sense of precision at the straight-ahead position, though encouragingly offers more directness as lock is applied.
The steering’s weighting is effortlessly light throughout the range and a tight turning circle makes the Mirage sweetly manoeuvrable in the city, however a slow steering rack means there’s more arm twirling required than is ideal.
The Mirage’s ride is commendably settled, remaining smooth over coarse surfaces and taking speed humps in its stride. Sharper hits like potholes and road joins elicit a terser reaction from the suspension, though corrections are quick and accurate.
A lack of bounce and body roll mean the Mirage also feels reasonably well planted and stable for an 865kg hatchback, making it feel predictable and confidence inspiring.
It’s no match for the class-leading Up! in terms of vehicle dynamics or interior quality, and for a new car launched in 2013 doesn’t move the game ahead seriously in any area, despite its low price.
But in pragmatic terms, the Mitsubishi Mirage’s combination of strong safety and aftersales protection, a competent engine and decent practicality and equipment makes a compelling case in Australia’s cheapest new-car class.