My colleagues at CarAdvice HQ in Sydney were suspiciously happy to see me upon my return from a week out of the office for my honeymoon.
Smiles. Laughter. Something must be up…
The grins and giggles that greeted me reached their climax when I got to my desk to find the key of a new – sorry, my new, they insisted – Mitsubishi Mirage long-termer and bright green key ring that correlates with unfortunate accuracy to the car’s paint colour.
“It’s your wedding present,” they said, without a hint of empathy.
I was content with the burger they shouted me on my last day, I thought to myself, when not racking my brain on how I would explain the Pop Green 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage LS hatch to the boys at the footy club.
But the more I looked at the smirking little snot ball in the garage, the more I realised that such a car was actually a very real prospect for me in this new season of my life.
My wife Liss hasn’t driven a manual since her days as a learner, meaning the heat is on to find a replacement for my delightful little 2011 Volkswagen Polo 77TSI. With a maxed-out post-wedding bank account, ‘Polsie’s’ circa-$16K trade-in value will have to foot the bill for a self-shifting successor if we head down that path.
Fitted with an automatic continuously variable transmission (a $1500 option over the standard five-speed manual) and that paint job (all colours other than white cost $550), our Mirage LS has a list price of $15,540 before on-road costs, or a $17,240 driveaway price according to Mitsubishi’s website (though we’d recommend haggling hard on that latter figure).
In that price range, other auto options include the equally emasculating $13,990 Suzuki Celerio, the $14,990 Nissan Micra ST and the $15,090 Holden Barina Spark, while the mildly desirable Fiat 500 Pop is relatively pricey at $17,500.
If we wanted to come out a few thousand dollars ahead, the $12,990 entry-level Mirage ES CVT undercuts all auto-equipped rivals, though we’d then be forced to make do without the 15-inch alloy wheels (ES gets steel 14s), foglights, cruise control, climate control, two extra speakers (for four in total), and a handful of unique trim materials that are standard in the LS.
The base Mirage does come standard with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, a USB port, steering wheel phone and audio controls, and six airbags and electronic stability control, though its lack of cruise control alone rules the ES out for me.
Our long-term Mirage is hugely significant, then. Make a good impression with Liss and me and we could be heading to our local Mitsubishi dealership in three months’ time. Fail to hit the mark and we may spend a few Sunday mornings bunny-hopping our way around Sydney, with me biting my fingernails to the bone in Polsie’s passenger seat.
Our first night as a trio isn’t spent slotting into tiny half parking spaces near our busy inner city Sydney home or sipping fuel in Friday night traffic where the Mirage should excel, but instead out of its comfort zone on the freeway for a circa-150km journey south of the city.
At highway speeds, we’re surprised at how easily the Mirage is buffeted around by the wind in gusty, but far from cyclonic, conditions. Blame its slab sides, skinny tyres and low kerb weight – the micro Mitsu tips the scales at just 890kg.
The steering does little to enhance stability, being vague on centre, very slow (3.5 turns lock to lock) and hesitant to self-centre. The steering wheel’s lack of reach adjustment will also leave some perched awkwardly behind it, though it suits my driving position just fine.
In fact, the Mirage is surprisingly comfortable both in the front and the back for such a budget-focused model, with the second row praised by a tag-along on our return leg for its soft cushioning and decent head and legroom given its tiny exterior dimensions.
There’s also adequate space in its 235-litre boot for three sets of weekend bags, and plenty more if you push its 60:40 split folding rear seats forward.
The hard and flimsy plastics used throughout the cabin serve as regular reminders that the Mirage belongs to the cheapest segment in the market, however, and the uninspired dashboard layout wouldn’t have been ground breaking 15 years ago, though at least it’s a cinch to navigate and use.
The Mirage’s 1.2-litre petrol engine isn’t the most characterful of the three-pot brigade; rather, it’s noisy and gruff and sends noticeable vibrations through the cabin when you’re idling. A recent comparison test with the Celerio proved the Mitsubishi to be the more refined of the two, though.
Despite producing just 57kW at 6000rpm and 100Nm at 4000rpm, the Mirage gets off the line well and feels perky enough at urban speeds. It requires more persistence as you hit the highway, however, and the CVT is generally slow to react to throttle inputs and also prone to lurching and shuddering when you step off the accelerator.
As we found, however, the gearbox allows the engine to settle nicely at around 2000rpm at the national speed limit.
Less sophisticated is the suspension, which feels wooden, bangs loudly over holes and bumps, and provides seemingly little buffer zone between surface imperfections and the bodies of its passengers.
Sipping 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres over the course of our road trip was something of a saving grace for the Mirage, which, though adequately spritely, comfortable and reasonably spacious inside, left a little to be desired on our initial road trip in terms of its drivetrain refinement, dynamic performance and interior finish.
This coming month, we’re throwing the Mirage into what should be its element: the hustle and bustle of the city.
For now, I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt and leaving the Sunday pages of my diary alone…
Click the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.