We buy specific cars for all sorts of strange reasons, and equally refuse to buy some for even stranger ones.
The latter happened earlier this month for my wife Liss as she rode in the passenger seat of our 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage LS long-termer, which for obvious reasons has earned the unimaginative name ‘Kermit’ within the CarAdvice Sydney office.
As I explained in our first long-term report last month, Liss and I are in the market for an inexpensive hatchback with an automatic transmission to replace my 2011 Volkswagen Polo 77TSI that – unfortunately for it and its owner – has three pedals and one of those tricky gear levers that my better half thinks better of.
As a result, the Mitsubishi Mirage is a potential replacement – its $15,540 before on-road costs price tag means it probably wouldn’t leave us too far out of pocket after saying goodbye to the even less imaginatively named ‘Polsie’… Or at least was a potential replacement.
Wanting to check her reflection one morning, Liss reached for the Mirage’s flimsy passenger-side sun visor and flipped it down. Exposing to her disgust a blank, mirror-less reverse-side, she flipped it back to the roof in outrage and exclaimed with dismissive bewilderment: “Pfft, who’s buying this?!”
Going in to bat for Kermit, I informed Liss that there’s a mirror on the driver’s-side sun visor, to which she rolled her eyes and said, “But you’ve got this”, motioning towards the rear-view mirror and shaking her head with incredulity, before grabbing it and angling it in her direction.
So it seems the Mitsubishi Mirage is off the list, a victim of both Liss’s convenience (a much safer word than superficiality) and my desire to remain somewhat safe behind the wheel.
It’s something of a shame, because the Mirage has grown on me over the past six weeks, in which it’s spent its time buzzing around its natural habitat, having not set a tyre beyond the suburbs and likely not stretching its legs beyond 80km/h.
As 5:30pm rolls around each evening, I’ve regularly found myself grabbing the Mirage’s basic key out of the office fishbowl, preferring it over many more expensive and ostensibly more appealing alternatives.
But in the city where size – or rather lack thereof – is king, the Mitsubishi Mirage’s diminutive 3.7-metre footprint makes it better than almost anything on the market at zipping down tight alleyways and opportunistically squeezing into tiny parking spaces.
Even comparisons editor Curt admitted to finding the Mirage refreshingly nimble and easy to drive after recently spending a week swapping between a BMW X5 M and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
There’s no reverse-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors are only available as dealer-fitted accessories, though none are essential from a convenience perspective thanks to the Mirage’s decent all-round visibility and its squared-off rear end, which makes it easy to know where its edges are.
Its slow steering (3.5 turns lock to lock) and the wheel’s hesitancy to self-centre keep your hands busy and become tiresome around town, however.
The Mirage’s suspension lacks sophistication and generally feels quite wooden. It jitters over small bumps and coarse surfaces and bangs loudly as it hits into road joins and falls into potholes. It’s at its most comfortable on well-kept roads and rolling over speed humps, where it feels smooth and reasonably settled.
The engine feels perky off the line and keeps pace in urban traffic, though does get thrashy and noisy higher in the rev range where it delivers its peak outputs (57kW at 6000rpm and 100Nm at 4000rpm).
The automatic continuously variable transmission fitted to our test car – a $1500 option over the standard five-speed manual – takes time to warm up, thunking upon firm throttle applications in the minutes after start-up in the cooler weather that’s now upon us. It’s generally slow to react to accelerator inputs, and sometimes shudders when you step off the throttle.
It’s been efficient, however, consuming a little over 80 litres of fuel across 1275 kilometres of urban driving, for an average of 6.4L/100km and a cost of only $110.
On those nights when I haven’t taken Kermit home, he’s mostly been in the possession of Kathryn, an early-20s account manager at CarAdvice who currently drives a decade-old, first-generation Holden Cruze, but has her sights set on a trade up after constantly being tempted by fresh metal rolling through the CarAdvice garage.
As Kat explains, the Mitsubishi Mirage hit all the right notes early in their early days together:
“It was love at first drive with the Mirage,” begins Kat. “With a deep, comfy driver’s seat, five doors, music/media/cruise controls on the steering wheel and, of course, its green exterior, it was everything I desired in a small car.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my weekends with the Mirage. It was the perfect runabout vehicle. It was really easy to get in and out of and it could fit into any spot in the shopping centre. I actually looked forward to doing my weekend chores as it made everything easily accessible.”
The love affair was well and truly blossoming until a Mazda 2 Neo entered the CarAdvice garage and stole Kat’s heart – unable to resist its more “attractive” styling, greater attention to detail, more substantial feel on the road, greater feeling of control, sharper dynamics and more user-friendly infotainment system, and all for just a $1450 premium over the Mirage.
“Then I drove the Mazda 2. I have seen so many of these zipping around since their release and have always found them attractive. It has everything the Mirage has, but with greater detail and a finer finish.
“I felt safe in this car – like the cabin was more cushioned and heavier, making it sturdier to drive. This made the Mirage look clunky and tinny.
“The Mazda 2 was more powerful than the Mirage and better at responding to braking and acceleration.
“While neither car had built-in sat nav (which is a must for me – I’m so uncoordinated!), I much preferred the media display in the Mazda 2. The display is better lit and much more legible than that of the ‘bedside digital clock’ display in the Mirage.
“I can definitely understand the appeal of the Mirage – it looks ‘fun’ and it’s incredibly cheap. It would have been my ideal first car.
“But having driven the Mazda 2, I am fairly certain that this will be my next car.”
Holding its own against the size-larger and more expensive Mazda was always going to be a hard task for the Mirage.
This month, however, we’re spending some time with the recently updated Nissan Micra and will get the opportunity to drive the two back to back. We’ll let you know how the Mirage performs when it drops back to its weight division in our next long-term report.
2015 Mitsubishi Mirage LS
Date acquired: March 2015
Odometer reading: 5487km
Travel since previous update: 1275km
Consumption since previous update: 6.4L/100km
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