There are few places in the world like the CarAdvice garage where a bright green $15K Mitsubishi Mirage can sit alongside a blood red $840K Lamborghini Aventador and no one bats an eyelid.
And despite being perhaps the ultimate automotive odd couple, I couldn’t help but find some similarities between the two of them one chilly morning a few weeks ago.
Both have naturally-aspirated engines: the Mirage with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder, the Aventador with a 6.5-litre V12. Both have an emphasis on being lightweight – indeed, the Mirage tips the scales at an impressive, Lotus-rivalling sub-tonne measure… Practically soul mates, I’m sure you’d agree.
In spite of the obvious temptation, we stopped short of conducting a fully fledged comparison test between the duo (for now, at least…).
Little splits the two price-wise, with the top-spec Mirage LS CVT claiming a narrow $245 advantage over the entry-level Nissan Micra ST auto ($15,540 versus $15,785 plus on-road costs, both with metallic paint).
Being a step up from base level, the Mirage uniquely gets 15-inch alloy wheels (Micra gets steel 14s) and climate control, and also gets body-coloured exterior door handles, which look much nicer than the Micra’s ugly black plastic openers.
While both are equipped with six airbags and electronic stability control, the Mitsubishi has been awarded a five-star safety rating by ANCAP, while the Nissan earned just four when tested back in 2011.
Cheaper to buy and better equipped, the Mirage is also cheaper to refuel and – depending on your mileage – likely cheaper to service.
Official combined cycle fuel consumption data rates the Mitsubishi at 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres compared with 6.5L/100km for the Nissan. Assuming the average 15,000km per year mileage and an unleaded fuel price of 140 cents per litre, the Mirage will be more than $300 a year cheaper to run.
Both manufacturers offer capped-price servicing programs, though through three years or 45,000km the Mirage requires only three services (at 12-month/15,000km intervals) while the Micra demands four (at 12-month/10,000km intervals). Again the Mirage comes out $300 ahead ($870 versus $1170), though the equation evens out if your mileage is lower.
Mitsubishi’s five-year/130,000km warranty also soundly beats Nissan’s basic three-year/100,000km cover.
So far so good for our friend ‘Kermit’.
There’s little splitting them on the inside, where both offer about the same amount of room – they’re surprisingly accommodating given their tiny exteriors – and are reasonably comfortable to sit in.
On paper, the engines also appear evenly matched. Both are 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol units, and while the Mirage claims the narrowest of power advantages (57kW versus 56kW), the Micra counters with an additional 4Nm (104Nm versus 100Nm). At 890 kilograms, however, the Mitsubishi has a slight power-to-weight head start.
There’s no competition as to which is the better engine from behind the wheel. The Micra’s three-pot is quiet and refined – words rarely used to describe engines at this end of the market – whereas the Mirage’s is noisy and gruff, and sends vibrations through the cabin at idle.
Both do an acceptable job of getting off the line and keeping up with city and suburban traffic.
It’s difficult to call either transmission a ‘winner’ – it’s more the case that the Mirage’s slow and lurchy CVT is less offensive than the Micra’s ancient four-speed automatic that leaves you wishing for at least one more gear around town, on the highway, up hills, down hills… you get the idea.
The Nissan is streets ahead in terms of its steering and ride comfort, though. While both racks are slow (at about 3.5 turns lock-to-lock), the Micra’s steering feels confident and consistent, with a nice solidity at highway speeds, while the Mirage’s is vague around the straight-ahead position and hesitant to self-centre.
The Micra can feel heavy-footed over pockmarked roads but is far more adept at smoothing out smaller bumps and ruts thanks to suspension that corrects quickly and its super-absorbent, chubby tyres. The Mirage’s suspension feels wooden, banging loudly over bumps and into holes, and seemingly doing little to isolate passengers from imperfections in the road.
The verdict? The Mirage takes the points narrowly for purchase price, equipment, safety, and the performance of its transmission, and wins more convincingly in the areas of running costs and warranty.
The Micra has a far nicer engine, much better steering, and a more comfortable ride, while you can flip a coin over the interiors of each.
Your priorities will determine which one you favour if you’re currently tossing up between the two. If it were my money, I’d be prepared to spend a little more up front and throughout its life for the Micra, as for me ride comfort and driveability appeal more than a few extra features and a longer warranty.
As our time with Kermit draws to a close, he’s been lined up to spend some more time with other members of the CarAdvice family.
While I’d recommend maybe not holding your breath for that Lamborghini twin test, check back next month for some final impressions from a few more of our non-editorial staff and some parting words as we bid farewell to our most enduring (if not most endearing) long-termer of 2015.
Mitsubishi Mirage LS
Date acquired: March 2015
Odometer reading: 6810km
Travel since previous update: 1323km
Consumption since previous update: 6.7L/100km