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Buying a cheap car could see you browsing the classifieds in the paper (yes, some newspapers still run car ads!) or online, but there are new cars that could appeal to your inner spendthrift – like this, the 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage ES hatchback.
The smallest Mitsubishi model was refreshed just a couple of months ago, with the updated budget city car adopting a raft of changes that were said to improve its drivability – something that wasn’t a catchcry of this generation of Mirage's first iteration.
Another area that the Mirage has lacked some dynamism, particularly in recent times, is on the sales charts. In 2015 there was a drop of 40 per cent compared with the preceding year’s sales, and in the first third of 2016 the slump has continued – another 30 per cent down.
The facelift, it could be assumed, couldn’t have come at a better time, then - particularly given that a number of new players have entered the market in recent times, such as the Kia Picanto and Holden Spark.
Admittedly, we’ve gone pretty hard on the five-door Mirage in the past for its dynamic shortfalls, not to mention its lack of relative refinement. But the changes, according to Mitsubishi, should have gone some way to appeasing us critics. So, has it? Let’s find out, but first let’s go over those changes in a bit more detail.
In terms of styling, the Mirage hatch has seen the adoption of redesigned front and rear bumpers, a brand-new grille with chrome accents, and an updated hubcap design (yes, hubcaps - remember this is a cheap car, starting from just $12,250 before on-road costs for the base model ES manual or $14,250 before on-road costs for the ES auto we have here). There are two new premium paint colours ($550) for the hatch range – Wine Red and Sunrise Orange (as seen here). You can read more in our 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage pricing and specification story.
Beyond the cosmetics, Mitsubishi claims the updated Mirage offers better steering, more balanced handling and increased ride comfort, courtesy of a comprehensive rework of the car’s suspension and the re-calibration of the Mirage’s electronic power steering system. Hill-start assist has been added too.
The suspension revisions haven’t been in vain, because it’s fair to say that the updated Mirage rides a lot better than it used to.
Indeed, the way the suspension copes with rough sections of road, and broken blacktop, is surprisingly good. The suspension is still a little noisy over bumps, but it remains relatively composed over bumps when the car rolls over them in a straight line.
Around corners? Not so much – it skips and fumbles if you hit a bump mid-bend, and progress can still be upset by really sharp edges.
In fact, cornering on the whole is poor. The steering – while apparently amended for better accuracy – actually lacks the precision of almost all of its competitors, with plenty of understeer and lots of body roll.
The brakes of the Mirage are also lacking in terms of response at higher speeds, though, there’s not a lot of feel through the pedal.
While the engine hasn’t seen any changes, the gearbox has been rejigged to "deliver improved rolling acceleration when on the move".
It's true - the engine gathers pace well when the car is already moving, but due to the CVT it can be slow from a standstill. And the transmission is constantly trying to keep the revs as low as possible, which means it can feel sluggish when you reapply throttle, particularly at highway speeds.
There’s a mode that allows you to get more response out of the engine – 'B' mode – which is designed primarily to allow for engine braking when you’re going down hills. And while it isn’t designed for use at all times, as it will hold the revs higher to get more power out of the engine, it’s certainly perkier than when the shifter is in 'D'.
The interior of the Mirage hasn’t seen much in the way of changes, and as a result it remains very plasticky and with a feeling of being built to a price.
The adjustments include a new seat trim instead of the existing all-black scheme, as well as new cushion stitching for the rear seats. A chrome accent has also been added to the audio panel. The passenger-side sun visor gains a vanity mirror (because your friends need to be able to check their make-up on the road, too!) and a parking ticket holder.
The existing CD stereo system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming remains, however, pairing a phone to the Mirage’s system is a lesson in patience. At least, though, there’s a USB input hidden in the glovebox – that could be good if you plan to leave an MP3 player in there at all times, or bad if you’re the sort of person who usually plugs in to charge their phone.
Perhaps one of the most thoughtful features of the Mirage is that the headlights will switch off when you turn the car off. They aren’t auto-on, but they are auto-off.
The back seat of the Mirage is quite spacious, and that basically comes down to the fact it has a very flat seat base and upright. That means it isn’t supportive - and with the roly-poly cornering behaviour of the Mirage that’s not ideal - but conversely, it makes it more likely you will be able to fit three people across the back.
So while the rear space is acceptable and the 60:40 split-fold rear seats are good if you need to load bigger items (anything more than a large suitcase and the boot - at 280 litres - is pretty much full), the storage in the back is lacking. There are no door or map pockets, nor a fold-down centre armrest, but there are three adjustable headrests in the back, and top-tether child-seat points for the outboard seats.
It still lacks cruise control, still lacks a media screen, doesn’t get a rear-view camera or rear parking sensors, and as a result it still feels pretty budget. It has the full complement of airbags (six in total; dual front, front side and full-length curtain), and scored five stars in the ANCAP crash test program in 2013.
Mitsubishi’s five-year warranty program (which spans 130,000km for those who travel a lot) is complemented by a five-year roadside assist program, while the brand offers a four-year/60,000km capped-price servicing plan. That program requires maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km, and just like the price of the car itself, the cost of servicing is low: the first visit is $200, and the following three will cost $230.
That warranty and the low cost of ownership could be enough to lure some buyers to the 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage – that’s understandable.
But with strong competition in the form of the Kia Picanto and Holden Spark, the Mirage remains an also-ran in the budget city car segment. It's better than before, but still not as good as the rest of the cars in the class.
Click the Photos tab for more 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage ES images by Christian Barbeitos.