The Mitsubishi Mirage is the smallest, least expensive car the global manufacturer sells in America. With four seats, four tiny wheels, four doors and just enough power to outrun a golf cart, the Mirage is designed to be a basic car for people who don’t want or need more than that. Because of the barebones nature of the Mirage, it is most sensible to buy this car at the lower end of its available price range – somewhere around $10,000 right now. That figure doesn’t buy the best trim level with many options, but it does net a new car with a warranty and most of the features that the Mirage offers.
Our Mirage test car was the GT model, which comes with all the options and a price tag of around $18,000. At this price, the case for buying the Mirage loses much of its steam, especially when there are so many compelling options on the used-car market at or even below that price point. But as an ultra-low-priced new car, the Mirage does have things to offer.
It’s hard to get away with making a car this small while also making it attractive and well-proportioned. The Honda Fit has one of the most attractive silhouettes in the tiny car business, but it’s over a foot longer than the Mirage, and the Fiat 500 and Chevy Spark are several inches shorter but have their own quirks. In its context, the Mirage is good-looking.
Our GT-trimmed Mirage had every option available, from 15-inch two-tone alloy wheels to LED headlights. All of this adds up to a package that looks much better than the most basic Mirage models and can fool you into thinking you are stepping into a “hot hatchback.”
The interior is a plain, no-frills affair that gets the job done and doesn’t go out of its way to offend. Dials, gauges, and buttons are where they should be, and visibility out of the little car is very good. The floormats in this car are surprisingly irritating, however, because they use a Velcro-like fastening method to secure them to the floor of the car. I needed to take them out and shake the dirt out after an adventure with the kids and found that getting them back into the car was nearly impossible, as they stuck to every possible surface in the interior except the place on the floor where I needed them to be.
I wasn’t expecting a blazing 0-60 mph time in the Mirage, but what I got was a surprise. Starting up the car produces a prolific noise – partially because there is very little in the way of sound deadening and partially because the 1.3-liter three-cylinder engine is so… rugged. The funny thing is that it doesn’t sound much different outside the car, so everyone knows how hard you’re accelerating when you finally reach 30 mph.
That said, the Mitsubishi Mirage is capable of reaching and holding highway speeds, despite how long it takes to get there. Because of its size and the tiny, narrow wheels (I can fit my hand around the tire tread even with the GT trim upgrade), the Mirage is a bit twitchy at highway speed. I was much more confident in cruising at 60 mph than I was at the posted speed limit of 70 mph, which is more a comment on the comfort of the car at speed than it is on the safety.
I live in a town with no traffic lights and very little actual traffic, so the driving speeds tend to be higher than in typical city operation. Because it’s taxed to the limit just getting up to speed, the Mirage feels out of its element in this type of driving environment. The college town where I work is a more typical suburban area, which brings the Mirage’s positive abilities into sharper focus. Scooting around at 30 mph and through parking lots, the little hatchback was actually pleasurable, if a bit noisy. Parking the car was one of the best parts of driving it, because it fits nearly anywhere there’s daylight.
What do you get in such a cheap car? In the Mitsubishi Mirage, the answer is: more than you’d think. At the most basic level, this car comes with a seven-inch touchscreen and backup camera (thanks, government regulation!). Our GT test car came with a slightly smaller 6.5-inch screen, but it included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means access to navigation and voice-to-text.
The rest of the dash is standard issue, with the exception of the climate controls. What does the Mirage and a microwave oven have in common? Every time a button is pressed, there is a beep. Volume up? Beep. Temperature down? Beep. There’s no way to turn it off, and while it isn’t loud, it was noticeable enough to stir my two-year old from her pre-daycare morning slumber.
How comfortable you are in the Mirage depends on what your expectations are going in. I set the bar low and was pleasantly surprised by the front seats. At six feet and 200+ pounds (we’ll call it plus…), the driver’s seat was easily adjustable to a position that worked for me, but don’t look to be coddled.
The GT-trimmed Mitsubishi Mirage comes with heated seats, but only one armrest – attached to the side of the driver’s seat. On lower trims, this luxury is an added-cost option. For my five-foot-tall wife, the location of the armrest was a welcome revelation because she can almost never find one that reaches a comfortable position. For me the positioning was fine, but I felt like I could have easily broken the tiny attachment right off the seat.
The rear seating surface is a flat bench with none of the shaping that nearly every other car has to help hold people in place. My first car, a 1971 Oldsmobile, had this “feature”, which led to many comical instances of people sliding around unintentionally. Thankfully for my kids, they both have car seats that are firmly strapped into the car.
The truth about the Mitsubishi Mirage is that only a true fan of the brand and the model has a rational reason to buy one in the more expensive trim levels. For most, the point of the Mirage is as an efficient, budget-friendly car. But because other options exist for just a little bit more money, the Mirage won’t be the choice for many budget shoppers. If you’re set on buying a new car and getting a lengthy warranty, a Mirage is more than worthy of a test drive. If a used-car is okay with you, some satisfying choices are available at about the same price.