I have the number 23,000 typed into my Notes. The figure is significant; it represents the number of Mitsubishi Mirages booked since the car’s launch during the Bangkok Motor Show. In fact, by the time you read this, Mitsubishi Motors Thailand will have had more bookings added to that already achieved.
The massive number can be attributed to the Mirage being awarded Eco-Car status in Thailand, which brings all sorts of incentives and tax breaks to manufacturers, which helps to lower the price tag, always a good thing in attracting buyers.
Part of the requirement of a car getting an Eco-Car tag is that its fuel consumption needs to better than 5.0 litres/100 km (or 20 km/l), and the car has to meet Euro 4 emission levels. The Mirage’s 1.2 litre MIVEC engine has a fuel economy of 22 km/litres (or 4.5 l/100 km, if the online converters are right) and emits only 120 g/km of CO2.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me properly introduce the Mitsubishi Mirage (codename: EL) by saying that this is a global compact car designed specifically as an ‘entry-level car in emerging markets’ and a car that ‘address environmental needs in advanced countries’. You can already guess how the car is being positioned.
The big thing about the Mirage is how light it is – it tips the scales between 830 kg and 865 kg, depending on its transmission and trim. It uses high-tensile steel in the construction to shave off the kilograms without culling rigidity. As a result, the Mirage is up to 7% lighter than the typical competition.
Dimensions for the Mirage are 3,710 mm, 1,665 mm and 1,490 mm (length, width and height respectively), with a wheelbase of 2,450 mm. Total legroom for the Mirage is slightly more than 1,640 mm, which is more than the Swift, Mazda2 and March; only the Yaris gives more room to stretch.
Creature comforts are pretty basic. The Mirage comes with the standard cup holders, glove compartment and door pockets. Seats are wrapped in fabric, there’s the usual air conditioning and four-speaker stereo system. Depending on the variant, you’ll either get a touch screen sat-nav unit or the usual buttons-and-dial unit.
Quality of materials is as expected of a car in this bracket. Plastics feel solid and textured, but nothing to write home about. However, this does not undermine the fit and finish of the Mirage. The panels looks tightly bolted down and the gaps are closed up quite nicely.
The Mirage’s shell design is not as enticing as seeing its namesake in a desert, and hence does not invoke any sort of emotions. Its shape can be described as clean and safe; inoffensive would be the perfect word to describe it.
Say what you want, but Mitsubishi has said that this design has earned the car a drag coefficient of 0.29 Cd. It accomplishes this by closing up as much of the holes as possible, leaving open what is necessary to let the engine breathe.
For instance, in the front the small grille opening optimises airflow around the car and the front bumper undersurface is crafted to act as an air dam at its corners. The air then flows to the roof-lines that will then flow smoothly to the rear.
Still on the exterior, you’ll notice that the windows are quite large. That’s because the belt line is set lower and the A-pillar made slimmer, and this is to give the driver more real estate in terms of field of vision.
Underneath the hood is Mitsubishi’s new three-cylinder MIVEC engine, codenamed the 3A92. It is a 1.2 litre powerplant that produces a humble 77 hp at 6,000 rpm and 100 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm.
The engine can either be paired with a five-speed manual gearbox or an INVECS-III CVT that uses a wider gear ratio span for better torque and economy. No pseudo-gear numbers are given and you don’t really need to know, because there’s no manual selector on the box nor paddle shifters to fiddle with. However, it does have a ‘Sport’ mode that locks the gear at a certain rpm for situations that need more power.
Like all CVTs, gearshifts are non-existent, but the ratios do adjust automatically when it detects changes in the accelerator and the load of the car. One example: the rpm is raised to a higher range when going up hill. Really, all you need to do is keep your feet planted on the accelerator. Really, tricking the CVT is as easy as easing or standing on the pedal.
The manual feels better – the gear ratios are well-chosen, in that the engine does not feel tortured every time you go up a gear. Shifting the stick is not as creamy as it should have been though; there was a hint of stickiness evident in the test unit. The clutch, however, feels light, easy to depress and does not try to kick out your feet once the gear bites.
Likewise, the steering also feels lightweight, and the feedback coming off it are mere whispers. Yet, it is easy and obedient, needing only slight feeding to get the nose sniffing into the direction you want it to. By the way, the turning radius as measured by Mitsubishi is 4.4 metres, which is pretty tight.
In any case, the suspension is neither feathery nor harsh. The system is a standard MacPherson front and torsion beam rear. What is important is that Mitsubishi has been able to dial back the body roll to make this small car chuckable around the corners without going out of sorts. And it feels stable no matter the kind of corners you throw it into. Tight hairpins, long sweepers and S-bends are executed with high scores.
Based on the short sampling managed with it, the Mirage looks to be a pleasant little car that does its job rather well. Good fuel economy and low emissions should appeal to the hybrid-opposed, environmentally-friendly driver, and the small frame, large window and easy handling should be something novice drivers can warm up to as well.
Ah but there’s a slippery banana to consider. Mitsubishi Malaysia is unsure if it is going to offer the Mirage here. And if it does, how much to price the car? And if it does get the price right, will the car have enough features to please the audience? And even if it pleases the audience in that regard, will the car sell? What a conundrum Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia has found itself in.