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Long has it been since the Japanese carmaker put out something significant for the masses, and I’m not talking about the i-MiEV. The ASX was the last fresh vehicle that rolled out of Aichi. Even then, the small car you see here isn’t even made anywhere near Japan.

Instead, the Mitsubishi Mirage is made in Thailand, then shipped to its markets around the world. And for that reason, strict quality standards are maintained. The resulting workmanship is respectable, the panels seem glued shut to the frame and the lines aren’t out of alignment.

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The Mirage’s formula is simple. Make a car that is light enough to have the small and frugal engine not feel underpowered while making the school run. It also needs to be cheap enough for first car buyers to afford.

Which is why I can understand that some panels, especially the door cards feel light and hollow. And the seats and steering wheel, well they could use a little more padding. Still, the goose-pimply dashboard never feels brittle or flimsy. It would seem that a good amount of stiffening has been poured into the material to at least make it feel solid and substantial. What’s good is that the places that you come into contact frequently with are soft and tactile for comfort.

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No jest, the cabin is a pleasant place to be in. You sit taller than you’d expect – the low belt line plays a part in this too – which gives you excellent all-around visibility. But persons of larger proportions might find accommodation tight and they could even encroach on the personal space of others. Yes, this is a rather small car and the interior space reflects that lack of extra elbow room. Surprisingly enough, this car has some legroom in the rear to spare. But only just.

Look behind the rear bench and you’ll find a tiny boot space; its depth is about the length of a shoebox, maybe a bit more. It will swallow groceries quite nicely and if you need more space, the rear seats can be folded down. And of course, you get the usual pockets that are handy for storing odds and ends.

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Under the lid, you’ll find a rather modest 1.2 litre three-cylinder engine. This bantam mill produces 77 hp and 100 Nm of torque that travel to the front-wheels via a CVT gearbox; a five-speed manual option is also available. Right about now, you really need to abandon all thoughts about the Mirage of old; this car isn’t built for driving exhilaration.

But it isn’t as bad as it sounds. The car is rather light, weighing in at a feathery 850kg. It would seem that Mitsubishi has adopted the light is right philosophy for its new baby. To a certain extent, it works. There is enough power for good initial acceleration and it does get to highway speeds with relative ease, albeit the cabin does get noisy at speeds.

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Lightness also brings a degree of agility, which is quite evident when you chuck it around the corners without fuss. However, the fun diminishes when you realise that there isn’t enough power to pull the car out of the corners quickly enough. With that said, its talents are much better employed in parking lots, where its ant-like turning radius can be put to very good use. Yes, it takes nearly zero effort to drive this car.

There’s one more thing that needs to be highlighted – fuel economy. Mitsubishi claims that the Mirage will only need one litre of petrol for every 2 1km travelled. It works out to about 4.76l/100 km, and the real world figures don’t stray too far.

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In some cases, like travelling interstate on the highway, it is said that the Mirage can achieve figures that’s better than the claimed 21 km/l, which will really stretch the range of the 35-litre fuel tank. And this puts it in direct contention with hybrid cars, especially those with a sub-RM100,000 price tag.

The Mirage is a decent offering from Mitsubishi. Aside from some concerns regarding its material quality, lack of boot space and power, there isn’t much to complain about. If you’re looking for a first car, or an upgrade from something smaller, you might want to add this hatchback to your list.