|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
With that frame of mind, it’s time to get behind the wheel with the Mirage—and Mitsubishi gladly arranged a top-of-the-line Lemonade Yellow GLS CVT for a week’s use. And since it’s designed primarily as a Point A to Point B transport, no special out-of-town trip, no special economy or high-speed run has been factored in. For a week, it will simply do what an Average Juan would do: go to work, home, and perhaps a mall on the weekend.
Though it’s clearly no sports car, it’s hard not to admire the Mirage’s design simplicity. Free from most embellishments (the only one actually being the rear deck spoiler), the Mirage exterior is clearly function over form. Relying on aerodynamics to give it a fuel-efficiency edge on the competition, the Mirage features subtle lips on the front bumpers and reduced air inlets to give it a slippery 0.29 co-efficient of drag. The design brief notwithstanding, the Mirage features oversized triangular headlights and a smiling face to give it a cheeky and almost comical look. This makes the Mirage stand out of the competition and combined that with a slew of bright color choices (including blue, yellow, and lime green) and you’ve got one young-looking car. Each wheel well is filled with 7-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels with (surprisingly) performance-oriented Bridgestone Potenza rubber (they’re V-rated), further leaving an impression of being a good value proposition.
That said, there are minor design weaknesses that betray the Mirage’s low-cost origins. First, the door handles which have been moved to beneath the side character line reduces the metal stamping cost at the expense of a clean and uninterrupted profile. Next, the key hole whether it’s on the doors or the rear hatch is located separately from the door handle, again reducing production cost, but at the expense of lending the Mirage an 80’s or 90’s car vibe. Lastly, the sheet metal used in the Mirage itself is quite thin. Though it’s been done to reduce curb weight while still maintaining exemplary crash safety standards (it uses high-tensile steel in its construction after all), pressing down on the roof, door, or hood may be enough to cause a dimple mark. These minor gripes aside, the Mirage is actually cute, refreshing, and cheerful. And given its list price of P 638,000 for this top-range model, it seems you’re getting exactly what you paid for.
Though some level of nitpicking can be thrown at the Mirage’s exterior, the same can’t be said with its interior which is well-built, solid, and generally well-executed. The all-black interior lends a much more serious attitude than the cheery exterior would suggest, but it’s designed very well and is a nice place to actually spend some traffic in. It gets the driving basics right with a good driving position, supportive seats, and good visibility all around. The amount of adjustment offered in the Mirage is above and beyond than anything else in its class with a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel. The gauges are pretty straight-forward but highly legible with a large speedometer dead center and flanked by a tachometer on the left and a bank of warning indicators on the right. Nestled in the LCD display is an on-board trip computer which computes for Average Fuel Mileage and Distance to Empty. It even integrates a maintenance service indicator. Coming with FASTKEY as standard equipment, the Mirage GLS has a push-button engine start/stop to the left of the steering wheel (ala Porsche) and there’s even a nifty slot on the center console just above the cup holders to store the key in.
The front passengers will have little to complain about since despite the Mirage’s diminutive size, it has successfully maximized the interior cabin to create a truly spacious feel. However, those in the backseat won’t feel as lucky with the rear bench’s flat and contour-less design which maximizes seating space at the great expense of passenger comfort especially in the area of hip and lumbar support. And this is a bummer given the Mirage comes with three individual headrests and three three-point seat belts for those sitting in the back. Opening the rear hatch reveals merely adequate luggage space. Though the Mirage has a 60/40 split-folding seatback, with the seats up, it will have difficulty even swallowing the typical 26 or 28-inch wheeled luggage.
Given the Mirage’s sub-P 700,000 list price, it’s surprising that its list of standard equipment can shame even some luxury cars. Aside from the FASTKEY push-button start/stop and automatic climate control, the Mirage comes with a leather steering wheel; variable intermittent wipers; a touch-screen multimedia entertainment system with CD/DVD/MP3 input, Apple iPod support, Bluetooth hands-free and even GPS; and the typical range of safety equipment such as dual SRS airbags and anti-lock brakes with EBD and brake assist.
Indeed, the Mirage scores very high in being a well-designed sub-compact and being extremely good value for money, but how is it on the open road? How does it drive? Well, just like it’s designed to do: a Point A to Point B commuter car. And this certainly isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Settling into the driver’s seat, it’s immediately noticeable that the driving position is much more upright, much higher than most sub-compacts. This gives a less than sporty feeling, but at least it gives a much more commanding view of the surrounding traffic. Pressing the ‘Engine Start’ button cranks the 1.2-liter 3-cylinder to life. And though the sound is somewhat lacking, once it settles into an idle it purrs evenly. Slotting into ‘D’, it’s time to tackle the city streets. With a small displacement engine mated to a CVT transmission, the Mirage is surprisingly quick on its feet. From a standstill up to around 60 km/h, it actually accelerates very well and makes quick work of slotting in and out of traffic. Though it’s got some spritely performance, maintaining a good, constant pace is what this car does best. Applying full throttle will not really result in a jolt of power—just the sound of a taxed engine permeating into the cabin. And oddly enough, despite touting figures of 21 km/L, a week’s worth of driving resulted in just 8.7 km/L—and this is with a fuel-miser mindset. What’s worse is that with the Mirage’s 35-liter tank, refueling every three or four days can be the norm.
The less than stellar fuel economy aside, the Mirage is simply king when it comes to heavy traffic situations. The steering is feathery-light and combined with a quick-ratio rack, it results in a 4.6-meter turning radius—easily the smallest in its class. It’s actually nice to take the various U-turn slots from inner lane to inner lane—shocking even motorcycle riders in the process. The suspension is clearly tuned for comfort rather than spirited handling so combine that with the skinny tires results in the Mirage feeling tippy through corners. It’s stable and all, but it just doesn’t like quick left-right-left transitions. In addition, the Mirage is one of those cars which behave very differently depending on how many people are onboard. With one or two, it tackles any obstacle, including steep inclines, very well. When fully-loaded with four or five onboard, it feels asthmatic and lacking in straight-line power. Plus, the rear suspension tends to bottom out even at speed bumps. The brakes bite very well, but they’ll need a good jab to engage with gusto.
So, is it Car of the Year material? If being the Car of the Year means being attainable by the masses, then it’s rightfully so. If it means being great value for money, then it’s a resounding yes. If it aims to break ground in offering technology in its price segment, then yes sir, it’s Car of the Year material. However, if it aims to be an enthusiast’s car, then it’s best to look elsewhere. If it aims to be an all-in-one car, one that caters to every need of the Filipino buyer, then it doesn’t work. Indeed, it’s Car of the Year material, but for a price. After a week with the Mitsubishi Mirage, it’s clear that it isn’t the perfect car. However, it does the job of being a commendable Point A to Point B transport very well, and for most buyers, that’s perhaps what they need and what they had in mind in the first place.