In spirit if not name.
And in form and function, too.
Mitsubishi thinks the US car market is ready for a return automotive minimalism – perhaps because so many people have minimal money to spend these days – and so will embrace a car like the 2014 Metro … er, Mirage.
Not since the little Geo (last sold new in ’97) has any major automaker sold a four door sedan (a hatchback sedan, in this case)with fewer than four cylinders – and less than 80 hp – under the hood.
The Mirage also registers exactly the same 37 city, 44 highway that the ’97 Metro touted. Sure, it’s slow – but nothing that’s not a hybrid or a diesel (or a motorcycle) can touch this thing’s economy right now.
And with a starting price just under $13k, the new Mirage is also just about the least expensive new sedan you can buy. Only the stripped down version of Nissan’s Versa has a lower sticker price – $11,990 – but the Mirage is nearly 10 MPG more fuel-efficient than the base model Versa.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – and that applies to the new Mirage as much as anything else.
Let’s get into that now.
The Mirage is an entry-level subcompact five-door hatchback with a price tag of $12,995 to start – $14,195 “loaded.”
It is the first three-cylinder-powered sedan to be sold in the United States since the 1990s-era Geo.
Because of its lowball price – and exceptional high fuel economy- the Mirage has no direct competition.
Ford will offer a three-cylinder engine in the 2014 Fiesta in early calendar year 2014 – but it will be turbocharged as well as optional. A base trim four-cylinder Fiesta sedan starts at $14,400 – so even if the pending three-cylinder “Ecoboost” engine is a no-cost option, the Ford still starts out $1,405 higher. Probably, the three-cylinder engine will add at least another couple hundred bucks to the car’s MSRP.
The other three-cylinder car on the market is the SmartCar – but it’s a both two-door car and a two-seater car.
The Mirage name isn’t but the model is. It’s the first all-new Mitsubishi product in several years – and the future viability of Mitsubishi as an automaker may depend on its success… or its failure.
Mitsubishi has been struggling ever since the disastrous “0 down, 0 interest, 0 payments for a year” marketing plan it tried back in the late ’90s. The plan attracted “buyers” who wanted a car but either couldn’t pay for one or had no intention of ever paying for it – but were happy to take Mitsu up on its offer to let them drive around in a brand-new car for free for a year. Lots of Evos went up in smoke this way – as did Mitsu’s cash reserves.
That’s why there haven’t been many new Mitsus lately – or even major updates of existing Mitsus.
Under $13k sticker – and Mitsubishi’s as desperate as a 45-year-old cougar. Probably, you could buy one – the car, not the cougar – for closer to $11k.
Exceptionally high fuel economy – 44 highway and 37 city. This is better than the diesel VW Beetle I reviewed last week, which only managed 28 city, 41 highway.
AC is standard; Bluetooth is available.
Sensible shoes 14 inch steel wheels.
You can get an automatic – and it’s a fully modern automatic.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Metro slow – about 13 seconds to 60 with the optional CVT automatic.
Iffy status of Mitsubishi.
Iffy quality control history of Mitsubishi.
The Mirage’s powerplant is a Metro-esque 1.2 liter three-cylinder engine that makes 74 horsepower. It is actually slightly larger – and slightly stronger- than the ’97 Metro’s 1.0 liter, 55 hp three.
Fuel efficiency, though is identical: 37 city, 44 highway.
There is not another car out there that can touch this. Not unless it’s a hybrid (or diesel-powered) car.
The Fiat 500 three-door hatchback is one of the most gas-sippy new cars available, but only rates 31 city, 41 highway. The larger Fiat 500L has four doors – but registers just 25 city, 33 highway. Perhaps because it weighs 1,340 lbs. more.
Yes, you read that right. A 500L weighs 3,203 lbs. – a pretty rotten automotive body mass index for a relatively small car.
The Mirage’s curb weight, meanwhile, is a small car-appropriate 1,863 lbs.
Coincidentally, this is almost dead-ringer for the ’97 Metro’s 1,832 lbs.
Back to the comparisons… .
The Nissan Versa S offers 31 city, 40 highway – if you buy the extra cost CVT automatic. The base ($11,900) Versa gets 27 city, 36 highway.
It’s not even in the same ballpark as the Mirage.
Even the three-cylinder Smartcar coughs up no more than 34 city and 38 highway – and it’s a car you probably wouldn’t want to take out on the highway.
The pending (spring 2014) three-cylinder Ford Fiesta will – reportedly – exceed 40 MPG on the highway. But in addition to costing significantly more than the Mitsu, the three-cylinder version of the Fiesta will reportedly only be sold with a manual transmission.
This is probably appropriate given the smallness of the engine – and the slowness of performance. When a small engine is teamed up with an automatic, the results are typically not so hot (more on this in a moment). Still, the fact remains that most buyers (about eight out of ten) prefer an automatic. If that describes you, cross the Ford off your list.
Mitsubishi has also given the Mirage a modern automatic.
The optional continuously variable (CVT) is technologically current. The Nissan’s Versa’s step-up four-speed automatic isn’t. (Nissan also offers a CVT in the Versa – but to get this transmission – and decent fuel economy – you have to step up to the Plus trim, which starts at $13,790 vs. $11,990 for the base 1.6 S trim.) Otherwise, it’s 26 city, 35 highway – which is borderline lousy for a 2014 model year compact-sized car.
Ok. Ready for the bad news?
If you opt for the automatic, your Mirage will take a long time to get going. Zero to 60 happens in about 13 seconds, under ideal conditions. To get handle on just how leisurely that is, consider: The slowest Prius – the Prius C – is about a second quicker to 60. A four-cylinder Fiesta gets to 60 in less than 10 seconds. The turbo’d three-cylinder Fiesta might even be quicker than that – given it has 123 hp (49 more than the Mirage).
On the other hand, if you can handle shifting for yourself, the manual-equipped Mirage is capable of getting you to 60 in about 11.6 seconds – still slower than manual-equipped small cars like the Fiat 500 (10.5 seconds) but within striking distance of a Prius C.
Yeah, the Mirage is slow.
But is it too slow?
The answer depends on your frame of reference – and what you’re comfortable living with.
For instance, compared to a ’97 Geo Metro, the new Mirage is downright speedy. The Metro took almost 14 seconds to hit 60. Yet people drove it in traffic – and on the highways. If it was doable then, it’s certainly doable today. It just takes a driver willing – and able – to work with what the car’s got. A driver who knows the tricks of maintaining momentum, of anticipating the ebb and flow of traffic. If the light up ahead is red, he will try to pace himself so that by the time he reaches it, it’s gone green again – so he doesn’t have to stop. If he’s already rolling, he’s got a big advantage over even a speedy car that is stopped.
I’ve owned several really slow cars – cars that made even a Metro seem like a tri-power 427 Corvette. One of them was a ’73 Beetle I drove in DC rush hour traffic every day for several years. Which can actually be fun – if you like to drive – and if know how to drive. There is a saying that contains a lot of truth:
It is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
Absolutely. When I lived up in the DC area, one of the most frustrating things I had to deal with was getting something like a new M5 or Viper to test drive – and find myself jockeying for position in the bump-and-grind with cars like my ’73 Beetle – and Geo Metros. I wasn’t getting there any faster than them – and they weren’t getting 15 MPG.
Is it not smarter to save the M5, the Viper, the Corvette – the fun car, whatever it happens to be – for when you can have fun with it?
Meanwhile, you can amuse yourself well enough in a car like this Mirage – when it is driven in its element, which is stop-and-go traffic. True, it’s a bit out of its depth on the highway – but then, so was the Metro (and so was my old Beetle). Doesn’t mean you can’t take it out on the highway. You absolutely could.
You just have to know its limits – and yours.
The footprint of the ’14 Mirage is actually smaller by nearly a foot overall than that of the ’97 Metro sedan: 148.8 inches vs. 164 inches. But – as is the trend in new car design – the Mirage sits much taller: 59.1 inches vs. 55.4 for the Metro. It is also several inches wider: 65.6 inches vs. 62.6 for the ’97 Geo.
What you end up with is a stubby – but tall/wide – car that fits into tight spaces outside but which isn’t too tight-fitting on the inside. The Mirage has 41.7 inches of legroom up front, and 39.1 inches of headroom and 51.7 inches of shoulder room. This is decent – very decent, actually – for a subcompact.
Again, some comparos:
The much smaller(and two-door) Fiat 500 coupe has 40.7 inches of front row legroom, 38.9 inches of headroom and 49.4 inches of front row shoulder room. Its backseat has just 31.7 inches of space.
The four-door Mitsu offers 34 inches – exceptional, for a car in this size bracket.
The four-door 500L – which is a larger than the Mirage – only has 40.7 inches of front row legroom – and a preposterous 30.7 inches of second row legroom. That’s less than the two-door 500 – and three-plus inches less than the Mirage sedan has.
It’s also a tight squeeze in the Ford Fiesta – which has about an inch less shoulder room in both rows (50.6 and 49 inches, respectively, vs. 51.7 and 51.0 for the Mitsu) and just 31.2 inches of second row legroom (the Ford has slightly more legroom up front, 42.2 inches).
Nissan’s Versa gives you more interior space in both rows – including 37 inches of backseat legroom – which is more than many mid-sized sedans have. But as mentioned earlier, the Versa’s not nearly as fuel-efficient as the Mirage – even when ordered with its extra-cost CVT transmission.
On the numbers, this looks like a winner. The sedan layout is inherently practical; 37 MPG in city driving is better than several cars in the compact class manage on the highway. The base trim car – the one that’s not quite $13k at full MSRP – includes automatic climate control air conditioning (a step up from manual AC), seven air bags (five years ago, that would have been more air bags than you’d have gotten in an S-Class Mercedes), keyless entry and a decent stereo with iPod hook-up. Plus power windows and door locks.
Really, what else does one need?
And the car doesn’t come with things you don’t really need – like 17 inch (or even 16 inch) alloy wheels (fragile) and the expensive tires that come with those “rims.” Instead, as is proper for an A to B transportation appliance, the Mirage comes standard with 14-inch steel wheels and tires that cost $70 a piece to replace instead of $150 a piece. The fourteen inchers have other advantages, too – including less rolling resistance (helps fuel economy) and they’re easier to handle (as when you have to deal with a flat) being smaller and thus, lighter.
Mitsubishi offers alloy wheels, LED interior lighting, parking assist and navigation – even leather trim – but to me, adding such stuff to a car like this is like tipping the drive-thru kid at McDonald’s $20 on top of the the $8.00 bag of burgers he just handed you.
This car makes sense if you stick with the program. If you want something more than an inexpensive, functionally unobjectionable way to get around – there are better choices. But if you mean to keep your costs down to the absolute minimum without torturing yourself, this one’s an excellent choice.
Especially if you strong-arm the poor bastard trying to sell you one. Pity Mitsu salesmen – and dealers. They know you know how desperate they are.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you missed out on the Metro back in the ’90s, now’s your chance to relive history – the good and the bad.
It’s a shame that America needs a car like this – but the fact is a 44 MPG A to B unit that you can probably take home for $12k or so is exactly the right car for these very wrong times.
Throw it in the Woods?
First off, the touchpad is a real pain in the rear.
Along with the batteries the car chargers, car adaptors,
USB chargers, wall chargers are given. Tetracholoroethylene,
xylene, toluene, styrene, acetone, benzene and methylene chloride, butanol and isopropanol are only a few of the organic and
inorganic chemical substance found in industrial workplaces considered as
I don’t follow general automotive news, so I did not realize Mitsubishi was in trouble, or at least any more than car builders in general. But you mentioned the triple 0 financing plan and I thought I’d share this story.
My son graduated high school in May ’99 and went out and bought a Mirage on this ‘plan.’ 12 months later, 2 weeks before the first payment was due, he totalled it. Can you say ‘upside down”? Not the car, the loan. He eventually paid it off, only because he had suckered his sister into co-signing and his grandfather said he couldn’t leave her hanging.
Glad your son was ok physically – but, boy, that had to hurt financially!
Mitsu is a huge industrial combine in Japan (and worldwide) but their car operation is a sideshow, almost. The 0-0-0 plan was an epic disaster from which they’ve never fully recovered.
I like the new Mirage, both the car and the concept it represents.
I hope both get some traction.
NO GAP INSURANCE? WTF?!
Hope someone beat sense into him… 😉
Thanks for this review Eric. I owned a 3-cylinder 1-liter MT Metro for ten years that I bought used. I loved owning and driving that car. It epitomized my personal taste in cars (and motorcycles) – small, inexpensive, and basic. I replaced it with a Toyota Yaris hatchback which has been an uneventful 6+ year experience. My local Mitsubishi dealer is scheduled to call me as soon as they get some of these in, which is any day now. I may trade the Yaris, or just buy a base model MT outright. We’ll see. And if owning one will be anything like my ten year experience with the Metro was, it will be VERY enjoyable for me personally.
You bet, Fred!
Please keep us posted; I always enjoy hearing from actual owners – the people who live with a car, day in, day out. A week-long test drive only tells you so much, etc.
I thought of you guys, and the Mirage and the Metros, when I saw this:
MUST SEE Ron Paul Is Auctioning Off His 1979 Chevrolet Chevette That Sent Tip O’Neil Through the Roof
I didn’t know about the infamous photo of the Chevrolet Chevette parked next to the Lincoln during the 1970’s gas crisis. It was kind of funny. Cool/funny, even.
I can just imagine a photo of a Mirage or a Metro parked next to Obama’s hulking limo today would be a bit the same.
Hi, Eric –
I really enjoyed this piece! I’m a fan of the Mirage because I’m a fan of this approach to making an efficient runabout… and, perhaps not coincidentally, because I’m a current owner of a ’98 Pontiac Firefly (Canadian market badge engineered Chevy Metro).
Couple of minor corrections though… you could still buy a new Metro right up to 2000.
You mention “sedan” a few times referring to the Mirage. A sedan has just been introduced in some markets, but it’s hatchback only for the North American market, for now.
Also, on the Mirage’s weight: more sound insulation, extra airbags and a beefier rear bumper bumped it up to 1973 lbs for the base U.S. car. CVT is 2029. Even so, it’s still the lightest new car with more than 2 seats in the U.S. Power to weight is actually slightly better than the 4-cylinder Chevy Spark.
Under the hood, I think there are more differences than similarities between Mirage and Metro: the Mitsu engine is multi-valve, with multi-port fuel injection, variable valve timing, and a few other special efficiency measures. The Metro had none of these things, and it shows: 20% more displacement in the Mitsu motor, over 30% more power, hauling a slightly heavier car around, yet the thing gets the same mileage as the older car! (Some of that is due to better aero.)
The CVT is the big news. Considering how few people buy manuals any more, it’s good that Mitsu’s automatic is as up to date as it is.
The Metro’s automatic was a horrid, agricultural, 3-speed slushbox with no torque converter lockup. It utterly destroyed that car’s fuel economy compared to the 5-speed.
I agree 100% with your position on driving a “low power” car. Nice perspective presented.
(Disclaimer: I like the car enough that I started a forum for Mirage enthusiasts. They’re already coming out of the woodwork… just as they’re still around for the old Metro. And, no, I’m not associated with Mitsubishi in any way.)
Looks like good basic transportation. Its acceleration will be adequate for 95% of my driving situations. Quick merges into high density traffic could be problematic.
I am not interested in the keyless starting, but the rest of it is not bad. (14″ wheels, AC, bluetooth option)
Hopefully Mitsubishi can make a comeback. I think it is good to have more choices. (See obamacare as a case in point for lack of options)
Ditto all that, Mith!
And: Anyone (like me) who grew up driving really basic cars (old Beetle, etc.) that had little more than a weak engine, non-overdrive, no-hydraulic-assist clutch manual transmission, crappy drum brakes, an inadequate heater (and forget AC), AM radio with one speaker (if you were lucky) – etc. – will find a car like this to be a veritable Cadillac. And in a very real way, it is a “Cadillac.”
This car has more luxury amenities than the ’78 Seville my grandfather had back in the day.
And it’s probably about as quick, too.
Wow. My dad had a 78 Seville back in the day. He also owned an 81 Toyota Starlet. It’s hard to believe but I think that this car is even shorter than the Starlet. I drove it for a while in college and made 46 mpg on one trip at 65 mph through PA. It routinely got 40+ mpg on the highway until the carb gave way. Then it was only capable of around 34 mpg. I sold the car for $2500 in 2005. I like this new Mitsu. It weighs exactly the same as my old Starlet. I wish it was available about a year ago. I would have bought one. It is a lot better looking than the Versa.
I rooted around a little and found some stats for the ’78 Seville:
0-60 in 12.6 seconds!
So, the new Mirage is quicker.
Gotta love all those 70’s stripped down econoboxes – NOT!
Seriously how many of the 70’s POS’s are still around?
With very few exceptions, there ain’t much from that decade (after 73) worth a dribbling dingleberry hanging off my dogs ass.
What a waste of a decade building cars.
Good comparison and review Eric. I have a 94 Metro with 200,000 miles on it, exactly like the red one in the picture. And I have owned loved the 28 MPG Vdub’s back in the day. Crazy good gas mileage, normal is 43 all day long and can get 50+ on a flat freeway @65MPH. Take out the passenger seat and I can put 8 foot 2×4’s inside with the hatch closed. Funnier then hell when I do that. I call it the clown car like those old circus acts. The biggest drawback is the shoulder room and harsh, no travel, suspension that can be almost painful on our deteriorating roads.
Four years ago I gave the seller $1,000.00 because no one wanted such a car. Since then I have run into several people relating their college and their younger struggling times experiences with one, and they all agreed it was a very reliable little car. Lately while filling it at the gas station I have had three people ask if I wanted to sell it. Times have changed. If Mitsu can make it (and themselves) a reliable machine they may just have a winner.
I was surprised to read this review because I thought Mitsubishi’s American operation was already shut down.
Second, it’s interesting that this new Mitsu weighs virtually the same as that 97 Geo, but gets better mpg and is slightly less slow. Yet, it has all that horrible, fedgov mandated stuff, like ABS, airbags, etc. I thought you said that stuff made cars heavier, slower, and less economical. Something does not compute. 😉
First, glad you made it back – everyone else, too. The hacker really did a number on us!
On Mitsu: They haven’t abandoned ship… yet. But it definitely looks bad for them. They are one of several brands I expect to go away within a year or so.
On the car: I think this engine has a version of Mitsu’s variable valve/cam timing system and that may account for the better performance/comparable economy. The CVT is also a major help, vis-a-vis a conventional (hydraulic) automatic.
Personal take: I wish there were more new cars like this. Inexpensive, efficient – and with just enough in the way of equipment to make them reasonably comfortable/everyday usable.
Now, I’d like to nix the seven air bags – which you know ads at least $1,000 to the up-front costs – and renders the car a likely “total loss” after anything more than a fender-bender accident, due to the high cost of replacing multiple deployed bags vs. the low retail value of a car like this after even just a year or two on the road.
ABS? No thanks. I could easily live without that, too.
In all probability, Mitsu could have brought this car to market at a retail price close to $10k absent the seven air bags, absent the ABS.
I bet a lot of people would like that.
I know I would!
I’d jettison six air bags; the one in the steering wheel can remain. The automatic climate control would be amended to regular ol’ A/C. As for the keyless entry, and the power windows and door locks? Gone. Mitsu should follow their own lead here (re: 14″ steel wheels) and offer REAL economy.
Now it’s ready. 🙂