2019 Mitsubishi Mirage

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Saving money on gas is great – but how about saving money on the car? If it costs you less, then you have more in your pocket to spend on gas.

And on other things.

A simpler car – one without turbos, ASS or direct injection – is also less likely to hit you with high-dollar repair costs down the road. And if it has a better warranty than other cars, you won’t have to pay any dollars for repairs until you’re farther down the road.

Now add some features most buyers consider essential – and which used to define a luxury car – such as power windows and locks, cruise control and USB ports – and don’t charge extra for them.

That’s the case made by Mitsubishi for the Mirage – which is one of the least expensive and best-equipped new cars available for less than $14k to start  – as well as one of the best-warranted and most fuel-efficient.

So – what’s the catch?

WHAT IT IS

The Mirage is a subcompact sedan/hatchback emphasizing value and high mileage – without making you pay extra for either – or for amenities such as AC, power windows, locks and cruise control.

They’re all standard equipment.

It is also the only car with a sticker price less than $14k that gets 40-plus MPG on the highway without a hybrid drivetrain or a turbocharged engine or other fuel-saving but cost-adding technology.

It isn’t even slow – though you may have read that it is.

So what’s is the catch?

It’s a Mitsubishi. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The problem is the perception that there is – which acts like a cement block tied around a cat’s neck – as far as depreciation rates are concerned.

But that is only a concern if you don’t plan to keep the car very long. If you plan on driving it for at least eight years, depreciation is a near-irrelevance regardless of brand.

The other thing – perhaps more relevant – is that Mitsubishi stores are harder to find and there may not be one within convenient orbit of you. But that’s only an unavoidable hassle when it comes to buying one.

Once bought, you can have it serviced anywhere.

Base price is $13,795 for the ES trim with manual transmission; there are also SE ($14,995 to start) and sporty GT ($17,330) trims.

The Mirage’s main low-cost rival is the not-as-well-equipped Nissan Versa (base price $12,360). It’s even more basic and costs less to start, but does not come standard with power windows, locks or cruise control.

USB ports are options.

And if you want a hatchback, the Versa’s price goes up again – to $15,650 to start – an  almost $2k “upgrade”  vs. the Mirage.

WHAT’S NEW

A Limited Edition package is available; it includes heated seats and upgraded interior trim.

WHAT’S GOOD

Doesn’t cost much more than a motorcycle – but seats five (and out of the weather).

Almost motorcycle gas mileage.

Exceptional warranty –  five years/60,000 miles on the whole car; 10 years/100,000 miles on the drivetrain.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Noisier getting up to speed – and at speed.

Mitsubishi dealers aren’t as easy to find as Honda/Toyota/Hyundai stores.

Higher-than-average depreciation likely.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Mirage is one of the very few new cars you can buy that has fewer than four cylinders under its hood – just 1.2 liters, or about the same size as many motorcycle engines.

It is also the only new car with less than 100 horsepower under its hood.

But unlike the other cars available with three cylinder engines – such as the BMW Mini Cooper – the Mirage’s engine is not muscled up by a turbocharger to compensate for its very small displacement.

It doesn’t need a turbo – because, it’s extremely light, just over 2,100 lbs. for the ES with manual transmission. The Mini Cooper weighs 500 lbs .more (2,605 lbs.).

Without a turbo, the tiny (but heavy) Mini would have trouble moving at all.

The Mirage doesn’t move very quickly – zero to 60 takes about 10.6 seconds – but that’s on par with others in this class, like the Versa –  and sightly quicker than the Toyota Prius hybrid.

It’s true the Prius averages 50-something MPG, but it also stickers for $10k more to start than the Mirage – and that buys a lot of gas.

And the Mirage is easy on gas, too.

It’s capable of 41 on the highway and 35 in city driving with the standard six-speed manual transmission, according to the EPA. I averaged just over 34 MPG during a week-long test drive.

Other than hybrids, few cars do better at the pump than the Mirage – and those that do only do so by a couple of MPGs, which isn’t of much monetary benefit because of their higher buy-in cost.

This includes the Nissan Versa sedan – which does cost less to start but more once you buy the options it needs to be features-competitive with the Mitsu, it costs more. 

The Nissan’s mileage is also lower – 31 city, 39 for the base version with manual transmission. With the optional CVT automatic, the numbers rise to 31 city, 39 highway – but that’s still less than the Mirage rates.

And even though the Nissan has more than 100 horsepower (109 hp, to be exact) and one more cylinder (1.6 liters) it’s only slightly quicker to 60 (9.8 seconds) which is probably due to the fact that it’s a couple hundred pounds heavier ( 2,395 lbs.).

So there you go.

ON THE ROAD

The Mirage isn’t slow relative to other currently available subcompact economy cars – but it is noisier than average.

This isn’t so much a horsepower issue as it is a sound-deadening issue. In order to keep the Mirage as light as it is – so that it can get away with having less than 100 horsepower (and no turbocharger), there’s less carpet underlay and firewall/door panel padding to muffle road and engine noise.

So you hear the engine – and the road – more.

The upside is adequate power for most driving scenarios – and excellent mileage no matter how you drive it – from a very simple (for a modern car) engine that will never hit you with a $3,000 bill for a new turbocharger or intercooler – because it hasn’t got either thing.

The other catch with turbo’d engines is that if you use the boost, real-world mileage is sometimes much less than advertised. The reason being that the boost temporarily inflates the displacement of the engine, which makes more power – but more power does not come free.

A tiny, turbo’d engine can tout impressive city/highway numbers, but they’re based on not using the turbo. In the real world, the mileage can be . . . disappointing.

With the Mitsu, the touted mileage syncs with the real-world mileage because it really doesn’t matter how hard you put your foot down. There’s just 1.2 liters on the other end – not 1.2 that can be inflate to 2.5 via boost pressure, for as long as you keep your foot down.

As is true of almost most small-engined small cars, the Mirage is most fun with its standard manual transmission, but the optional continuously variable (CVT) automatic is the best choice for maximum MPGs.

Either way, though, you’ll get there – and in good time.

Those who fault the Mirage’s  ability to accelerate make unfair comparisons with speedier – but more expensive cars and forget that a 10-something-second timeslip to 60 is competitive with the timeslips of other economy cars – the Versa, for instance – and very speedy in historical terms. A VW Beetle – the classic model, with the engine in back – needed almost 30 seconds to get to 60.

And didn’t go much faster than that.

AT THE CURB

One of this car’s draws is that it’s available in both sedan and hatchback versions – your pick, no extra charge. Which also gives the option to go with a conventional sedan’s trunk (12.3 cubic feet of space) or a liftgate and cargo area behind the back seats – and 47 cubic feet of space.

That’s a lot of space for a car that’s only 169.5 inches long. 

It’s also got a lot of room – for people – in both its rows. Legroom up front is 41.4 inches and in back, 37 inches – which is comparable to cars two sizes larger on the outside.

Some reviewers make fun of this car’s proportionately small wheels (15s are standard) but these are sensible shoes for an economy car. They cost less to put on the car, for openers. And they cost you less down the road – in the form of lower rolling resistance (which manifests as higher gas mileage) and cheaper tire replacement costs.

There also isn’t an eBrake – an electronically activated parking brake. Instead, an “old fashioned” brake lever you pull up to engage. It’s simple – and effective. And if it ever brakes, it will be cheaper to fix than the more elaborate eBrake. 

This is a car, in sum, like they used to make ’em. It doesn’t attempt to justify a $20,000 price tag with $500 worth (cost to install; triple cost to you) of gewgaw gadgets to electrify or automate simple things that don’t require automation.

And yet, it has all the amenities which once defined a luxury car – AC, power windows and locks, cruise control, a good sound system and (hat tip to modernity) a good-sized LCD screen with the apps and Bluetooth’d stuff people expect.

THE REST

The main worry here no longer is.

Mitsubishi – the company – has pulled itself back from the abyss. It had been in real trouble, chiefly because of losses incurred by its “zero down, zero payments for a year” financing offer – which got lots of people into Mitsubishi vehicles, but not paying for them.

That debacle is over with – and the company is well on the way to recovery now. So don’t worry about the company going belly up and being left with an orphaned car.

The other worry is finding a Mitsubishi store near you.

Buying a Mirage may not be as easy as buying a Versa – or a Corolla or Civic or Accent. You might have to travel farther than down the street – or across town – to find a Mitsu store vs.  a Nissan, Toyota, Honda or Hyundai store.

But it might be worth the trip – since you’ll only need to do it once.

After you buy the car, you can have it serviced anywhere.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you want to reduce your ownership costs as well as your fueling costs, it’s hard to do better than the Mirage.

Without having to rough it.

. . .

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26 COMMENTS

  1. The current Yaris hatch is a similar proposition (in Australia): 1.3 or 1.5NA motor, very reliable 4 speed torque converter auto or manual, Japanese built with superb build quality, lower grades do not yet have the autonomous braking, no Apple car play etc, and even a chrome auto shifter like in the Grand Old Days! The cars are nimble, light steering, park well, comfortable seats and suspension. You can punt them, especially manuals, around urban areas for quite a bit of fun. Starting in the 13K range here.
    Suzuki Swift would be the only real contender for a new-purchase long-term ownership proposition, in it also handles like a (historic) mini should. In fact it is the modern ‘mini’.

  2. I’ve owned two Mitsubishis and loved them. The first was a 1989 Dodge Colt 4WD wagon (not the Vista), the second was a 1986 Mighty Max 4WD pick up. I wish I still had both.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  3. Though it’s from a different era I owned a Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback for a few years bought new in 1999. I live in Australia so the car I bought may have been different to the Mirages sold in North America.

    It was a very good car. It was reasonably powerful with a 1.5L 4 cylinder engine. It was very reliable and fun to drive.

    • Hi Karl,

      Two things I really like about the Mirage:

      First,it’s priced low enough that paying cash for a new car is certainly feasible. Second, that if financed, the payment will probably be lower than my cable bill!

  4. I’m liking this car but when i look up the least reliabile car list the mirage always come back. There are owners posting their regrets of buying the mirage. Maybe thats why they have the kia/hyundai like warranty now to try and settle away reliability fears. I like the car specs and maybe this could be the first car i buy brand new with the standard transmission.

    • Not finding that in my research. Car Complaints has very few reported problems, especially compared to the Spark and Sonic, Fiesta and Focus and the primary ones have been related to brakes as opposed to engines and transmissions. Versa, much higher number of problems

      Cars.Com, Car Buyer UK all have 4.1-4.5 out of 5 ratings by owners for all years. Same on Repair Pal. Same on Edmunds.

      The owners love them. Snobs in the automotive press hate them.

  5. Thank you Eric.

    I unsubscribed to The Car Connection because of yet another nasty review on the Mirage. They generate one every six months or so.

    It’s a good excuse to show other auto journalists how in synch they are with others in their field. How many ways can I trash this car to impress the other experts ?

    And, like you, one of only two I would consider buying because it represents what I want in a car, the essentials, small size, good mileage, rear leg room and simplicity.

    We got a new Mitsubishi dealer here in Tucson a couple of years ago. The nearest before that was in PHX. I’ve gone twice to check them out and little bro is interested too. I don’t want a rolling condo or a four wheeled vibrator. I want an honest vehicle which the Mirage seems to be. My brother feels the same.

    I am sorely tempted, as any piling on a car by the automotive press instantly gives it plus points in my book.

    • Hi Bostwick,

      Guess what? I used to write for TCC… but no longer. They want metrosexual press kit recycling and politically correct talking points. It was the right thing to do – for a number of reasons – to say sayonara and light out for the territories!

  6. Any notion of whether Mitsubishi’s paint is better than it used to be? The Mirage is made in Thailand, if I remember correctly, so it could be an entirely different animal regarding the paint and production, but I recall that paint (especially their black paint) was a serious issue when they were still making cars at the plant here in Normal, IL. Peeling, flaking, then ultimately enormous amounts of rust from the steel ending up exposed to the world.

    Otherwise, provided you’re looking at driving stick and simple or no options, I know the dealership about a block from me often advertises the “old” model year significantly reduced- one year they were down to $9K before fees and taxes, another $10K. Pretty good prices for basic transportation certainly. If that keeps up until my old Corolla needs retirement, I may consider one for my first new car, as simple as they are and given I’d prefer to avoid the CVT, anyway.

    Still plenty of Mitsubishis around town, here, but how much is historical from the DSM/Mitsu plant’s longtime presence and how much is new sales I’m not sure off the top of my head. (Outside of a couple versions of the old Eclipse- the mid-nineties turbo variants with that hilarious Gateway Arch spoiler come to mind- and the two or three 3000GTs still kicking locally, Mitsu styling is just unoffensively unremarkable to my eyes. They all tend to run together in my head.) I do see quite a few Mirages rolling around, though, about as many as late-90s Civics here, which are still plentiful.

    • Sounds like the trouble various automakers had with the first paints to comply with new EPA regs. The issue was eventually solved and of course a car painted overseas would not likely suffer from it.

      • If that’s so, it’s somewhat reassuring. Thanks for the insight.

        Also, it was remiss of me not to thank Eric for a fine review of a small, simple car- my preference- in my original comment. Thanks, Eric!

  7. Eric,

    I’m very glad you review Mitsubishi vehicles; it seems many of the usual suspects ignore them. I seriously considered buying both this car and the Outlander Sport.
    Speaking of Outlander Sport, they should take the engine out and stuff it into the Mirage- Sentra Nismo fighter!

    • Thanks, Anonymous!

      I am doing all I can to “pull” for the car companies that aren’t egg-sucking the government… like GM, for example.

      The good news is that people are buying Mitsubishis – though this very interesting piece of news isn’t much discussed by the mainstream car press.

      I wonder why…

      • Just simple elitism. They scoff at the idea of a low income or just starting out worker stuck with a long commute where a car like this is a god-send. This car would have been a huge upgrade to the shit box I drove to my 55 miles away (each way) low paying, first job out of college.

  8. The mainstream auto journalists deride this car because they and their masters don’t want people in it. Basic, simple, non-electric* (but I repeat myself) transportation that most people can afford, and it isn’t more smartphone than machine. In fact, I bet the only thing they liked about this thing was the one thing I disliked, the touchscreen “infotainment” system. They choose to not review the car based on its direct competition or in the mindset of the shopper who would consider this car. Criticizing the 0-60 may make sense for vehicles marketed as “sporty”. Criticizing interior materials may make sense on a $30,000 car. But they attack Mitsubishi vehicles in general, probably because the company is small compared to the others.

    What is it about “the media” that, no matter what the industry, be it automotive, gaming, or fake news, they’re always against the common man and for the state / big players?

    * If this vehicle was electric, with no other changes, I wonder how different the mainstream reviews would be?

    • Hi Brandon!

      Part of the reason for the media’s attitude is that the majority of its members are affluent urbanites and have completely lost touch with “flyover” America. I know some of these people. They just assume everyone lives in a $500,000 townhouse and drives a $50,000 car…what’s the problemo?

  9. Oh man, the 1st generation Mirage was a shitbox on square wheels, lol! After 3-4 years, the hood hinges seized, and you just folded up the sheet metal corners to open it, lol! I thought was aptly named, though, because if there was anything resembling a car, I could never find it!

    • I put that 1st gen. Mirage right in the same litterbox with the late 1980’s Korean-made LeMans, the Yugo, Fiesta, Festiva, Aspire (another really apt name), and the latest trailer-trash icon, the Aveo!

  10. Don’t have to live with a shitbox car anymore, even when you need the economy. Also much less money even if you have to finance, can probably own it outright in two years rather then five. I imagine many of these are bought outright with cash.

  11. The 1.2L engine in the Mirage is an amazing little powerplant which was originally designed back in the 70’s, and updated in the 80’s and 90’s with some better parts.
    The 3 cylinder engine uses tappets to adjust the valve lash just like most air-cooled motorcycles engines. And while this seems like obsolete technology, it only take 30 minutes to adjust the valves and ensure a long engine life.
    You would be amazed at the different oils and fuel utilized in the Mirage by their owners. The statistics would leave one to believe most Mirage owners buy or use the cheapest parts and fluids available, but the engine will still last you a very long time with minimal maintenance.
    If you perform all maintenance on-time and use good oil and gas, you can expect to get 300,000 miles out of that motor, and at half the maintenance cost of most other vehicles.
    The Mitsubishi 1.2L motor is an example of how things used to be built, and how our current problems with technical complexity don’t need to exist.
    The Mirage also shows that a low-cost vehicle with the basic features and no excessive power will be purchased about as fast as they can be made – which contradicts Every Other car manufacturer telling its customers what they want.
    The one issue with Mitsubishi that could derail sales is the use of the CVT transmission. Mitsubishi recently switched to a 2nd generation CVT (Asin, I think) and some numbers are coming up showing they may not be as stout as the rest of the vehicle. This would be a deal-killer if 2017-later models had a higher incidence of failure than the previous models.
    The Mirage does not have the same Electronic Control system (ECM) as other cars of the same year. In the Honda, Toyota, and Nissan vehicles (and others) there are many settings in the ECM which control how the CVT works. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and many others have had to change ECM programming to fix shifting issues with the CVT’s and to prevent failures with the weak units of the current generation.
    This does not work the same in the Mirage with the CVT, which means that any problems will be found by Mirage customers and will likely have no way to mitigate with ECU changes.

    • Hi Farmer,

      Thanks for the detailed post in re the Mirage; it is among my favorite cars – or rather, it is among the few new cars I’d consider buying myself. Precisely for the reasons you outline.

      It is very interesting that the mainstream car press mocks and derides this car…

      • I wonder why?
        funny you did this review as I saw a Geo Metro yesterday doing 80mph in Houston traffic. I am generally nice to my Xterra’s feet and try not to push it over 80 and this guy comes flying past in his Metro. Dude must take care of his car. .

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