Frugality to fore in new Mitsubishi Mirage

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The Mirage's neat but undramatic look hides a feisty performer with a well-equipped cabin. Photos: Richard Bosselman

If ever a car lived up to a name, perhaps it's the new Mirage - there's definitely an optical phenomenon going on here, in the sense that this is a car that cannot be judged on looks alone.

In hindsight, I can understand why at the launch Mitsubishi was so keen to hurry us from the conference room and into the car, without giving opportunity to consider the impact of the car's styling: dwelling on the neat but undramatic look would have provided little incentive to investigate further.

Being behind the wheel, however, does give a better view of Mitsubishi's thinking about small city cars; with a 1.2-litre normally aspirated three-cylinder petrol, it's not exactly ''fast and the furious'' but it is feisty and frugal.

It's foremost a city car and certainly feels decent within an urban setting, with reasonable visibility and a compact 4.6m turning circle. Competence continues into the 100kmh zone where, while being asked to work so much harder, the Mirage still comes across as being energetic and unbreakable.

It does tend to become noisy at speed; there's road and wind roar and mechanical din as the constantly variable transmission reacts to throttle changes. Being tallish, relatively narrow and very light, with a kerb weight of just 890kg, it is easily buffeted by crosswinds and slipstreams too, and is modest enough dimensionally to be overshadowed by larger vehicles.

But that's par for the course in the midget class; remember, this car will be compared with the likes of the Suzuki Alto and Splash, Holden Barina Spark, and Nissan Micra, rather than more robust superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and Suzuki Swift.

The greatest positive is that even at highway pace the Mirage retains thrift. This is achieved largely through numerous painstaking weight-reduction methods.

These centre on a body largely rendered out of snazzy high-tensile lightweight steel that cuts kerb weight to under 900kg. There are also detailed improvements in tyres, aerodynamics and the drivetrain.

Indeed, Mitsubishi's baby ends up drinking so little fuel there's an impression you'll be tapping the gauge even after a week's operation just to double-check the needle isn't jammed on ''F''.

This is what Mitsubishi NZ sought to reinforce by asking that we approached this first drive as if it was an economy rally, a challenge that one of our number - ironically a renowned leadfoot - met by turning in a superb group-best 3.3-litres/100km. That comfortably betters the maker's claimed optimum for the 1.2 and in fact equals the rate said to be achieved by a smaller 1.0-litre version in Japan but not here.

This thrift, the resurrected Mirage nameplate and a strong equipment level - Bluetooth and a leather steering wheel with phone and audio controls, all the usual safety aids, six airbags in entry form, moving up to alloys, climate air conditioning, front fog lights, a rear spoiler and rear privacy glass with the $3000-dearer GLS spec - will help insert this car into the customer psyche.

But coming back to where we kicked off; there's still the challenge of accepting the car at more than face value. With the LS in particular, the business-class content comes in an economy setting; it's not just the easily missed exterior. Interior plastics, carpets and the seat cloth are all of particularly austere quality.

While the front seats offer reasonable comfort, the same cannot be said of the flat rear bench. The body panels also dimple easily, though this shouldn't alarm, as the car has an optimum five-star rating from independent test agency NCAP.

So while Mitsubishi New Zealand argues that most buyers will be elderly types who prefer simplicity, the fact so many other small cars do deliver character, means a little more flair would have been welcome here.


Frugality to fore in new Mitsubishi Mirage
At a Glance


Price: $18,990 LS and $21,990 GLS.

Engine: 1198cc three-cylinder fuel-injected petrol, maximum power 58kW@6000rpm; maximum torque 102Nm@4000rpm.

Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc/drum brakes, ABS, EBD, ASC.

Wheels, tyres: 165/65 R14 LS, 175/55 R15 GLS.

Fuel and economy: LS 4.6/GLS 4.9 litres per 100km, capacity 35 litres.

Dimensions: Length 3710mm, width 1665mm, height 1500mm.