2015 Mitsubishi Mirage review

Tied to the whippin' post

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage
2015 Mitsubishi Mirage. Photo © Mitsubishi

First, the Bottom Line

Saying the Mitsubishi Mirage has been the subject of some criticism is like saying the Titanic ran into a little trouble at sea. The Mirage has been tied to the whipping post by most of the automotive press, with very few of us—and you'll note that I include myself in this latter group—having said anything nice about it. The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage is a back-to-basics econobox that promises one thing and one thing only: Cheap motoring.

And even its most ardent critic must admit that it delivers on that promise, by any means necessary.

Pros:

  • Cheap to buy, cheap to run
  • Reasonably roomy and nicely equipped

Cons:

  • Slow, noisy and crude

Expert review: 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage

I'll admit it: I expected my week with a 2015 Mirage to be cringe-worthy. My wife and I spent six months with a 2014 Mirage as a long-term tester and came away with a favorable opinion, this despite the car's obvious shortcomings. Now, a year or so later, I couldn’t help but wonder if, after driving the Mirage again, I’d find myself tucking a napkin into my collar and getting ready to eat my words.

As it turns out, my week with the Mirage was like déjà vu (all over again), and not just because, aside from a few minor trim changes, the car I tested was virtually identical to our long-term tester. After another week, I found the same shortcomings and the same advantages—and came away with the same favorable opinion.

Where the Mirage falls behind

Let's deal with the shortcomings first: The Mirage is noisy and slow, though not, perhaps, to the degree some of the car’s most harsh critics would have you believe. The engine is a 1.2 liter three-cylinder producing 74 horsepower, making the Mirage one of the few cars sold in America with less than 100 hp.

Automatic Mirages get a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which gives access to the engine's top-end power whenever needed. As long as the driver isn't afraid to let the accelerator pedal kiss the floor mat from time to time, the Mirage will have no problem keeping up with traffic.

The Mirage has been pounced on for its handling, or rather the lack thereof. While most automakers fine-tune a car's suspension for different markets, Mitsubishi used just one calibration for the Mirage, and it was optimized for third-world countries with terrible roads. Soft springing and narrow tires make for lots of body lean in the corners, and the steering lacks precision, though in an emergency swerve the Mirage generally goes where you point it. During our long-term test, I found the steering could make long high-speed trips tedious, as the car required constant correction. I stayed close to home for this week of testing, and once again I found that the Mirage’s somewhat crude road manners, while certainly not up to BMW standards, weren’t much of a detriment in day-to-day driving, and the upside to the softly-sprung suspension is a reasonably comfortable ride.

Where the Mirage pulls ahead

So why do I like this seemingly un-likeable car?

First and foremost is fuel economy. Remember what I said about need to be quite liberal with the accelerator pedal; such things normally have a detrimental effect on fuel economy. And yet I averaged 40 MPG during this week-long test drive, identical to the Mirage's EPA combined figure. And that was without really trying. (The one time I did really try was in a charity-benefit hypermiling contest that Mitsubishi ran; on a run from Vegas to Los Angeles, I nursed a Mirage up to 74.1 MPG. If you’re really in the mood for cringe-worthy, you can see a video here.) Even in Los Angeles, where gas is half-again as expensive as it is in the rest of the country, the Mirage will drive for a week on about fifteen bucks’ worth of unleaded.

The Mirage is also a pretty good value. Pricing, like nearly everything else about the car, remains unchanged from 2014, with base models starting at $13,805 (including power windows, mirrors and locks, air conditioning, and even automatic climate control) and topping out at $17,105 with keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth, and an optional automatic transmission and navigation system.

Are you better off with a used car?

A lot of my fellow hacks say you're better off buying a used car, but I disagree. True, you can get something nicer than the Mirage for the same money, but don't forget running costs. A three-year-old car will most likely be beyond its bumper-to-bumper warranty, which means any repairs that come up are on the owner’s dime. And don’t forget that such a car will likely be about halfway to its first set of brakes and tires. Meanwhile, the Mirage is covered by a 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which means that for the next 72 months, its owner need only be concerned with car payments, insurance, gas, and routine maintenance. (Unfortunately, the scarcity of Mitsubishi dealers means they can charge what they like for service, and the Mirage's 7,500 mile service interval is more frequent than many other cars, which go 9,000 miles or more between oil changes.)

A better Mirage is on the way

Keep in mind that Mitsubishi has acknowledged the car's shortcomings with the announcement of an improved version for the 2017 model year (there will be no 2016 Mirage). Updates include a retuned suspension, bigger brakes, and a slight (and most likely unnoticeable) power increase for the engine, along with more expressive styling and a better stereo (something which it really does need; the Mirage's top-line radio sound pretty crappy). They also have a sedan version on the way. Mitsubishi has also acknowledged the Mirage's strong points: Pricing and fuel economy will stay in the same ballpark.

(New EPA testing procedures mean the numbers will inevitably change for 2017.)

Mirage vs. the world

Competition in the cheap-car market is limited but fierce. No question, the best of the bunch is the Nissan Versa, which also happens to be the least-expensive car sold in America. The Versa has more space than the Mirage, and it is definitely better to drive; that said, it can't touch the Mirage for day-to-day fuel economy (in my experience the Mirage averages around 35 MPG, which is still pretty good). Chevrolet's Spark is good fun, but the Mirage offers better back seat space and fuel economy. (A new version of the Spark is on the way for 2016 and I'll be testing it soon.) The Honda Fit may well be the best subcompact hatch on the market, but it costs a lot more than the Mirage.

So who is right—my nay-saying colleagues or me? In this case, it’s me. A lot of my colleagues compare the Mirage to everything else on the market, and whether your baseline is the BMW 3-series or the Toyota Camry, the Mirage is bound to come up short. Compare it to the new-car alternatives available in this price range (see all of ‘em here), or even to used alternatives (and their associated costs), and you’ll see that the Mirage has its definite strengths. The Mirage delivers good gas mileage, proven reliability, and a comprehensive warranty. And for the price Mitsubishi is asking, that’s good enough for me. -- Aaron Gold

Details and specs

  • Mitsubishi’s entry-level hatchback is relatively unchanged for 2015
  • Price range (including destination charge): $13,805 - $17,105
  • Price as tested: $17,105
  • Powertrain: 1.2 liter three-cylinder, 5-speed manual or continuously-variable automatic, front-wheel-drive
  • EPA fuel economy estimates: 34 MPG city/42 MPG highway (manual), 37/44 (automatic)
  • Observed fuel economy: 40.0 MPG
  • Warranty: 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain
  • Where built: Thailand
  • Best rivals: Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark, Honda Fit

Disclosure: The vehicle for this test drive was provided by Mitsubishi. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.