Remember when Mitsubishi had a full lineup of exciting sports models? I first had the pleasure of driving the tri-diamond brand’s lineup at an all-model introduction way back in 2002 (a few years after starting out in the auto writing biz), and I was impressed by much of what they had on offer. In fact, I reviewed every single car and SUV available that year, which included compact, mid-size and full-size sedans, compact, mid-size and full-size SUVs, plus a sports coupe and convertible.
Mitsubishi continued adding models to most every mainstream market niche possible in the years that followed, and I attended nearly every launch program they put on, including the fabulous 2005 Lancer Evolution VIII MR rally-bred sport sedan, the ’06 Lancer Evolution IX, the ill-fated Dodge Dakota-based ’06 Raider pickup truck, the much-improved ’06 Eclipse GT and subsequent Spyder, the sensational Evo X in ’08 GSR and ’09 MR trims, the superb 235-horsepower Lancer Ralliart “Evo-lite”, the ’09 Gallant Ralliart, the ultra-agile Endeavor mid-size SUV (that I had for over a year on a long-term test), the first ’11 RVR, and so many others. Over the years Mitsubishi has produced a full slate of good looking, fun to drive (the Evo remains one of my all-time favorites), nicely featured cars, SUVs and trucks (we even tested and reviewed a JDM Triton diesel back in the day), which makes its current lineup seem strangely slim by comparison.
A quick review (it won’t take long) of the Japanese brand’s retail website will show just five new 2017 models (even Canada has more), although one of those is this Mirage G4 with a hatch. This brings its lineup down to four, not including the Evo X still shown, a 2015 model dubbed “Evolution FE” for Final Edition, which sadly reminds every sport compact fan that the once revered performance brand has lost its edge. Now its focus is inexpensive, entry-level economy cars and SUVs.
Last year Mitsubishi experienced a brand-wide freshening, a rather unusual tact that saw all of its aging models, every one of which should have long received complete redesigns, dressed up with new fancy new chrome-laden front fascias so as to at least appear new. Some interior improvements, like updated infotainment and new upholstery, joined the mid-cycle updates, but most changes fall into the “too little too late” category, and to my eyes the brand’s trademark grille design went from attractive yet old, to old and ugly, like too much plastic surgery on an already stretched and creased face (on the positive, the upcoming Eclipse Cross looks promising).
The Mirage was never pretty, but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about cheap transportation, and to that end it meets its objective nicely. Here on North American roads these are rather rare sightings, especially in four-door G4 trim, but at my second home in Manila, Philippines they’re everywhere. My (almost) brother in law drives a Mirage hatch, and it’s considered a respectable ride that up and coming professionals might consider (he’s a bank manager), while the rich will drive around in Mitsubishi Montero Sports (it’s pretty awesome, and a much better use of the brand’s new design language than anything sold here).
The Montero Sport is the most recently redesigned member of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation, and while very nice for that market its interior wouldn’t pass muster here. Without offending any of my Filipino family and friends, they don’t expect as much from their cars as we do (the full-size Montero sold here 18 years ago is much the same as the version still sold as the new Pajero there), hence why the now five-year old sixth-generation Mirage sells so well there and struggles for traction in the U.S. market. Here its bargain basement $15,030 MSRP is only beaten by the $14,545 Nissan Versa and $14,975 Chevy Spark, although it’s currently (and often) available for under $13k—$12,995 at the time of writing (then again drive across the Canadian border and you can get it for $9,998 CAD, or less than $7,500 at the current exchange rate). That would be the hatchback in base ES 5MT guise in either market.
Cars don’t come much more basic than the Mirage, although at least in the U.S.-spec Mitsu you’re not forced to roll up your own windows. The Mirage’s 78-horsepower 1.2-liter DOHC three-cylinder is a bit on the lethargic side, but the Spark and larger Versa won’t exactly burn rubber down main street either. Still, for those looking to optimize fuel economy the base Mirage’s 39 mpg combined city/highway fuel economy rating is better than the both, as is its industry-best 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
To be nice, the Mirage focuses more on comfort than sport, especially this new four-door G4 model. I’ll leave you to decide about styling. Some will like its generous use of chrome for the grille, fog lamp bezels, miniscule side fender vents (what are those anyway?), and trunk lid appliqué, and its appropriately named Sapphire Blue paintwork is very nice, while the interior supplies as much black lacquered trim (a Japanese tradition that’s been adopted by every brand from Kia to Roll-Royce) as the exterior boasts metal brightwork. Most should agree the cabin is pleasantly designed and quite comfortable, while the black and gray striped seat upholstery is very nice.
As tested the Mirage G4 SE is very well equipped with 15-inch alloys, auto-off halogen headlamps, fog lamps, power-adjustable body-color side mirrors with integrated turn signals, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, a multi-information display, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with tilt, piano black and chromed interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a remote Homelink garage door opener, micron-filtered auto climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, voice activation, a USB port, remote powered locks, powered windows, four-speaker display audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (Porsche doesn’t even offer the latter), a rearview camera, premium fabric upholstery, heatable front seats, a rear center armrest with integrated cupholders, hill start assist, all the expected active and passive safety equipment including a driver’s knee airbag, and more.
I know I said I’d leave styling alone, as you certainly don’t need me telling you if something looks good or not (design is a personal thing), but suffice to say it excites my eyes as much as the three-banger ignites my Evo X aspirations, but I must admit this model’s 35 mpg city, 42 highway and 37 combined fuel economy put a smile on my face.
That’s with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), the base G4 model with its five-speed manual gearbox not quite as thrifty at 33, 40 and 35 respectively. The CVT comes standard in $16,995 G4 SE trim (less a $2,000 factory rebate at the time of writing), lesser models including the $13,998 G4 ES 5MT and the $15,195 G4 ES CVT.
As noted earlier, the Mirage was built for comfort (and in Thailand, incidentally), while it’s also built for peace of mind thanks to that 10-year comprehensive and 100,000 mile powertrain warranty I mentioned earlier (it’s worth repeating). That is a comforting thought when the little three-cylinder engine is buzzing along at highway speeds, something it does well enough if not quietly, not helped by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that adds a considerable droning effect to the soundtrack of tire noise and rushing air. Such is life in most subcompact city cars, the term “city” car used for a reason. Nevertheless the singular-gear CVT builds up speed smoothly and the car feels stable on the highway, is acceptable through the corners if not pushed too hard, and as noted is reasonably comfortable.
Likewise visibility is good in traffic, where its engine note is less noticeable. Truly, around town this little runabout is pretty decent transportation, especially with audio system playing tunes via aforementioned Bluetooth streaming. I think you’ll be impressed will all the previously noted features and how nicely everything works, its display radio quite good for the class.
As for convenience, the trunk is well proportioned for a subcompact city car at 12.3 cubic feet, while it offers a lot better security for your belongings than the more accommodating 17.2 cubic-foot hatch. If you want to expand the trunk for longer items you’re out of luck, as the rear seatback won’t fold flat like the 60/40-split Mirage hatchback. I suppose the silver lining is even better security.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a simple, straightforward commuter car that’s great on fuel, reasonably comfortable, backed by an incredibly good warranty, and filled up with plenty of kit in top-line G4 SE trim, it’ll do the job and then some.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press