Mitsubishi Mirage is a triple treat

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 07:10 23/02/2013
Mitsubishi Mirage
Fairfax NZ Zoom
Mitsubishi Mirage: Alloy wheels and auxiliary driving lamps show that this is the more expensive GLS version.

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At one time, the first-generation of Mitsubishi's Mirage was New Zealand's favourite vehicle.
AT A GLANCE
Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive, transverse 1198cc, DOHC 12 valve fuel-injected triple, with a CVT (continuously varianble transmission).
Outputs: Max 58kW at 6000rpm and 102Nm at 4000rpm. 165kmh, 0-100kmh 12.2 seconds, 4.6-4.9L/100km, 106-113gm/km CO2.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam. Front vented discs, rear drums. Electric power steer. 14" steel (LS), 15" alloy rims (GLS).
Safety: Front, side and curtain airbags. Traction and stability control, hill-start assist, ABS, 3-point belts front and rear. Five-star ANCAP test.
Dimensions: L 3710mm, W 1665mm, H 1500mm, W/base 2450mm, F/track 1430mm, F/track 1415mm, Weight 890kg, Fuel 35L (91 RON).
Pricing: Mirage LS $18,990, GLS $21,990.
Hot: Base price and equipment; refined, nice sounding economical engine; well-sorted CVT; solid feel; nice ride and quality cabin finish.
Not: Can't justify $3000 more for the GLS; flat rear seat; load area stepped when seats fold; styling is anonymous.
Verdict: They'll be older customers than the first Mirages', but people will soon realise you can't buy a better car for less than this wee edition.

Click photo for more views of re-incarnated Mitsubishi Mirage.

Of more than five million examples of various Mirage generations to be sold around the world, more than 50,000 of them were sold in New Zealand, and the first model was so striking in its looks and packaging that it won design awards.
The new car may not be quite as striking, having exchanged the first Mirage's straight lines and sharp angles for soft organic shapes, but it's very well packaged, as it manages to provide space inside its 3710mm-long body and between its wheel-at-each-corner wheelbase of 2450mm for five people.There's legroom for them all, albeit the snug, small-hatch kind of legroom you get from a segment dominated by the slightly tighter Suzuki Swift, no space-ship itself. The rear bench is a little featureless and flat, and it would have been thoughtful for Mitsubishi to have furnished the squab with a scoop for two occupants at least, as the car can impose considerable cornering forces on its occupants.
Load space isn't bad at 235 litres, and while it can be stretched to a seat-top volume of 599 litres when the 60/40 seats are folded, there's a step, which precludes sliding heavier or more awkward loads.
For all that, the materials used inside the new Mirage don't look low rent in any way, with a black on black circle design for the seats that feels and looks German, and a two-tone split in the cabin plastics which help reinforce a sense of spaciousness. The plastics themselves are well textured and highlighted by metallised detailing, and a classy piano black finish around the centre console, which encases a neat, fumble-free sound system, above a simple air conditioning display in the GL model and a digital dual zone climate control set-up in the GLS. Both cars have a leather-wrapped wheel which also offers controls for the audi system. The Mirage offers plenty of small-item storage
areas, including a front passenger glove box, dashboard tray above the glove box, a centre console tray, front door pockets with bottle holder, front and rear-seat drink holders and front passenger seat back pockets.
Fire up the new Mirage and the engine noise is a pleasant surprise. Instead of the usual buzzy four-cylinder sound you'd expect from a small hatch, the new Mitsubishi's unit is a three-cylinder unit, with a lovely throaty growl to it, and while you can feel the power impulses from the engine at idle, that disappears as it's stirred beyond tick-over.
The 1198cc triple has chain-driven overhead cams, which are more compact and longer lasting than belt-driven jobs, and the power unit uses Mitsubishi Motors' MIVEC variable valve timing system, which optimally matches intake valve timing to engine speed and load. The air intake and exhaust systems, fuel system, cooling system and other ancillary elements have been put under an extensive weight reduction programme while the engine's friction losses, and loads in all moving parts, are also reduced. Which is logical as there's one less cylinder than before to worry about.
Once out in traffic, the car sounds very grown up, as do all multiples of three cylinders, though the car doesn't have the famous two-lever "SuperShift" gearbox of the first Mirage, where you had an extra gearlever that gave a high and low range choice and up to eight speeds. But even Mitsubishi had to concede that five conventional speeds were better than a complicated two-lever system and by the mid 80s a traditional dog-leg fifth gear replaced the double shifter.
The new Mirage doesn't offer a manual shift at all. Mitsubishi perhaps recognises that the bowling club set which will be poring over this car as it is launched, prefers automatics, so it furnishes the Mirage with a CVT - that's continuously variable transmission. Mitsubishi's own literature sometimes calls it Constant Velocity Transmission, but either way, this so-called INVECS III unit serves the new Mirage well.
The transmission never flares alarmingly like many belt-and-pulley set-ups can as they try to cope with offering a broad spread of gearing, because the Mitsubishi transmission has a two-step, high/low planetary gear set built into it. This helps provide useful low-end step-off for the traffic-light sprint, while allowing long-legged gearing for an open-road cruise which sees the car register under 2300rpm on the tachometer at 100kmh.
For hills, or a little more snap and crackle, the lever quadrant has a B-setting, which adds the oomph you need, but will compromise your fuel economy. You'll notice the absence of the "Eco" display when you're in "B" range, and you'll still not be guzzling gas too much. However, knowing that the factory posted figures of 4.6-litre to 4.9 litres are a cinch to match when in Drive, the savings to be made from keeping your eye on the on-board computer are as much fun as high performance when you're on a daily commute anyway.
An added benefit from the "B" range setting is that you get extra engine-braking on downhills. As this is an often asked reader question, it's a good item to note.
The engine produces maximum power output of 58kW at 6000rpm and generates maximum torque of 102Nm at 4000rpm which may not sound like much, but in real world driving, it feels more than adequate, and if someone asked me to drive the length of either of our islands, the car would certainly be up to it, especially as both models have all the connectivity you need for your sound devices, iPhone and such, as well as hands-free bluetooth and a good four-speaker sound system with a radio. Even with just 35-litres tank capacity, 4.6L/100km should help you do it pretty easily.
With a turning radius of just 4.4m, the Mirage has the best turning circle in its class and when you get lost as I did on the test route, the ability to look, signal and turn the car through 180 degrees in such a compact space is invaluable, and for parking the wee Mitsubishi is a honey, though the rising waistline and thick rear pillars do mean you need to concentrate when reversing.
Where the car was impressive, however, was for visibility forward and to the sides for the driver. A low-set belt line towards the front and A-pillars that intrude less on the driver's view ahead gave the car a good view and a light and airy feel inside. I can report that having sat in the back, the curving roof line provides headroom for those under 1.88m at least - which is more than most in this segment.
For handling, there's definitely a difference between the $18,990 LS and $21,990 GLS, with the latter's wider 15-inch alloys to standard 14-inch steel rims. The GLS has noticeably more grip, though no-one complained of any lack of it in the slimmer-tyred LS. Where the LS may have an advantage is in terms of ride quality and road noise suppression, but again, neither car elicited complaints.
It has to be said that the wheels and tyres are the only real advantage for the GLS, as both cars are pretty well off for gear, with keyless entry, all that connectivity and entertainment, and power front windows. The GLS does have automatic air conditioning to the LS's manual set-up, and also offers a leather-clad gear-lever to the vinyl one on the cheaper car, a pair of auxiliary driving lamps and reverse baseball cap spoiler at the rear.
Both models have driver and front passenger, side and curtain airbags, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Active Stability Control and a five-star ANCAP crash rating (gained just last week) while for child seat installation there are three tether anchors and two Iso-Fix rear-seat child restraints fitted.
In all honesty when I tick off all the boxes, I can't see the $3000 difference between the two models, though I would miss the look and grip of the GLS's alloy wheels, if I bought the LS.
What I'd do is buy my own set of alloys for the LS, which would still leave the price well below $20,000 and no-one need ever know I'd gone the cheaper way.
But neither car is bad value, it's just that the base LS model is dollar for dollar a real champ on the New Zealand market.
I don't think for one minute that it will drag Mitsubishi up a few rungs into No 1 sales position, but the car is awfully good, certainly a lot more convincing from behind the wheel than its plain, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-its-grille looks would suggest. I expect it to carve quite a few sales out of Swift, Splash, Yaris and Micra in the meantime.
It's a real triple treat.

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