Mirage is back to 'do it all again'

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 07:58 20/02/2013
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The new Mirage is a pint-sized hatch, but it feels like a bigger vehicle.

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Talk about an appropriate marketing slogan - Let's Do It All Again.

As part of its build-up for next week's public launch of a brand-new Mirage hatchback, Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand has been running a "teaser" campaign which has involved putting an old TV advertisement for a 1980s Mirage Panther onto the company website, along with the words "Mirage is back - Let's Do It All Again"

The video has enjoyed a massive response. It's been shared and viewed by more than 222,000 New Zealanders, and has also been viewed on YouTube by another 27,000 Kiwis.

All of that because of a 30-year- old television advertisement for a little Mitsubishi hatchback.

But at a media function in Wellington last week, MMNZ's head of sales and marketing strategy Daniel Cook said the response hasn't surprised him. Mirage was a very popular car during the 15 years it was last here up until the mid-1990s, and many New Zealanders fondly remember the car, he said.

In fact, it was so popular that 51,000 Mirages were sold, which meant that in the late 1970s/early 1980s it accounted for 35 per cent of all hatchback sales and made Mitsubishi the most popular vehicle brand in the country.

All this has left MMNZ confident there will now be strong buyer demand for the new Mirage.

"It's fondly remembered, and the feedback from consumers has been phenomenal," he said. "We're confident Mirage will be a great success once again."

Cook anticipates Mirage will achieve monthly sales of at least 100 units, which will be at least double the sales of the vehicle it replaces, the Colt. And while that sort of figure will still be well short of the 200-a-month sales of the very popular Suzuki Swift, it will still represent big business for Mitsubishi in what is a growing market segment.

There's lots to like about the new Mitsubishi Mirage.

It's inexpensive, as in $18,990 for the entry LS and $21,990 for a higher-specified GLS, it carries Mitsubishi's very good warranty system, which covers the powertrain for 10 years and the car itself for five years, and it is extremely economical.

Last week, journalists attending the Mirage's media launch were required to participate in an economy run. Despite the fact this involved the cars driving up the Ngauranga Gorge and onward into a strong headwind to Otaki, fuel economies of as low as 3.37 L/100 km (that's close to 84 miles per gallon) were achieved.

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Mirage's official average fuel economy is 4.6 L/100km for the LS and 4.9 L/100km for the bigger- tyred GLS, which are the best in class for any small hatchback with automatic transmission in New Zealand. It means it would cost less than $100 in fuel to drive the entire length of the North Island from Wellington to Cape Reinga.

There are a number of reasons for this economy.

First, the new Mirage is a light little car with a kerb weight of just 890kg. Secondly, it benefits from having a new-age continuously variable automatic transmission with a two-step planetary gear set that is forever perfectly matching engine revs to the job at hand.

And thirdly, the engine itself is a brand new Mitsubishi-developed 1198cc three- cylinder unit. "Three cylinders engines are all about reducing pumping losses, because they don't have to drag around an extra cylinder," explained MMNZ's technical man Lloyd Robinson at last week's function.

Not that any of that is noticed when you are behind the wheel of the Mirage. You simply start it up, put the transmission into drive, head off out into the traffic and let the engine with its distinctive almost diesel-like three-cylinder note do all the work.

When out in the traffic stream, it immediately becomes obvious this is an easy car to drive. The steering is electric, its turning circle of 9.2 metres is the best on the small-car market, and visibility is far better than the Colt it replaces.

Driver position is very good, the front seats are comfortable - although the rear seating is too flat and unsupportive for my liking - and what I really like is an excellent amount of shoulder room. Remember, this is a pint- sized hatch, but that shoulder room lets it offer the feel of a larger vehicle.

Boot space with all seats in use is 235 litres, which while small is superior to the likes of Colt, Swift, Kia Picanto and Suzuki Splash; and when the second row of seats is folded down, this increases to 599 litres.

Don't expect this new Mirage to be a sparkling performer, although I did find it to be rather willing.

Following last week's economy run, I took the opportunity to whistle over the Paekakariki Hill on my way back to the airport, and I found it took on that steep climb from SH1 with ease.

The transmission does have a 'B' setting (it used to be "S' for Sport but apparently these days 'B' for engine Braking is more socially appropriate), which you can drop down into to extract more engine revs and better performance. It worked OK, too.

Maximum engine power is 58 kilowatts and the top torque is 107 Newton metres, neither of which is very much, but that light kerb weight means it still boasts a very competitive power-to-weight ratio. Ride and handling also feel good, particularly the GLS with its larger 15-inch wheels and tyres.

Standard safety-related items include active stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution, hill-start assist, and six airbags.

And, at last week's media event, the MMNZ people were very happy to announce that the Mirage has just been awarded a five-star ANCAP crash-safety rating, achieving 34.07 points out of a possible 36, which is believed to be the best yet for a small hatchback.

With its retail price of less than $19,000, the entry Mirage LS offers a good level of specification that includes all the safety aids, a leather-covered steering wheel with phone and audio controls, full connectivity, rear windscreen wiper, electric windows all round, and manual air conditioning

For the extra $3000, the GLS gets the 15-inch alloys instead of the LS' 14-inch steel rims, climate air conditioning, front fog lights, a rear spoiler and rear privacy glass.

Pretty good, really. That explains why Mitsubishi NZ is confident that once an initial spurt in demand for the entry model is over, attention will then begin to turn to the extra benefits offered by the GLS for what remains a very reasonable price.

MITSUBISHI MIRAGE POWER PLANT: 1.2-litre DOHC three-cylinder MIVEC petrol engine, 58 kW at 6000 rpm, 102 Nm at 4000 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Continuously-variable automatic transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam setup at the rear.

HOW BIG: Length 3710mm, width 1665mm, height 1500mm, wheelbase 2450mm.

HOW MUCH: LS $18,990, GLS $21,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Good interior room, willing little engine, excellent fuel economy, value for the money, high crash rating.

WHAT'S NOT: Rear seating lacks comfort. I did notice some minor build-quality issues.

OUR VERDICT: Mirage is back - and while it will never reach the sales heights the nameplate achieved in the early 1980s, the new model has the goods to prove a popular buy.

- Taranaki Daily News

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