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Silvio Calabi: With Mirage GT, Mitsubishi puts lipstick on its piglet

  • For 2017, Mitsubishi made its 78HP Mirage hatchback the lightest four-door and most aerodynamically efficient subcompact available in North America, with fuel-economy ratings of 37 and 43 MPG city/highway. At MSRPs that begin around $13,000, the Mirage is also one of our least expensive cars. (Mitsubishi)

    For 2017, Mitsubishi made its 78HP Mirage hatchback the lightest four-door and most aerodynamically efficient subcompact available in North America, with fuel-economy ratings of 37 and 43 MPG city/highway. At MSRPs that begin around $13,000, the Mirage is also one of our least expensive cars. (Mitsubishi)

  • Two adults will find the Mirage's rear seats reasonably comfortable, if not for cross-country drives. The rear seatback folds down for extra cargo space. (Mitsubishi)

    Two adults will find the Mirage's rear seats reasonably comfortable, if not for cross-country drives. The rear seatback folds down for extra cargo space. (Mitsubishi)

  • The $17,000 Mirage GT offers plenty of features, from a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to automatic heating and cooling as well as cruise-control and audio switches in its steering wheel. (Mitsubishi)

    The $17,000 Mirage GT offers plenty of features, from a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to automatic heating and cooling as well as cruise-control and audio switches in its steering wheel. (Mitsubishi)

 
Silvio Calabi More Content Now
Posted on 12/5/2016, 9:29 AM

This might just be the worst car sold here today, and I'm overjoyed to find it. For years readers have been pressing me: How is it that you can say something positive about everything you drive? You call this consumer advocacy? Well, a steady diet of today's Jaguars and Audis, Hondas, Toyotas, Fords and Hyundais and so on will spoil anyone. This carlet, however, the Mirage hatchback -- Mitsubishi even calls it a GT, as in Grand Touring, with no evident irony -- is so cheerfully bad that it nearly makes me smile.

It did make me smile when it arrived. It's tiny -- 2 inches shorter than a Mini -- and Lego-ish, and appears to have trundled in (on 15-inch wheels) from the East after the Iron Curtain came down. It sounds like that, too -- not the healthy rasp of, say, an air-cooled 1970s Beetle engine, but the coarse thrash of a Lada or a Trabant, although without the unhealthy wisps of blue smoke from the tailpipe. The Mitsu engine's three cylinders together displace 1,193 cubic centimeters -- let's round up to 1.2 liters -- and generate a maximum of 78 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque.

A five-speed manual gearbox is standard in lesser Mirages, the ES and SE, but our top-of-the-range GT has a CVT automatic. Under acceleration, continuously variable transmissions allow their engines to run wide open while its internal pulleys slowly bring the driven wheels up to speed. A full-on, foot-to-the-floor dash across a city intersection will have both engine and passengers screaming as the Mirage is swept up in a tidal wave of overtaking taxis, delivery trucks, panel vans and bicycle couriers. Maybe joggers too.

Such a wee car must be wicked agile, though, yes? No. While the laws of physics say that something so small and light (for a car) should be able to change direction quickly, the Mirage's steering and suspension beg to differ. The first deviation from straight ahead comes easily, but then the car doesn't want to return. The front wheels don't self-center; they'd rather just keep turning in. At least the ride isn't physically punishing, although the suspension pounds and bangs over broken pavement, and the brakes seem fine -- progressive and strong enough, even if the ones in back are drums, not disks. Plus of course the cabin successfully keeps wind, cold and precip on the outside.

So the Mirage is not without a few grace notes. And despite its petite footprint, it is a true five-door hatchback, with rear seats that two grownups can tolerate for up to an hour at a time, and a five-grocery-bag cargo bay behind. A 30-foot turning circle, decent outward visibility and virtually no front or rear overhangs make the Mirage dead easy to park. At just two or three suitcases over a ton, the Mirage is (Mitsubishi claims) the lightest production four-door car in North America, as well as aerodynamically the slipperiest in the subcompact class. The result is EPA/DOT fuel efficiency ratings of 37 and 43 miles per gallon, city and highway, without resorting to diesel urea tanks or electric motors and batteries. And for all its noise, the Mirage will easily run at 75 mph on the highway, eventually.

Our 2017 Mirage GT is also surprisingly well-equipped, with bi-xenon headlamps, pushbutton ignition, automatic climate control, cruise control, intermittent wipers, bits of leather and chrome, a backup camera, an adjustable steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus a Bluetooth phone hookup with controls in the steering wheel, hill-start assist, and even two-stage heaters for the front seats. But if, after test-driving the GT, its $17,330 sticker price still seems too high, and it does, you can strip out many of these features and push the price down to around $13,000. That's better.

Do you have one of those pesky Millennials living in your basement? A scruffy psych major who spends his time busking for beard wax and Latte Macchiatos? Want to spur him on? Take out a cheap lease and give him a Mirage. Soon he'll be asking you to co-sign a student-aid package for business school, so he too can become an upstanding, overleveraged member of society and drive a proper car.

-- Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at calabi.silvio@gmail.com.

Plus

-- Price (after stripping out seat heaters, etc.)

-- Size (if living in Brooklyn)

-- Fuel efficiency

-- 10-year warranty

Minus

-- Power (lack thereof)

-- Handling (ditto)

-- Noise