The cars that remind me of some of my earliest experiences behind the wheel are often among those I enjoy the most.
I learned to drive on a base-model Dodge Colt. (No, I won’t share the model year, but a quick search online will make it easy to hazard a guess.) My dad’s prized Jeep Cherokee had been stolen from our driveway and was found joyridden and destroyed. He couldn’t bring himself to get emotionally invested in another vehicle right away, so he found the very cheapest car he could find. Never mind that it came with a manual transmission and wheels so small as to be borderline useless; this car was so cheap that it didn’t even come with a radio.
He may not have cared about it, but it had the opposite effect on me: I grew to love that car. Being forced to row my own gears and navigate through snowstorms based on rear-end feel alone – and I’m not talking about the car’s rear end here – taught me skills that have gotten me out of many sticky situations over my driving lifetime.
Sure, more people than ever are buying utility vehicles these days, and they’re unquestionably in fashion. But sometimes, you just need a car. Any car, preferably as cheap as possible, but a warranty would be nice to keep costs stable. In these situations, a subcompact car can be a great fit.
Enter the Mitsubishi Mirage. While other automakers are dropping their subcompact cars – Nissan Micra? Gone. Hyundai Accent? Gone. Toyota Yaris and Mazda2? Long gone – here’s Mitsubishi putting another refresh on its itty-bitty hatch, and all while rebranding itself as an SUV-focused brand.
No one’s going to accuse this car of being beautiful, and it’s not without its flaws. But there aren’t a lot of vehicles left on the market that can be bought for less than $16,000 including delivery charges (with a manual transmission; with the CVT, it starts closer to $17,000), and even fewer that offer a 10-year, 160,000 km limited powertrain warranty. When budget is everything, this is the stuff that counts.
A mid-level SE model carries a base price with fees of $19,363, although the exact unit tested here has a number of dealer accessories installed – pretty much everything you see on the exterior with red accent lines – which makes it ring up at $22,738. The accessories are fun, but they could easily be skipped.
This version is the most affordable model that comes with built-in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, which is pretty well essential nowadays. The apps display on a 7-inch screen, and while satellite radio isn’t an option, it’s worth noting that the buttons here are configured for left-hand drive vehicles, which hasn’t been the case in every Mitsubishi vehicle released in recent years.
To get things like forward collision mitigation and lane departure warning, automatic high beams, heated front seats and side mirrors, and 15-inch wheels, you’d need to upgrade to the $21,863 GT grade. If you have the budget, this upgrade may be worthwhile for the larger wheels alone as 14-inch winters and replacement tires don’t offer a lot of options. But once you’re into that price grade, you can also afford some subcompact crossovers with similar features like the Nissan Kicks or Hyundai Venue, so many of the Mirage’s upsides are lost.
The figure most likely to give potential buyers pause is the power output from this 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder engine. At 78 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque, this car is a fair bit lower-powered than its last remaining true competitor, the Chevrolet Spark. But the Spark is also heavier, while the Mirage weighs only 950 kg (2,095 lbs). With just me and my daughter in the car, I never felt I didn’t have enough power to get going in city driving. With four passengers and a load of cargo – which would actually fit as the interior space here is decent for the class – it might be a different story.
But by far my favourite thing about this engine and its continuously variable transmission is that this combination loves to coast. Give the throttle what it needs to get up to speed, and it will stay there quite happily with very light pedal feathering. This contributed to a resulting fuel consumption figure of 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres, mostly in city driving, without much effort. That’s fitting given that my reason for driving this vehicle is its role in AJAC’s EcoMonth, a showcase of fuel-efficient vehicles and powertrains. The takeaway here is that choosing a vehicle that’s right-sized for your household every day, rather than buying just-in-case large, can make a big difference in your fuel use and emissions if you don’t have the budget for electrification.
Does that mean the 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage is the right car for everyone? Clearly not. Hockey households, off-roaders, and those who crave the latest flashy technologies can confidently look elsewhere. But if you really just need a budget set of wheels and you’ll keep it for long enough to benefit from the 10-year powertrain warranty, the Mirage is a decent bet. And the friendly hit of nostalgia comes free of charge.