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Rotten Rental Car Review: 2013 Mitsubishi Mirage

Scott Ith October 13, 2014 Rotten Rental Car Reviews 26 Comments

Mirage

The Mitsubishi Mirage. The car of the people. The car that will be lucky to go down in the annals of automotive history as a mere footnote. A mirage, if you will. If what you are looking for is to blend in, to go unnoticed, to fly under the radar (or at least drive under the speeds that radar would notice), then the Mirage is the car for you.

On the other hand, does this little car have some bright spots? Might it be quirky enough to be enjoyable to drive? Click through and find out.

In the interest of economy, I rented the least expensive car from the least expensive agency I could find. That decision resulted in three days of driving the Mirage around Los Angeles. At first, the car was unimpressive, then it continued that way.

The drivetrain leads the list of blah. Mitsubishi’s 1.2 liter three-cylinder motor pumps out an unexceptional 74 horsepower and 74 ft-lbs of torque. That’s enough power to propel this little 5-door hatch around town at nearly safe speeds. Oh, but the entertainment factor of the engine is well enough to make up for its lack of everything else. When you stomp on the go pedal, the engine literally roars to life. It makes a ton of noise, which pours into the driver’s compartment through a firewall presumably made of newspaper and hope. Amongst the din, the car eventually totters away down the road. I was going to clock the 0-60 time, but I left my calendar at home (rimshot). The engine-noise-to-acceleration ratio on this car is the highest of any car I’ve ever driven. In that way, it’s like a 4-wheeled Harley Davidson.

Mirage1These ordinary cell phone snaps of the Mirage are quality-appropriate.

Despite the impressive lack of performance, the Mirage does do some things well. The brilliance of this car becomes clear when you get to the beach and  find a tiny parking space between two cars. The Mirage happily parks in spots that would ordinarily be reserved for Smart Fortwos and Scion iQs. The car is impressively small, particularly when you consider that it has four doors and will carry five passengers. The turning radius is also impressive. It can make a u-turn in a lane and a half of traffic. It’s actually fun to drive in tight spaces.

Mirage2

The interior of the car is not notable in any way, other than the incredible amount of engine and road noise. The seats are comfortable, the head, leg, and shoulder room are adequate, and the controls are exactly where the controls would be if you took an average of all the controls on all the cars. It’s a dull car – you know that going in – but somehow, it has  enough character and quirk to make it likeable. It doesn’t really do anything exceptionally, but it doesn’t do anything horribly either.

Mirage3

Let’s go back to the engine noise for a minute. I have no idea how Mitsubishi did it, but they made a 3 cylinder engine that sounds like a 1/4 scale replica of a Ford Powerstroke. Ok, not so much at idle, but when you floor it (which you often do, just to safely get through an intersection or up an on-ramp), it rattles and roars and, inevitably, brings a big, amused smile to your face. The engine is like the automotive version of Rudy Reuttiger. It tries so hard that you can’t help but admire it. It also delivers up to 37/44 mpg, which is the highest of any current gasoline engines on the market. All in all, this car is ok.

  • Summary:
    Pros: Good mileage, hilarious engine noise, easy to park and maneuver
    Cons: Slow as hell, ugly, unremarkable, boring
  • Sjalabais

    My mother-in-laws Auris Hybrid is a "roarer", too. I think they tried to make the engine sound superexhausted quickly so people will drive with low rpms and save even more of the planet. All the time. My wife and I can't help but comment on that every time we are visiting her mother.

    Mitsubishi design has sort of died. Withered hen unnoticed. But the new Outlander will come with some sharpened looks that may trickle down. Oddly, can't find images of it.

    The Mirage is one of the cheapest cars in Norway, too, btw. Starts at ca 20000USD.

  • marmer01

    I thought the Mirage was a mid-size at some point or at least a normal compact, not a microcar. Amazing. You have to have a really weak engine to make something that small be that slow. I suspect that it is geared really low so that if it is actually burdened with four or five adults it can even move.

    • Maymar

      To be fair, the current Mirage has the same interior volume as the last Mirage coupe we got in North America, in the early 2000s. It's probably also no slower than the previous base engine.

  • PotbellyJoe ©

    These are "Fun cars" in the same way that Yaris 5-doors are fun cars. Dangerously underpowered for high speed antics, they make racetracks of parking lots.

    I would love to participate in a racing series of sub-1.3L N/A engines with 2200 pound FWD hatches. The track wouldn't even have to be that large, the cars are more fun when forced to be nimble.

    Make it so.

  • Random Hooniverse connection with these photos…
    http://hooniverse.com/2011/10/07/california-dream

    First photo from the above post is taken in the same place.

    • pj134

      That post just reminds me of my sadness that we don't get posts about that wagon anymore.

      • That car was sold shortly after that road trip took place…

        • pj134

          I'm aware, that's what brings on the sadness. It was so pretty, and by proxy of community, it was ours.

          • gotcha.

            I think about that wagon at least once a month…

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    I might be mad, but I think I'd rather have a terrible car than a really boring car.

    Also for some reason they decided to call it the "Space Star" over here, instead of "Colt" which it has been called since 1978.

    • I'd disagree, not on principle, but on application. A 1986 Skoda Rapid (with parts car) is a desirably terrible car; cars like this are not. They are not quite terrible enough to escape the boring boredom of boring-ness, but just terrible enough to want to make you bang your head on the concrete every time you must to get into it. Take it from me; '93 Ford Festiva L? Outstandingly, lovably, cuddle-ably terrible. '94 Ford Escort LX Wagon? A seeping boil of terribleness that infects every life it touches with gut-wrenching inanity.

      • Piston Slap Yo Mama

        Dang, that's a harsh thing to say about the Ford Escort Wagon, but oddly enough is word-for-word exactly the same thing I say about our governor here in Texas.

        • I earned the right to talk about Escort Wagons that way. It taught me to hate.

  • CABEZAGRANDE

    Some of my non-car-people friends/family have actually noticed Mirages, but for all the wrong reasons. My girlfriend outright laughed the first time she saw one, saying "aw, look at the tiny wheels! It's like if a fat dachshund were a car!". My mom saw one in purple, and commented on how it looked like it was straight out of 1995. All in all it just seems like a "I took the wrong path in life so I'm forced to drive this" car. With them making almost hilariously under-performing cars like this and the impending demise of the Evo, I don't see it being too long before Mitsubishi cars leaves the American market.

    • chrystlubitshi

      Your comment sums up why I have almost considered looking at one (won't though.. no new cars for me yet… all used, either forever or until I can afford what I want, cash.) I'm tracing my steps back, or making new paths where needed to correct those wrong turns…. used cars it is.

  • karonetwentyc

    Amusingly, I also had one of these as a rental in Los Angeles a few weeks back. Everything written about it here is bang-on, but the one this I disagree with is that the car has any personality at all – well, unless 'slow and thrashy' count as personality.

    I've owned my share of slow vehicles, by which I mean that any acceleration experienced in conjunction with putting your foot down onto the accelerator is entirely coincidental. Slow is not the issue; I can live with that, and am a firm believer that there are plenty of cases where more fun is to be had driving a slow car as quickly as possible than it is to drive a fast one flat-out. I've also owned a goodly number of small hatchbacks (many of which fall into the 'slow' category, and are a bodystyle that I'm predisposed to like), so the overall size or configuration of the vehicle isn't an issue either.

    The problem is that, with the Mirage, Mitsubishi has basically repackaged the driving dynamics, zeal, and refinement to be found in a 1993 Ford Aspire.

    Perhaps the car I had rented suffered from the one-careful-owner, 10,000-careless-drivers syndrome common to rental cars, but with only 2500 miles on the clock it seemed unlikely. It was just an early-'90s cheap car built 20 years later, and this is where I came to odds with it: why buy new when an eight- to ten-year-old Yaris or similar offers more or less the same package but at a fraction of the cost (low though it is) – and apart from a better stereo with Bluetooth, where is the 20-plus years of improvement in automotive technology in this car?

    I really wanted to like this car, and deliberately chose it when the rental company told me that they had one available in order to give it a shot at charming me. Unfortunately, it just couldn't, which is a shame.

    • Sjalabais

      This is how I felt about the Daewoo Matiz in its time. Had one in the family that I could borrow for two weeks when my parents were on vacation. That's like 15 years ago, and I still remember how disappointed I was of the little rumble shed. A slow slow car without ambition. Made 140 km/h on the autobahn after 40 minutes of full throttle. My mother's much similar, but more spirited Twingo did 182 km/h with three people inside…

      <img src="http://webviewer.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Daewoo-Matiz-4.jpg&quot; width="600">

      In retrospect, I could have been a little kinder. These enable transport for people who can't or won't afford other wheels. That is good – freedom!

      • karonetwentyc

        Oh, God, the Daewoo Matiz. I'd love to have something decent to say about them, but this is the car that – on my last trip to the UK c.2008 – I returned in favour of an upgrade to a Ford Fiesta three hours after having rented it. It was just terrible.

        I'm all for cheap transport for everyone, but this is one car that proves that buying used makes more sense – and I say this as an ex-Lada owner.

        • Sjalabais

          Haha, your last sentence really gives this statement weight! On the upside: You can buy somewhat tired Matiz(es?) for a sandwich and a newspaper.

          Where do you hail from?

          • karonetwentyc

            True: one advantage of a terrible car is that they can usually be had for nothing on the used market. Given a choice between that or the bus, I'll opt for the car.

            To answer your question: the short version is that I'm from Ireland, now living in the U.S. Yourself?

            • Sjalabais

              Explains the trip to Britain. 🙂 I've had three citizenships: German Democratic Republic, Federal Republic of Germany and, now, Norwegian.

  • Maymar

    When I bought my 2, I contemplated looking at one of these, to at least give it a fair shot. One of my friends reminded me though, that every single reason I hated my old Hyundai Accent, the Mirage would be guilty of as well (well, except for the lack of manual transmission and poor fuel economy). It sounds like he was right.

    That said, no doubt it serves a legitimate purpose, just maybe not for anyone who reads Hooniverse.