Preview: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
Sensible sub-compact thrives on three cylinders
QUEBEC CITY?With its 2014 Mirage, Mitsubishi joins the automotive mainstream and, at the same time, veers away from it.
On one hand, it?s swelling the ranks of manufacturers offering small three-cylinder engines while it also makes its first foray into Canada?s fast-growing subcompact segment.
On the other, while competitors pitch their tiniest cars at youthful drivers, Mitsubishi aims to attract, shall we say, more experienced customers.
Three-cylinder engines have been around for decades, stigmatized by an unhappy combination of underwhelming performance and overwhelming noise and vibration. But under pressure to cut fuel consumption and price, manufacturers are having another go.
The Smart fortwo runs on three-cylinders, and it?s available in Ford?s Fiesta. BMW will put it into the i8 plug-in hybrid super car and, likely, 1 Series and Mini models. General Motors offers a three-cylinder in Europe and might employ it in the Chevrolet Cruze and as the range-extender in the next generation plug-in Volt.
A brief test of BMW?s version last spring hinted that three-cylinder power is no longer an oxymoron. The Mirage confirmed that impression in a recent run from Quebec City to the pastoral Ile d?Orl?ans.
Mitsubishi?s first Canadian subcompact, the Mirage is built in Thailand for the global market. It?s already on sale in Japan, Australia and Europe, was unveiled for North America at the New York auto show last spring, and has just arrived at Canadian dealerships.
The 1.2-litre, all-aluminum, in-line three generates only 74 hp and 74 lb.-ft. of torque. Although most competitors offer more of both, the Mirage compensates with less weight, tipping the scales at a svelte 895 kg.
The engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox or, more interesting and efficient, a continuously variable transmission (or CVT, a system derided for its resemblance to a motorboat pushing through molasses).
Mitsubishi says its CVT variant ? in the first application anywhere ? improves matters by adding a second external gear, expanding the range of potential ratios and, in turn, making the engine more smooth and efficient.
The Mirage also incorporates a new system for mounting the engine ? it hangs from two pendulums rather than sitting on a frame ? to reduce the rock and roll inherent with three cylinders.
The compression ratio is above average, at 10.5:1, and a redesigned oil pump cuts friction to boost efficiency.
These alterations, along with the low weight and an aerodynamic shape ? at 0.28, the drag number is almost as good as the 0.25 measured for Toyota?s Prius hatchback ? help the Mirage trundle from zero to 100 km/h in 11 seconds.
It?s not heart-palpitating, but it?s agile and fast enough for the urban driving it?s intended for, and adequate for highway jaunts.
These features, and a device that automatically shifts the transmission to neutral at stops, produce official fuel economy ratings of 4.4 L/100 km on the highway and 5.3 in city driving. The highway figure makes the Mirage Canada?s most fuel-efficient non-hybrid, Mitsubishi says. (The ratings for the manual transmission are 4.6 and 5.9.)
Safety features include front and side airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and brake force distribution.
Mitsubishi hopes all this, and a warranty covering the power train for 10 years and the rest of the car for five, will entice the group that comprises three-quarters of subcompact buyers ? older people, with an average age of 54 and nearly 60 per cent women, who are downsizing from bigger vehicles.
That focus is reinforced by TV and video ads featuring classical music, instead of the ubiquitous high-energy pop/techno/hip-hop.
(The other 25 per cent are 30-ish, two-thirds of them female, purchasing their first car.)
For most buyers, though, the price won?t be the $12,498 for the base ES model.
Opting for the CVT over the five-speed manual adds $1,200, and moving up to the SE, necessary to get air conditioning, costs $15,398 with the manual gearbox and 16,598 with the automatic. That?s the version Mitsubishi expects to be most popular here.
Cruise control and connectivity features come with a $500 ?convenience package.? Navigation isn?t offered in Canada. Mitsubishi says it?s not worth the additional $900 when you can buy off-the-shelf models for much less.
Add taxes and this is a $20,000-plus subcompact ? still relatively cheap but well above the figure posted to lure them into showrooms.
Is it worth it?
My test Mirage was a pre-production model. Among other improvements, the retail version has upgraded engine-mounts, to reduce vibration for North American tastes.
Even so, the car is sure-footed and easy to drive. The electric power steering provides reasonable road feel and the ride ? toward the hard end of the board-to-pillow spectrum ? suits it. Although the CVT, when pushed, whines like an outboard, it?s quicker and more refined than previous versions.
The interior is plain, but comfortable, sturdy and surprisingly spacious, particularly considering the Mirage is even smaller than most subcompacts. There?s even legroom for backseat passengers, although saying the rear bench accommodates three adults is a stretch.
Cargo space is a cramped 235 litres, although it expands to 487 with the 60/40-split rear seat down.
Powered by its ?little engine that could,? the Mirage, like sensible shoes, will get you where you want without fuss, and with more satisfaction than excitement.
Transportation for freelance writer Peter Gorrie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
Price: $12,498 base. $16,598 as tested.
Engine: 1.2 L, 3-cylinder, aluminum
Power/torque: 74 hp/74 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 5.9 city, 4.6 hwy. (manual), 5.3, 4.4 (CVT)
Competition: Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent
What?s best: Top fuel-economy among non-hybrids. Comfy front seats.
What?s worst: Noise and ride would make long trips tough.
What?s interesting: Improved CVT is still imperfect, but getting there.