The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage is one of the three least expensive cars in America, fighting it out at the first step of the entry level with cars like the Chevrolet Spark and the Nissan Versa. The question you have to ask yourself is “Do I need a new car this badly?”
The Mitsubishi Mirage is not fast. It’s not fun. It’s not exciting to look at. It’s not engaging to drive. If you lived in the city and didn’t have any reason to venture outside it, you’d take Uber and occasionally rent a Zipcar. If you lived in Europe somewhere, you’d probably do without a car completely.
But this isn’t Europe. It’s a massive country, and things are spread out all over the place. If you want to see any of it, you need a car. If you need to visit a specialist that’s not near public transportation, you need a car. If you have children, you need a car. We can fantasize all you like about riding a bicycle with a baguette in the front basket, but for the foreseeable future, if you don’t have an automobile, you’ve unnecessarily hobbled yourself.
The Mirage, then, provides a means of reliable, affordable transportation if you view the automobile as a necessary evil, like a microwave oven or a clothes dryer. There’s an argument that says that cars like this should be a lot cheaper, because in 1986, you could buy a Hyundai Excel for $4,995, but that argument holds exactly no water. As we found when we did the same calculation on the entry-level Toyota Tacoma, five grand in 1986 equates to almost $11,000 in 2016, and that completely avoids the fact that the current Mitsubishi Mirage is a vastly better automobile than what you could’ve expected for that price in any other era.
Federal mandates make even the least expensive cars safer than crackerboxes like the Hyundai Excel. At its cheapest level, the Mitsubishi Mirage offers traction control, stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system, all things that were the domain of fantasy in 1986. NHTSA doesn’t mandate antilock brakes per se, but because the wheel sensors that make the mandated traction control and stability control work are all intertwined with the antilock braking system, it comes along as part of the bargain. The Mirage also provides seven airbags, and three point seatbelts for all five occupants. Cheap cars well into the 1990s had one airbag. The 1980s-era Excel had zero, and the seatbelts in the rear only went around your waist.
Then there’s the fuel economy. The Mirage delivers a fuel economy estimate of 44 miles per gallon on the highway. That’s a 10 mile per gallon improvement over the early Hyundai products. A lot of hay has been made recently about how sad it is that 30 years after cars like the Excel, we’ve only achieved moderate increases in fuel economy, but emissions have decreased dramatically. In the 1980s, your Excel was carbureted, dumping imprecise volumes of fuel into the combustion chambers, and emitting unburned fuel as a matter of course.
The Mirage has a tiny 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that emits a fraction of the hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide of cars built in the Excel’s era. Carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that traps the earth’s heat and bears some responsibility for climate change — is only reduced by driving less, and burning less fuel. At 44 miles per gallon and a 40 mile per gallon combined fuel economy, the Mirage is one of America’s most fuel efficient cars, if you leave out hybrids and electric cars, all of which are significantly more expensive.
Finally, if you’re thinking about cars like this versus the cheap rollerskates of the 1980s, you’re missing the fact that you get a pretty substantial level of standard equipment, even at the base level. The DE trim — the loss leader — offers a four-speaker 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with a USB input. Aside from AM/FM, none of that stuff had been invented in the 1980s. The base car also provides automatic climate control, keyless entry with panic alarm, tilt steering, power windows with driver’s side auto-up/down and variable intermittent wipers. The Mirage that showed up in my driveway was the ES that adds equipment like fog lights and a Bluetooth-enabled audio system.
It also featured the $900 Navigation package including the rear backup camera. Frankly, your iPhone has plenty of navigation, and if you can’t see out of a car this small, you probably shouldn’t be driving at all, so save the $900.
Your 1980s economy car had crank windows that — in the Hyundai Excel’s case — would fail about 30 days after you took delivery.
I’m not a new car guy. I’ve never owned a brand new automobile. Thirteen grand would pay for my last five cars, stretching back a dozen years. But I understand that not everybody sees the charm in driving around in a gigantic, V-8-powered station wagon from 1996, no matter how dependable it has proven to be. If you’re determined to own something new, but don’t have the budget to pony up the absurdly high $33,543 that the average American spends on a brand new automobile, the Mitsubishi Mirage offers a lot for $20,000 less.
Note: there’s no Mitsubishi Mirage for 2016. The model will skip a year and be reintroduced as a 2017 model year.
2015 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
Base Price: $12,995
Price As Tested: $17,105 (ES trim including CVT automatic transmission, $900 Navigation Package)
Bargain basement price
Industry-beating fuel economy
Legit level of equipment
Highway merging with 74hp
Frightfully sparse interior
Fun free driving experience