The cars we loved.
The last ten years have been rough for Mitsubishi motors. The company that brought us the Eclipse, EVO and Galant would slowly see its market share erode and once popular products disappear from its US offerings. By 2013, the company had devolved to selling versions of its Outlander SUV and Lancer while still offering 2012 Galants in 2013! It was a sad time for Mitsubishi fans.
Then suddenly a small electric car appeared in late 2011. While it seemed like an odd choice for a company that need more mainstream product, it suggested to many there just might have been some life left in American Mitsubishi. While the i-MiEV was cute, it was not the mainstream car Mitsubishi needed. The new focus on fuel economy would result eventually in a more affordable small car.
It had been years since the slow selling Mirage had left the U.S. market, but fans of the car would have something to be happy about in Europe and Asia as the rechristened and downsized model arrived for the 2012 model year.
In Asia, the all new Mirage was popular, even with the automotive media. Built in Thailand, where it won Car of the Year for 2012, the new Mirage was now a sub-compact upright hatchback sedan, much like Nissan’s Versa, it biggest competitor. While engines ranged from 1.0 to 1.3-liters depending on the market. The car destined for North America not surprisingly would featured the larger 3 cylinder unit.
With 74 hp, the Mirage will be one of the least powerful new cars sold in America. While the lack of power will not a selling point, high MPG certainly will. With EPA ratings around 44 mpg, the Mirage will be one of the most efficient non electric/hybrid cars on the market, thanks to low weight and a 5 speed manual or CVT transmission.
In a prelude to its release in America, Mitsubishi unleashed a promotional campaign to name the 7 colors the Mirage would be available in. The trendy colors with cute names are clearly targeted to young first time buyers with a “my first car” mentality. Likely the target market will be the kind of people who will have larger student loan payments than car notes. Mitsubishi hopes that not only the first time buyer, but those needing a second or third car will appreciate the Mirage’s economical virtues.
For just over $12k, the Mirage promises to be one of the least expensive new cars available in the American market, a title it will fight with the Nissan Versa over. For that little bit of money you get standard in the DE, keyless entry, power mirrors, automatic climate control and of course the all-important 140-watt stereo. For a bit more the ES offers Bluetooth, cruise control and fog lights. It’s very likely that Mirages will suffer from dealer added stripes and decals in an effort to boost profits on so inexpensive a car. The little 14 inch wheels (one of only two new cars sold in the US with them) look like a throwback to the ‘80s and are sure to squeal in protest when the car is pushed to the limit in parking lot manuvers.
While many will be attracted to the low price and high MPG, the new Mirage is not without critics. If early press reviews are accurate, those passengers might have complaints. The English and Australian media has been harsh, calling the Mirage, rough riding with low grip and noisy. Its detractor’s criticism will likely not faze buyers needing cheap and reliable urban transportation. Road going performance will be the last thing on the minds of the targeted buyer as choosing the right color and having good music to blast on the stereo will be paramount to them. The “Bottom of the class for driving dynamics” statement from Car Magazine will likely stick unless the Mirage has been tweaked for the North American market. Mitsubishi is well aware that great handling is not always a major selling point in America. Case in point; the pre ’13 Toyota Corolla.
While the new Mirage is a step down from the old car size wise, if maintains the original mission of low cost simple transportation with non-offensive looks. You could say that its cute, simple and focused. In that regard the ideal behind the Mirage seems to be a fleeting notion in today’s market where cars seem to be getting bigger and heavier. Mitsubishi built some great small cars in the 70′s and 80′s (mostly for Chrysler), but the high stakes game of small car sales has never been more competitive.
Its funny to think that Hyundai, once the maker of small cheap cars like the Accent, is now seen as a leader in small car development. It’s Accent cost more and has greater refinement than the Mirage, putting Mitsubishi’s base entry in the cheap bargain bin. Mitsubishi needs to hit this one out of the park with the Mirage, or it might end up not playing ball at all in America. Small faults aside, this Mirage might be the car to do it.