2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, Quebec City, Sep 2013Enlarge Photo
Do you miss your old three-cylinder Geo Metro?
If so, Mitsubishi has a new car just for you.
The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage five-door hatchback minicar has the highest fuel-economy rating of any non-hybrid on the market.
The EPA rates it at 40 mpg combined (37 mpg city, 44 mpg highway) when fitted with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) option.
The five-speed manual gearbox, which is standard equipment, is $1,000 cheaper--but it knocks the ratings down to 37 mpg combined (34 mpg city, 42 mpg highway).
We recently spent a day in Quebec City driving two different 2014 Mirages in a variety of urban, rural, and highway uses, covering more than 80 miles all told.
Over that distance, including some hard driving, we logged gas-mileage readouts of 43.3 mpg and 44.1 mpg--meaning that the Mirage may actually overachieve on its ratings.
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ESEnlarge Photo
Still, our impression is that the Mirage makes a better city car than long-distance road warrior. (See the link above for our full review.)
While it has adequate pickup around town when fitted with the CVT--if you keep your foot to the floor--the Mirage is neither powerful nor quick above speeds of 45 mph.
On the highway, drivers will find they have very little acceleration left for passing or sudden maneuvers.
That's the nature of a very light car that makes do with a mere 74 horsepower (and 74 lb-ft of torque) from a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine.
Mitsubishi has worked very hard to keep the Mirage body structure light. At 1973 pounds for the base car, it's the lightest five-door car sold in the U.S.--and the second-lightest overall, after the two-seat Smart ForTwo.
In size, the new Mitsubishi Mirage is bigger and more practical than the Smart ForTwo, Scion iQ, and even the Fiat 500. And it's marginally larger than the 2014 Chevrolet Spark minicar.
But it sits below more conventional subcompacts, including the popular Honda Fit, plus the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris.
Because the Mirage is tall, four adults can squeeze themselves into a 2014 Mirage if they negotiate. But we suspect it'll largely be used by only one or two people.
The styling is remarkably bland, although the rounded front end--like that on Mitsubishi's new Outlander--is said to be very aerodynamic. It helps the little Mirage to achieve an impressively low drag coefficient of just 0.28, according to Mitsubishi.
The rest of the body is generic small five-door hatchback, though we found more than a hint of the last-generation Nissan Versa hatchback when viewing the car from the rear.
On the road, the Mirage has a large numb spot in the center of the steering. We found the car drifting out of its lane with no feedback through the wheel, requiring continual small corrections to keep it pointed straight ahead.
And there's a lot of body roll and sway on the small 14-inch tires.
Mitsubishi has modest goals for the 2014 Mirage, saying it expects to sell about 7,000 of them in the U.S. next year. By contrast, Chevy has sold more than 28,000 Sparks through September.
Our take on the littlest Mitsubishi: We really wish the company could fix the handling and steering issues.
If it were more pleasant to drive, the new Mirage might offer a better example of the theory that hard driving in an underpowered car is more fun than kid-glove driving in a powerful one.
The Mirage probably returns better real-world gas mileage than the Spark, although we haven't yet driven an updated 2014 Spark with the new CVT.
That new transmission now equals the Spark's best gas mileage rating of 34 mpg combined for the five-speed manual version.
In the end, though, the Chevy Spark remains a much better and more enjoyable car than the Mirage.
And we wish the two were more equally matched--since we're all for conventional cars that get great gas mileage.
Hey, Mitsubishi ... you listening?