Which is the better small-car option: a hybrid, or a very fuel-efficient conventional car?

The best candidate to represent the non-hybrid side of that debate is the Mitsubishi Mirage. It's the most fuel-efficient new car currently sold in the U.S. without any electrification.

Facing off against it is the smallest and least expensive hybrid car sold this year: the Toyota Prius C, a subcompact hatchback.

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Their similar sizes and emphasis on fuel economy led one 2014 Prius C owner to test drive a 2015 Mirage, after which he posted a comparison on MirageForum.

The Mirage he tested had the five-speed manual transmission, not the optional automatic CVT.

All Mirage models use a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine, which sends 74 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels.

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage

With the manual, the Mirage gets an EPA-rated 37 mpg combined (34 mpg city, 42 mpg highway), while CVT-equipped models get a better 40 mpg combined (37 mpg city, 44 mpg highway).

The Prius C uses a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, with a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine.

Total system output is 99 hp, and the Prius C gets an EPA-rated 50 mpg combined (53 mpg city, 46 mpg highway).

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There proved to be a gap in real-world fuel economy as well, with the author estimating that the Mirage will use an average of 30 percent more fuel than the Prius C in regular use.

However, he writes that the tested Mirage achieved 54.1 mpg over a 120-mile round-trip commute, involving both country roads and highway driving, without its air conditioning in use.

He deemed the Mirage somewhat fun to drive, thanks to gearing that helped make the most of its three-cylinder engine's output.

2014 Toyota Prius C

2014 Toyota Prius C

However, both cars suffered from handling problems--albeit different ones.

The Prius C understeered too much, the test driver complained, while the Mirage was far too softly sprung.

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Admittedly, neither canyon-carving ability nor lateral grip are likely high on the priority list for either Mitsubishi or Toyota engineers.

Both cars offered similar levels of equipment and interior comfort--i.e., just enough to make short commutes palatable.

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage

The Mirage was knocked for its seating position--apparently too high--but its interior trim came off as nicer than the Toyota's.

It's also worth noting that the Mirage is much cheaper: It starts at $13,805, against $20,365 for a new, 2015 Prius C. Both prices include destination.

The evaluation didn't declare an overall winner, but was offered in the spirit of giving budget-minded car shoppers with some food for thought.


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