Mitsubishi Mirage faces uphill battle

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IOL mot sep4 Mirage a . Jellybean styling looks rather anonymous.

Johannesburg - Meet the latest sliver of South Africa’s ever-swelling budget hatch pie – the Mitsubishi Mirage.

In these parts, Mitsubishi may be better known for its big bakkies and SUVs, but in other markets the Japanese brand has been quite successful in this segment with this car’s predecessor, known as the Colt. Experience with this small, front-wheel drive genre dates back as far as 1978, and the car pictured here is actually around three years old – even if its local introduction was only a month ago.

It’s easy to see this car’s designed to appeal to blend-in types. Its jellybean styling is anonymous to say the least, and if flashier options like Kia’s Picanto and Chevy’s Spark sit at one end of the look-at-me scale, the Mirage falls at the polar opposite. I’d categorise it as basic transport, and not only in the appearance department.

BASIC MECHANICALS

Mechanically speaking, the Mirage is about as bare boned as you can get. Propulsion comes from a simple little 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine which boasts electronically-controlled valve timing but not much else. Relative to high-tech turbo three-pots in cars like Renault Sandero and the new Mini, this one could have come from the Ark.

Average consumption is claimed at 4.9 litres per 100km (we averaged just over 6), and power is rated at 57kW and 100Nm, which if I’m kind, is adequate. To be fair, the little pull it does have is spread out across a wide powerband from low revs, so unlike tiny turbo motors there’s not much need to stir gears in search of a power sweet spot. Infrequent shifts make for an easy, lazy drive and this factor is one of the hatch’s strongest attributes.

IOL mot sep4 Mirage b Range-topping GLS version is well kitted.

DON’T RUSH IT!

Rush the Mirage, and it falls flat on its face. Not only does vooma taper off as revs rise, but what starts as a typical three-cylinder thrum ends up as harsh revving mechanical misery as the tacho needle strains upward.

Mitsubishi says it went to great lengths to keep mass down (it weighs just 825kg), and judging by the noise it’s evident it started with sound deadening material. The five-speed manual gearbox, too, is rather notchy in shifts, and it whines excessively on overrun.

The cabin may be noisy, but it’s fairly sturdy in build and it’s presented in modern fashion. Shiny piano black and smooth satin silver plastics are smattered tastefully over the dashboard, but unfortunately all interior materials feel cheap to the touch. I do like the simple to use stereo system that’s integrated neatly into the dash facia, and even if there’s a lack of complex gadgetry the items that are there are very user friendly.

THREE MODELS

For R144 900 you get the top GLS model as tested here, which comes with 15” alloys, a USB port in the cubbyhole, keyless ignition, a fancier climate control with a matching orange digital display, electric windows at the back, and audio controls on the steering wheel; but a more stripped down GL version’s also available for R124 900 with 14” steel wheels, black mirrors and door handles and no fog lights. A middle ground GLX gets a mixed feature bag and is priced at R134 900. Aftersales is covered by a three-year/100 000km warranty and a two-year/30 000km service plan on all three versions.

IOL mot sep4 Mirage c Cabin looks modern and feels sturdy.

STODGY HANDLING

All Mirages come with drum brakes at the back but ABS with EBD is standard. Two airbags are also included in the deal, but I reckon Mitsubishi could further develop safety if it addressed handling issues. The Mirage bobbles uneasily over the smallest of road ripples and it feels top heavy in corners. This, combined with overly-assisted electric steering which wanders numbly at all times, makes for a very skittish package – and there’s no stability control on board to bail you out of trouble if it arises.

VERDICT

South African budget hatch buyers are completely spoiled for choice, with around 25 models totalling over 70 derivatives all coming in under the R150 000 mark. And, in order to be competitive in this cut throat segment, each of those cars needs some sort of drawcard, whether it’s styling, price, features or irresistible aftersales packages, to keep from being swallowed up by more attractive offerings.

Mitsubishi may have plenty of experience with small hatchbacks, but the Mirage just doesn’t have enough going for it to stay ahead of the game. I suppose I must mention, however, that as part of a launch special, Mitsubishi’s throwing in a year’s worth of comprehensive insurance with each sale – for what that’s worth.

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd

FACTS

Mitsubishi Mirage 1.2 GLS

Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol

Gearbox: Five-speed manual

Power: 57kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 100Nm @ 4000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 0.0 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 000km/h

Consumption (claimed): 4.9 litres per 100km

Price: R144 900

Warranty: Three-year/100 000km

Service plan: Two-year/30 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Figo 1.4 Trend (62kW/127Nm) - R147 900

Hyundai Grand i10 1.25 Motion (64kW/120Nm) - R139 900

Kia Picanto 1.2 EX (65kW/120Nm) - R140 995

Renault Sandero Dynamique (66kW/135Nm) - R145 900

Suzuki Swift hatch 1.2 GL (63kW/113Nm) - R136 900

VW Polo Vivo 1.4 Conceptline (55kW/132Nm) - R142 700



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