The teen and P-plater hatch
TEENAGERS, first car buyers and the grey brigade have long been fans of Mitsubishi's tiny Mirage, one of the cheapest new cars in Australia that's made attractive by decent practicality for a city car and low running costs.
The same benefits apply if shopping for a post-2013 used example, with preloved Mirages of this still-current generation starting from $5000-$6000 in the classifieds.
Are they a sound buy? At one point Mitsubishi dropped the Mirage's RRP to just $11,490, so make no mistake we're dealing with a vehicle built to a budget.
The Mirage scored a five-star safety rating in 2013. However, the hatch tips the scales from just 865kg, body panels and doors feel light and tinny and some owners complain about a cheap and flimsy build, noisy cabin, flat seats and not much engine performance.
Adults can squeeze in the back seats but their additional weight hurts the already lacklustre performance and ride.
Many owners still paint a happy picture. There's praise for its bargain ownership, miserly fuel use, manoeuvrability, reliability and, considering its size, decent rear space.
The new Mirage hit showrooms in January 2013 as a five-door hatchback, powered exclusively by a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine (57kW/100Nm) and with five-speed manual or continuously variable transmission.
Not only was it one of the cheapest cars on sale but it also came with an impressive five-year/100,000km warranty, five-year roadside assist - all but very early examples will have some balance of these - and four-year capped price servicing.
There were three grades, ES, ES Sport and LS, all with six airbags, aircon, keyless entry, CD player, Bluetooth, audio streaming and phone and audio controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The USB port is rather daftly placed in the glovebox.
Entry-level ES grade was the bestseller (due to its low price). Hunt down an ES Sport and 14-inch alloys replace steel wheels, there's a rear spoiler and a couple more audio speakers.
The LS looked far smarter with 15-inch alloys, front fog lamps, better seat fabric, silver cabin accents, climate control, smart key and auto headlights and wipers.
In mid-2014, the sedan arrived, sharing the engine and finding little favour due to its awkward design. It had a 450L boot - well up on the hatch's 235L - making loading easier, while the rear seats could be dropped for extra space.
Sedan specification mirrored the ES and LS models, though entry-level included 15-inch alloys and fog lamps. It mattered little, sales were poor and the sedan was dropped by 2016.
Cars listed as MY15 Mirages, available from October 2014, featured better cabin sound deadening and an emergency stop warning. Meanwhile, the ES Sport model was retired and the LS gained cruise control.
Facelifted MY16 cars had a new front grille, bumpers, bonnet and wheels, while the firm rear seats were given extra cushioning to address owner grumbles. The suspension was retuned for better ride comfort and the cabin was smartened with piano black and chrome accents.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Prioritise Mirages with a full Mitsubishi dealer service record. With capped price servicing for the first four years, there's no excuse not to have taken advantage.
Teens and the elderly are more susceptible to bingles, so check for accident damage big or small. Bent or scratched bumpers and wheels suggest the Mirage may have had a tough start in life.
There are no common major reliability issues reported but with the long warranty most will have been rectified without cost at the dealership. For peace of mind, look for Mirages with some warranty remaining.
Some owners report starter motor failure so ensure the engine turns over without hesitation. Failed or weak aircon also crops up in owner reports, so make sure you test this.
If you often use the highway, check you can tolerate the Mirage's quite noisy engine at speed. Its weight means it can suffer buffeting in winds or if a truck overtakes.
There are plenty of manual Mirages available but the CVT was the popular pick. These single-speed gearboxes are smart but can be a bit whiny and unsatisfying, so check you can live with it.
The cabins are - unavoidably - plastic fantastic. Check nothing is loose, damaged or poorly cared for. Lots of scratches suggest a lack of love.
There were three recalls for MY14 Mirages, with a faulty speed sensor affecting more than 3000 cars. A brake fluid fix and a filler pipe weld issue brought in a few dozen for repair. Ensure any MY14 Mirages received the fixes.
The Mirage was regularly Australia's best-selling city car: it was cheap and backed by a long warranty. The cabin, body and drive experience can feel equally cheap but reliability and reasonable features make it a fair choice for town and city users. Favour a well-cared for low-kilometre example - a Granny Special - with some warranty. Don't pay too much - Mirages cost from just $11,490 in 2014 and new examples today are $15K drive away.
DIANA ADAMS: I have a 2016 ES auto that I bought new. For a micro car I think it's attractive, sporty and very well fitted with all the extras. It's surprisingly roomy in the front and very comfortable. The boot is still very useable, especially with the rear seats down. It's easy to park and manoeuvre but a little slow off the mark and struggles going uphill, especially with passengers and the aircon on. The trade-off is excellent fuel economy, so it's great value for the price you pay.
THE EXPERTS SAY
By the time the facelifted update model arrived in 2016, Mitsubishi had sold more than 22,000 examples of the LA series Mirage. The best year was 2013, when sales topped 9500. In 2014 the Mirage achieved top-selling status in the light car segment.
Among used listings, there is an almost even split between manuals and CVTs and nine out of 10 are hatchbacks. The base-grade ES accounts for nearly three-quarters of those on sale.
For 2013, the ES manual hatch ($12,990 new) is valued at $6200. At the top end of the range, the Mirage Plus Pack with CVT ($17,990 new) is worth $9000.
For the last of the series from 2016, the ES manual ($12,250 new) is valued at $8150 and LS with CVT ($15,250 new) is worth $10,300.
Measured against rivals in the micro segment, the 2013 Mirage holds its value better than the Nissan Micra but not the Fiat 500, Holden Barina Spark or Suzuki Celerio. For 2016, it is on par with the Celerio, betters the Barina Spark and Micra and trails the Fiat 500. - Red Book
MITSUBISHI MIRAGE 2013-16
PRICE NEW $11,490-$17,990
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 1.2-litre 3-cyl, 57kW/100Nm
TRANSMISSION 5-speed man, CVT; FWD