Since its release in the US in 2014, the Mitsubishi Mirage- the Space Star in other countries- has had the odds stacked against it. The subcompact received harsh reviews from automotive reviewers such as Car and Driver and Kelley Blue Book for issues like sloppy handling, sluggish acceleration and basic styling. But why so much hate for the little thing? As an owner of two of these little cars, I don't see much sense in all of the complaints aimed at it.
First Things First...
It's important to understand what the car was built for before passing any judgments. From 2014-2017, the Mirage has offered a 1.2-liter, three cylinder engine under the hood and either a basic five-speed manual transmission or an optional CVT transmission. Styling is sleek and modern, yet basic; Mitsubishi does a great job of making the car feel more expensive than it actually is. Averaging around 40-45 mpg, the Mirage is excellent for getting from Point A to Point B several times on a single tank of gas. Five-star crash test safety ratings make insurance dirt cheap, and the sticker price of the vehicle is extremely competititve in this sector. Mitsubishi understands its target audience well, and the Mirage is their answer to all of the consumer demands.
It's also important to understand what the Mirage is not. It's not a work truck. It's not built for extreme conditions and it's not going to blow any GTRs or SRT Hellcats out of the water on the track any time soon. Frankly, it's not built for much other than hauling groceries, getting to work and back, and taking weekend trips here and there. It's not going to haul the contents of your two-bedroom apartment across the country and the 74hp at sea level the little 3-banger generates means you're not keeping up with that new Carrera on the highway. As such, it's unfair to judge it based on those standards.
Apples and Oranges
Despite this, journalists are quick to judge the Mirage against the performance of other cars in other classes. Comparing this little car to the top-performing models on the market from other makers is, quite frankly, a little silly. People don't care if it'll melt your face with blistering acceleration if all they're trying to do is get to work on time in the morning. They don't care about its towing capacity or the low horsepower output, they just want to get their groceries. Hot hatches are growing in popularity, but count the Mirage out of that rat race- if you're not judging the Chevrolet Spark or the Nissan Versa by those standards, it's pointless the Mirage to the new Subaru WRX STI. Again, people who buy a WRX are probably looking for something much different in a car than someone likely to buy a Mirage.
The common gripes otherwise are: slow acceleration, poor handling, noisy engine, boring to be inside of, and silly-looking. Valid complaints within this sector, but consumer reviews tell another story entirely.
So What ARE Consumers Saying?
All around, consumers seem very pleased with their purchases. Pick a review and you're likely to find that the person was looking for basic transportation with a low sticker price and great bang for their buck- that's everything a subcompact is supposed to be. My experience as an owner has been great: it gets me where I need to go, it's cheap to own, easy to maintain, and the 5-speed is surprisingly zippy. Granted, I'm not racing every Lancer EVO I roll up next to at a red light. But within the scope of its abilities- which you really must understand to appreciate this car- the Mirage is absolutely wonderful.
Now, everything isn't all butterflies and rainbows. The engine is a bit loud- it's a chain-driven 3-cylinder, though; what do you expect? It's not fantastic in snow, but it's driveable (and if you get stuck, I discovered last winter while stuck in a snowdrift that a small group of people can physically pick it up and move it). Sometimes it's downright moody in extreme temperatures, and the poor thing loses a lot of power on steep inclines. If you live in a very extreme environment, this is not your car.
But there's a reason the Mirage is so popular in countries like Japan and the Philippines- it's awesome in cities. A 15.1-foor turning radius means you can whip around anywhere and parallel park in any spot with ease. It's great for transporting two adults where they need to be, and it can handle long trips without complaint. Reports of Space Stars in other countries with 250,000+ miles on the original engine and transmission are common. In other words, it's simple and sturdy, a great car for urban life.
The Mirage is a great little car. It's a car built to serve a specific purpose. Within its sector, it's arguably the best car on the market now. Listen to the word of the consumers, the people who drive the car on a daily basis and really have an understanding of how the car works and what its flaws are, before you listen to a journalist's review based on a five-minute test drive and some numbers on a sheet of paper. The Mirage won't tow your boat to the lake and it won't seat 8 full-grown adults. But if what you're after is a basic, stylish subcompact with great reliability and a low cost of ownership, you've found your car.