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Bargain car shoppers beware: You’ll pay in other ways

The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage’s low sticker price may entice bargain seekers.

Michael Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
Basic transportation at its most basic level.
Looks Rating
Outside of a couple of funky colour choices and a standard rear spoiler, not much personality here, its fenders begging for larger wheels and tires.
Interior Rating
Easy to use but plain inside.
Ride Rating
A short wheelbase and minimal sound deadening means it’s loud and bumpy in there.
Safety Rating
All safety gear standard, including side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, plus electronic stability control and a brake assist system, but little advanced tech.
Green Rating
Excellent listed fuel consumption, lowest official highway number of any non-hybrid, though its paltry power may have you using more to keep up with traffic.

When a leather-wrapped steering wheel is only available as an option on the top-of-the-line Mitsubishi Mirage, you know that keeping the price down is key. The fact that the all-new subcompact five-door also reserves a wireless Bluetooth phone connection for that same absolute highest trim level demonstrates that this will not be a car full of toys and, in fact, is the opposite.

The Mirage is a subcompact hatchback destined for folks who can't be bothered to take more than one test drive, and maybe not even one. They wish to spend as little money as possible on their car, both upfront and over its lifetime.

As such, the Mirage's low $12,498 MSRP and paltry bi-weekly payments can make Mitsu's entry-level hatchback seem like a bargain. And with its long 10-year or 160,000-km warranty, as well as stingy fuel consumption – courtesy of its 1.2-litre, 74-hp, three-cylinder engine – the Mirage may seem to be an attractive low-cost oasis and one of the best new-car deals around. It isn't.

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Inexpensive it may be, with about as low an overall operating cost as you can find without going used, perhaps. But the Mirage punishes you for your parsimoniousness with bargain-basement looks, cramped interior space, a loud and unrefined drivetrain, glacial acceleration and, worst of all, a price that creeps up to meet or surpass more refined and spacious subcompact cars once reasonably equipped and all costs are factored in.

One caveat: at the Mirage's press event in Quebec City, in a province which loves its cheap and cheerful hatchbacks, John Arnone, Mitsubishi Canada's head of communications, explained that the cars used here were pre-production models, and that noise/vibration/harshness characteristics as well as fit and finish were not up to production calibre.

But we were driving the Mirage the week before it went on sale in Canada in late September, not at some early international sneak peek. When I asked company officials specifically what trim pieces, fitments or components were not production spec, no one could give me an answer. Judging by what I saw, touched and photographed, gaps looked even and components production-quality – just often uniformly low-quality.

The Mirage's low base price is down there with the Chevrolet Spark and Nissan Versa sedan, both of which start around 12 large, though rebates to any three of these cars could make it the low-buck champion. At this price, no one offers air conditioning or two-pedal driving. To receive both on the Mirage, you have to upgrade to the upper trim SE model, starting at $15,398.

If you'd like to avoid big-buck traffic tickets for handling your phone, you'll want the Bluetooth, which runs $500 for the Convenience package, which also adds stereo and cruise controls to the steering wheel, and a USB adapter in the glovebox. Tack on the hefty and mandatory $1,450 for freight and PDI, which seems especially painful when U.S. Mirage buyers are only dinged $795, and the grand total comes to $18,548, before taxes. Plus you have to consider that there are no rebates right now on this all-new car, unlike fairly generous ones on many subcompact rivals.

According to Mitsubishi Canada's consumer website, leasing the Mirage is not an option to further reduce monthly costs, though it will set you up with a seven-year loan, at 3.9-per-cent interest. One Mitsu Canada insider said leasing is finally on the way, which would be good news for buyers and the company alike. But, as it stands, especially once rebates are taken into account, there are better-equipped, larger and more comfortable subcompact rivals (Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Chevy Spark come to mind) available for a lower price, with the Mirage dangerously flirting in compact pricing territory.

On the plus side, the Mirage will cost you less at the fuel pump than all those cars, its combined city and highway mileage coming in at 5.9 for the advanced CVT automatic, and 6.4 for the five-speed manual. From the driver's seat, the manual was the quicker, smoother and more pleasant transmission.

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But there are too many painful reminders of its cheapness. The largest tire and wheel combo are temporary-spare-impersonating 165/65R/14s that shrink meekly within its fenders – come on, the Rio offers 18-inch wheels, with most rivals offering at least 16s or 17s. Plus there are no handy parking sensors, navi or rear camera available as there are in the United States. And there are numerous blanked-out buttons, even on fully loaded models, that continually tell you that other Mitsus offer more goodies elsewhere.

Mirage buyers are going to buy this car for its low price and lower fuel consumption. But wise shoppers will note that its underpowered nature may take more thrashing to keep up with traffic, thereby minimizing or potentially negating its main cost advantage.

Tech specs

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage

Type: Subcompact hatchback

Base price: $12,498; as tested (including freight): $18,548

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Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 74 hp/74 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual/CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 5.3 city/4.4 highway (CVT); regular gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Mazda2, Nissan Versa Note

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