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Fuel economy no mirage

Published: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 1:55 p.m. CDT

Mitsubishi's 2014 Mirage can be described in several ways, but all of them add up to this: The hatchback is small, economical and devoid of pretension.

When driven sensibly, this lightweight with a three-cylinder engine can average 40 miles per gallon on regular gasoline. Perhaps there is no other way to drive this front-wheel-drive, five-passenger econocar except sensibly. The cylinders in the 1.2-liter, 12-valve engine pump out a mere 74 horsepower, but that is sufficient for this 1,996-pounder to scoot with energy through city streets or along major highways. It will take more than 11 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph.

During a test week, fuel usage averaged 41.2 miles per gallon in combined city and interstate driving. The engine was mated to a continuously variable transmission, an upgrade costing $1,000 more than the standard five-speed manual transmission. The tested fuel usage is notable as the Mirage is neither a hybrid, electric nor diesel-powered vehicle. It runs on regular gasoline.

These small vehicles, and many major auto manufacturers have one for sale, fulfill their purpose of providing a dependable ride with a minimum of fuel usage. Several reports say the Mirage averages 47 and 48 miles per gallon. These vehicles also are practical or, at least, the Mirage is. The Mirage liftgate opens to 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space. With the split (60-40) rear seats lowered, that space expands to 47 cubic feet. This compares well with pricier wagons, hatchbacks or sport utility vehicles. One silly comparison, for example, could be made with the $42,500 BMW 328D Series wagon, which has 53 cubic feet of storage when the rear split seats are flattened, and 13 cubic feet when those seats are upright. The ES had a cardboard cargo cover, which can be removed easily for storage purposes.

But you pay for what you get and, with the Mirage, it is a small powerplant with few frills.  The two 2014 models are the $12,995 DE and $14,195 ES. By replacing the manual transmission with a CVT, prices are $13,995 and $15,195 respectively.

Mechanicals are the same for DE and ES, and differences are minor. The ES has fog lights, for example, and the 14-inch steel wheels are replaced with alloy wheels. The tires remain P165s, which is to say small, but there is not much vehicle body weight to support, so they work. The ES also adds keyless ignition, Bluetooth telephone connectivity and leather wrapping the steering wheel and shift knob. Interior metallic accents are part of the ES decor and not the DE.

Seats are patterned cloth. Power is provided for exterior mirrors, windows and door locks. A 140-watt sound system is onboard, and it has four speakers for AM/FM radio, CD and MP3 players and a USB auxiliary port.

The two models share niceties such as automatic air conditioning, cruise control, rear spoiler, split-folding high-back rear seat, ECO status indicator to show fuel economy, high mount rear stop light, lower side air dam, variable intermittent wipers for windshield and rear window and rear window defroster.

On the exterior, front and rear bumpers, door handles and tailgate handle are keyed to match the exterior color of the car.

Shared safety features are disc brakes in front, drums in the rear, an antilock braking system, traction and stability controls, seven air bags (front, driver's knee, front sides and overhead), and a tire pressure monitoring system. The media tested Mirage has braked to 0 from 60 mph in a distance of 121 feet. Not bad.

Seats are flat and firm, and road imperfections will be felt. The suspension system relies on struts in front and a torsion beam in the rear.

I was not comfortable with the legroom in front, which officially measures 41.7 inches. In the rear, leg room is at a premium and depends on how far back the front seats are tracked. I wouldn't advice long motoring trips spent back there.

The Mirage is not a glamorous car, but the fuel economy speaks for itself. The warranty might compensate for trim deficiencies such as hard plastics for dashboard and inside panels. The warranty is  five years or 60,000 miles with roadside assistance, and 10 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain.

Competition, to name several, includes the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa.

Since they are small and light, they must be driven carefully on roadways featuring heavier traffic and vehicles. In other words, be alert when behind the wheel of a Mirage or one of its competitors.

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