Thrifty and nifty

It’s an anony­mous-look­ing sur­prise packet — and it’s one of the best sedans $14,490 can buy

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au Twit­ter: @JoshuaDowl­ing

MEET Aus­tralia’s cheap­est sedan from a main­stream brand, the new Mit­subishi Mi­rage.

Its boot is al­most as big as a Holden Com­modore’s and, thanks to a su­per-fru­gal three­cylin­der en­gine, it’s al­most as miserly as a Toy­ota Prius hy­brid.

It’s not the pret­ti­est but chances are that buy­ers’ eyes will be more keenly fo­cused on how much money they’re sav­ing.

VALUE

The start­ing price of $14,490 plus on-road costs (typ­i­cally adding $2000-$2500 at this end of the mar­ket) un­der­cuts the Honda City by $1500 and the Nis­san Almera by $2500.

Au­to­matic adds $2000 and metal­lic paint $495 but these prices also ap­ply to most ri­vals (auto in the Honda adds $2500).

The Mi­rage sedan is not only one of the cheap­est cars to buy but it’s also one of the cheap­est to run, with ser­vic­ing costs about half as much as ri­vals, and a fuel bill that com­fort­ably un­der­cuts both.

Cheap it might be but it’s cer­tainly not nasty. The usual mod cons such as six airbags and air­con are there but so is Blue­tooth au­dio stream­ing. The dearer of the two mod­els comes with a re­mote sen­sor key and push-but­ton start.

How does Mit­subishi pro­vide this much gear for such a low price? As with most cars in this cat­e­gory, the sedan comes from Thai­land, with whom we have a free-trade agree­ment.

So the Mi­rage lands here with­out the 5 per cent im­port tar­iff and the ex­change rate is favourable, too.

These sig­nif­i­cant head starts apart, the price of the Mi­rage is still su­per sharp — the Honda and Nis­san also come from Thai­land and re­ceive the same fi­nan­cial leg-up.

Sure, the lit­tle Mi­rage isn’t as large as a big Aussie sedans but with its roomy cabin, big boot and fru­gal mo­tor­ing it suits the needs of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion.

In­deed, the people who helped drive the sales suc­cess of lo­cally made Hold­ens and Fords in the 1980s and 1990s are now ap­proach­ing the Mi­rage sedan stage of their lives, whether they are ready to ac­cept it or not.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Mit­subishi has taken the lessons from the Mi­rage hatch re­leased six months ago and made worth­while re­fine­ments.

The three-cylin­der en­gine feels smoother and the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion less whiny in the sedan than in the hatch. Ex­tra noise dead­en­ing has made the whole ex­pe­ri­ence qui­eter too.

Mit­subishi also wisely re­vised the steer­ing and sus­pen­sion. The sedan drives a lot bet­ter than the hatch, thanks to its larger foot­print.

To re­duce the “slip” sen­sa­tion when ac­cel­er­at­ing, the con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion has a smaller torque con­verter, new ra­tios and new gear shift con­trol cal­i­bra­tion.

Noise and vi­bra­tion are sup­pressed thanks to a third mount on top of the en­gine.

DE­SIGN

Do you think the sedan’s bum looks big in these pho­tos? That’s be­cause it is. Small sedans are pop­u­lar fam­ily cars across Asia and boot space is a key re­quire­ment.

The Mi­rage stacks up pretty well with 450L of boot space (the Holden Com­modore has 496L) but can’t match the Almera (490L) and City (536L).

In­side the roomy cabin, all­round vi­sion is good thanks to the large win­dow area, and wide-view mir­rors on both sides to pro­vide a much bet­ter view of traf­fic in the blind spot over your shoul­der.

Fin­ish­ing touches: Mit­subishi fits al­loy wheels (when most ri­vals come with plas­tic wheel cov­ers), a chrome grille and front fog-lights to spruce up the sedan’s ap­pear­ance.

SAFETY

Six airbags, sta­bil­ity con­trol and a strong body struc­ture con­trib­ute to the five-star safety rat­ing. There are ad­justable head rests and three-point lap-sash belts in all five seats.

A rear cam­era is stan­dard on the Honda City (a class first) but the Mi­rage sedan does not even get rear park­ing sen­sors; these are a $300 dealer-fit op­tion (make sure to get the gen­uine ac­ces­sory, not an af­ter­mar­ket item).

DRIV­ING

This cut-price, anony­mous­look­ing, three-cylin­der sedan is one of the big­gest sur­prises of

the year for me. Its $14,490 tag makes it all the more re­mark­able. It re­sets the bench­mark in this most af­ford­able end of the mar­ket.

Why is it so good? Mit­subishi has used the lessons learned from the hatch­back it re­leased six months ago, and made nu­mer­ous nec­es­sary im­prove­ments. Never be­fore have two ver­sions of the same car dif­fered so much (now for Mit­subishi to make the same up­grades to the hatch).

The steer­ing is easy, light and yet di­rect. The turn­ing cir­cle is among the small­est of any new car (9.6 me­tres), mak­ing it a cinch to ma­noeu­vre in car parks and tricky sit­u­a­tions.

The sus­pen­sion is com­fort­able over bumps yet the car feels sta­ble, and the driver con­fi­dent, in cor­ners.

Even now it is not easy to de­sign sus­pen­sion that is com­fort­able in a straight line and ag­ile around cor­ners. The Mi­rage sedan aces both.

The brakes have a re­as­sur­ing feel and all con­trols are well placed and easy to see and use.

The tiny three-cylin­der sedan suits those with a more re­laxed at­ti­tude to driv­ing. It’s more than ca­pa­ble of city and sub­ur­ban com­mut­ing.

It’s so easy and com­fort­able I would hap­pily drive it around Aus­tralia — if it had cruise con­trol (which is be­ing read­ied for an up­date, so maybe I should be care­ful what I wish for).

Ar­eas of im­prove­ment? The Blue­tooth works well but is a nui­sance to con­nect ini­tially.

As with most cars in this class, the only way to open the boot is via the re­mote key or a tab near the driver’s seat (there is no re­lease lever on the boot). Rear vi­sion is good but park­ing sen­sors would be handy.

VER­DICT

The best sedan this amount of money can buy.

Plain to view, fru­gal to boot: The Mi­rage sedan has lug­gage ca­pac­ity to ri­val a Com­modore

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