SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide
There are still plenty of car enthusiasts who are young, young at heart, or young in the wallet who want a car that is economical to buy and own, and combines expressive style, fun-to-drive performance, and a useful amount of space. A decent level of refinement and comfort are necessities as well -- being less than wealthy shouldn't mean that discomfort is your lot in vehicular life. Small, sporty coupes have been a common choice for such folks, and despite the growing number of small sport-utilities, small coupes are still popular. Mitsubishi makes a fine example of the genre in its Mirage line, and it has been extensively redesigned for 1997.
Mitsubishi is one of the few manufacturers still committed to making a full range of sports cars, and the Mirage coupe is its entry- level offering. But don't think that the small sibling to the Eclipse and 3000 GT is a boring, bare-bones two-door sedan. It's not. As is the case with most of its competition, the Mirage coupe has close sedan relatives, but that fact lessens its style and appeal not a whit. The Mirage combines style, performance, frugality, and refinement is a way that is rare at the low-priced end of the automotive marketplace. As I discovered during a week with a new Mitsubishi Mirage LS coupe, the 1997 refinements have made a good car even better, especially in comfort and suspension compliance. With good acceleration, modern sports car handling, and a surprising degree of refinement, the Mirage LS is an entertaining small car.
APPEARANCE: The new Mirage is slightly larger than it previous version, and has plenty of appealing style. Although basically similar in shape to the older model, all body panels are new. The Mirage coupe is slightly shorter than the sedan, and has a more steeply-sloped, near fastback rear window. Only the taillights and trunk lid are shared by the two cars. The coupe is sportier, with a sharply-sloping hood that drops between raised fenders to a small grille above the bumper line. The real air intake is in the vertical, body-colored bumper fascia, and it gives the Mirage coupe a high-performance look similar to that of Mitsubishi's larger Eclipse. The LS coupe features foglamps next to the intake, a low spoiler wing on the rear deck, and optional "ground effects" side trim for a very sporty look. A low beltline and plenty of glass in the passenger cabin mean great visibility. The Mirage coupe is not a hatchback, but has a real trunk for better cargo security. Spirally- spoked alloy wheels are standard fare on the LS trim level.
COMFORT: The Mirage LS has been subtly but definitely improved inside. Fit, finish, and materials are comparable to any of its better- known competitors. Today's test car has cloth upholstery with a Southwestern motif covering its front buckets and rear split bench seat. Seat comfort is good for its class. The Mirage is roomy for its size, but could get a little cozy for extremely large people, especially in the back seat. The back seat is fully functional for smaller adults or children, and folds with a 75/25 split. A well-designed instrument panel, tilt- adjustable steering wheel, and good control placement help make the Mirage coupe a driver's car. A variety of option packages allow for custom tailoring. The optional air conditioning got a workout in 100- degree heat and passed with flying colors. The Mirage coupe has enough space and creature comforts to be an only car, not just a commuter or weekend toy.
SAFETY: The 1997 Mitsubishi Mirage coupe has dual air bags, side- guard door beams, and a stiff body structure designed for collision protection.
ROADABILITY: The 1997 Mirage coupe's exterior restyling and interior refinements make it look and feel like a more upscale car. But the best result of the re-engineered chassis structure and suspension is felt on the road. Or, maybe that's better put "not felt". The old Mirage was sporty in the classic sense. It had very good handling characteristics but a firm, nearly harsh "sports car" ride. The new version handles even better, and has a much more supple suspension. The independent MacPherson struts in front are commonly used in cars of all price ranges; the Mirage's independent rear multilink suspension is unusual in its price class. The result is a small car with long-distance comfort and sporty, nimble, enjoyable handling.
PERFORMANCE: The 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine used in the 1997 Mirage LS has the same 113-horsepower as before, but it has been retuned for better low and midrange-rpm torque. It has plenty of power immediately, and makes the Mirage LS great fun to drive in any conditions. It is not a high-revving powerplant that needs to be kept spinning at high engine speeds to work best, and does lose power over 6000 rpm. Big deal - just shift the short-throw gearshift lever into the next gear. It should also work well with the optional 4-speed automatic transmission, which has sophisticated adaptive shifting. CONCLUSIONS: The Mitsubishi Mirage coupe provides plenty of enjoyment for little money.
1998 UPDATE: The Mirage coupes and sedans were extensively reworked for 1997, so 1998 will see no major changes. A new heavy- duty starter and battery will be found on all models. Most will have increased levels of standard equipment and revised option packages.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 13,210 Price As Tested $ 16,230 Engine Type single overhead cam, 16-valve, inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.8 liters / 109 cu. in. Horsepower 113 @ 5500 (111 in CA/NY/MA) Torque (lb-ft) 116 @ 4500 Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 95.1 in. / 168.1 in. Curb Weight 2260 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P185/65 HR14 Michelin Green X Energy MXV4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent Mac Pherson strut / independent multi-link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 29/37/32 0 to 60 mph 9.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.2 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Antilock Brakes $ 732 Appearance package: includes foglights and side airdam $207 Convenience package: includes power windows, mirrors, and door locks, cruise control, variable wipers, vanity mirror $ 744 Value package: includes air conditioning, CD player, floor mats, wheel locks, cargo net $ 1,417 Package discount ($500) Destination charge $ 420