A short hop down the 405 towards Torrance and I returned the Altima to A & M and hopped over to the Preative Group to pick up a Mitsubishi Mirage, a compact, sporty little number in a fetching, deep red with cream upholstery and black dash and trim (hurrah!).
My first test was to start the car - not normally a problem for me, I have to say - but after some thought and various attempts, I depressed the clutch and found success. Iím sure that thereís a perfectly logical explanation for why this is a feature of so many US cars, but I have yet to discover it. Answers on a postcard, please.
My drive back up the 405 was great. The Mirage proved to be extremely responsive, with a light clutch (yes, a manual!) and smooth gearbox. The gear knob was very well positioned, short and sporty in feel, and the car held the road well. The sun came out and the sunroof glided back effortlessly with one touch of the button, as found on electric windows but a first for me with a sunroof - definitely a nice touch, although the sunroof is an optional extra. I really liked the layout of this car. Although itís tail looked slightly boxy (the only feature I didnít like), it hid a very large trunk, which again accommodated all of my luggage with ease. The seats were very comfortable, nicely upholstered and firm, continuing the sporty feel of the car. The dash was very sleek (and black, as I have mentioned) and I particularly liked the black on white on black dials with orangey/red illumination. Very striking. Equipped with a front CD player and numerous cubby holes, the car did not forgo practicality for the sake of looks, and, again, dual air bags were a welcome option. The rear seats proved to be a bit of a pinch on leg-room, and that was with only a 12 year old in the back, but otherwise the car coped admirably.
Staying with a friend up in the hills above Malibu I got a good opportunity to test the carís abilities on something other than straight, flat, perpendicular streets. In fact, thatís an understatement. This was like driving up an Alpine mountain pass without even the minimal security of a stone wall or a guard rail ( and I thought the French were care-free.) Las Flores Canyon - which apparently was impassable during last yearís mud slides - was a true test. Steep and winding, it curls up into the hills, requiring anything from 2nd to 4th gear (albeit briefly). I found the gear ratios to be extremely good, with 2nd coping with a large amount of revs and 3rd not collapsing into splutters at the first sight of an incline.
I was extremely glad to be driving a manual, and one with a firm grip on the road at that. The Mirageís 1.8 litre, 16 valve, 111 hp, 4 cylinder engine handled the drive very capably, especially since the equivalent of a 200lb man was sitting in the trunk in the form of my luggage. I reached the top without incident and was greeted by the best view of the stars (the celestial ones that is) Iíve had since Iíve been here. The trip down again was fine too, with the brakes proving to be sharp and responsive at even the steepest and sharpest of turns.
The car certainly drew some attention whilst driving in town. I certainly didnít see another model anywhere during my week with the Mirage, so perhaps it was the advent of seeing something new. Or perhaps simply itís distinctive shape and colour drew the eyes of passers-by. In any case, the car offered style, comfort and every possible electrical convenience, all seemingly at oneís fingertips.
Furthermore, the low-end torque was very good, which was a relief considering the amount of times that one must stop at STOP signs in this town. Call me old-fashioned, but I really do think that our European roundabout is a much better alternative to 4 way stops. It keeps the traffic flowing when there is no need to stop, and itís clear whoís right of way it is when one does have to stop. (Look to your right and if no-oneís coming, you go. If they are, you wait. Simple). I dread driving through over-polite neighbourhoods because you simply donít go anywhere; everyone is too busy saying ĎOh no, please, you first, I insistí. However, since I must deal with the 4 way stop system, the Mirage at least provided a quick-off-the-mark response each time.
Given the fact that the base price for this car is $14,600.00 I was seriously impressed. Dual air bags, power steering, alloy wheels and the AM/FM/CD player all come as standard and you get 28 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. This is a great little car if youíre looking for something at the lower end of the market, but which will be attractive, responsive and fuel efficient, plus be able to go to the market for a weekly shop and not have to put on a roof rack to hold all the groceries. More suitable for carrying 2 people certainly, but if those 2 people want to have some fun and not break the bank while theyíre at it, the Mirage is definitely a consideration.
FACTS AND FIGURES Base Price $ 14,600.00 Model Tested $ 16,945.00 Engine 1.8 litre, 16V, 4 cylinder with electrically controlled Fuel Injection Horsepower 113 hp (111 with CA/NLEV emissions) @ 5500 RPM Torque 116 lbs-ft @ 4500 RPM Transmission 5 Speed manual or 4 speed automatic