Mirage of a new ageBy Charles E. Buban
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When the Mitsubishi Mirage was launched in 1978, the compact hatchback was at the forefront of a trend.
With gas prices jumping to astronomical heights, demand for enormous gas-hungry muscle cars dried up. Never had the thriftier, more affordable compacts looked so enticing.
This was the time when the price of oil had risen from an average of $20 per barrel in the early ’70s to almost $100 by decade’s end—the outcome of a war involving Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria in 1973 as well as the toppling of Iran’s pro-Western monarchy and the rise to power of an anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.
The Mirage, also known as the Colt here, was offered to meet the energy-conservation needs of the time. It featured an 80-horsepower, 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine mated to Mitsubishi’s iconic Super Shift transmission.
The 4-speed transmission may be regarded as groundbreaking as it featured two modes—activated by a second lever—that technically made the Super Shift an eight-speed gearbox. Shift the lever to “Power” and the lower range gears are engaged to provide the satisfying performance. Shift the lever to “Economy” and the higher range gears are engaged, making the car more efficient to drive.
Fast forward to 2012. In just a few months, the Philippines will finally welcome the latest iteration of the Mirage.
And yet, after almost three decades of absence in the market, the all-new Mirage also arrives at a time when the automotive world is again trying to wean itself off oil.
But despite the market’s increasing desire to protect the environment, car buyers remain unmoved due to the high prices and personal inconvenience currently associated with plug-in and alternative-fuel vehicles.
Car buyers would not pay a premium to go green without any direct money-saving incentives. At the same time, concerns regarding electric plug-in cars’ still limited driving range and lack of convenient charging stations also influence buying decision.
Mitsubishi Motors packaged the all-new Mirage as the answer to the market’s continuing quest for an attractive, stylish and economical alternative.
First, Mitsubishi Motors made sure it could attain excellent mileage. Able to reach an average 22-kilometer-per-liter fuel efficiency, the 1.2-liter, 3-cylinder MIVEC powered compact hatch rivals what the P1.5-million Toyota Prius C could deliver.
To be able to do this, Mitsubishi Motors lightened up the load. “The all-new Mirage must address the demand for high fuel efficiency as well as low cost of ownership. To achieve this combination, Mitsubishi Motors optimized the body structure employing the company’s Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution body design as well as used lighter yet strong high tensile steels in critical areas of the hatch,” said Yuichi Ohta, Mitsubishi Motors’ Global Small Projects Office manager.
As a result, the all-new Mirage tips the scale at around 848 kg (Mitsubishi’s lightest to date), which is 7-percent lighter than its competitors.
But apart from being lightweight, Mitsubishi designers also shaped the all-new Mirage to have lower resistance on the road. In fact, its drag coefficient of just 0.29 is almost similar to the Prius C’s 0.28.
Because of weight and aerodynamic shape, the all-new Mirage’s relatively small engine delivers a satisfying 78 horsepower, a 100 Nm of torque and a top speed of 120 kph.
But of course, efficiency will not be enough without an attractive price tag. At around P500,000 (depending on what sort of variant: 5-speed manual GLX, and CVT GLX, a 5-speed manual GLS and a CVT GLS), the all-new Mirage puts similarly priced Chevy Spark, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Suzuki Celerio and Alto in its crosshairs.
To prove all these claims, Mitsubishi Motor invited a group of motoring journalists as well as select dealers of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp. to try the hatch at the Bira Circuit in Chonburi, Thailand, last week.
Several right-handed cars (the left-handed all-new Mirage slated for the Philippine market will be available by October, in time for its official launch here) were available for us for the test drive.
At 3.71 m long, 1.665 m wide and 1.49 m tall, the minimalist-looking and all-new Mirage is much bigger than a standard microcar but a lot leaner than a compact hatch.
The big revelation was that the cabin of the new Mirage is quite spacious as engineers worked on the less-engine-space-more-leg-room design idea. This is true even if you’re sitting at the back and a passenger for a 6-foot-tall driver. With the driver’s seat extended all the way to the back, you can still move your legs freely without feeling too cramped.
Mitsubishi designers succeeded in creating a simple and clean interior that aims to give the cabin a sense of airiness.
The MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspensions are neither soft nor stiff. Steering felt light and the hatch was highly maneuverable, thanks in part to its short wheelbase and 4.4 m turning radius.
One may question the all-new Mirage’s measly 78 hp. But thanks to its weight and wind-cheating shape, the hatch felt effortless at low speeds and quite spirited in the mid-ranges once more pressure is applied on the throttle.
Is this the city car we have all been waiting for? Perhaps. Mitsubishi Motors may have hit the sweet spot with the all-new Mirage as it found the perfect balance of lightweight comfort, premium fuel-efficiency performance, simplicity in design and, of course, affordability.
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