1997 Mitsubishi Mirage

Expert reviews

These reviews are written by independent automotive journalists providing an objective and reliable assessment to help you make a smart buying decision. 1997 Mitsubishi Mirage.

Reviewed By: Helen V. Hutchings
© 1997 NewCarTestDrive.com


A cut above basic transportation.

Like its parent company, the Mitsubishi Mirage has gone through its share of ups and downs over the past few years. Initially offered as a subcompact hatchback, with an optional turbo edition, it won acclaim as a pocket rocket. But hatchbacks fell out of favor with U.S. buyers, and Mitsubishi followed up the original Mirage with an anemic coupe that quickly became a rental fleet special.

For 1997, the Mirage returns to respectability as an extensively redesigned line of small cars. And if they're not the mini hot rods of yesteryear, they're solid performers, well built, comfortable, competent and capable. They're also long on value. These are cars you and your pocketbook can both live with--happily.

Walkaround

The new Mirage line entails two body styles--coupe and sedan--and two trim levels, the basic DE and the slightly fancier LS.

The new generation of Mirage is wider, longer, taller and roomier than previous versions. It is also quieter, with greater powertrain sophistication, a much improved chassis and refined suspension system.

We think Mistubishi struck an appealing and effective balance with the new exterior design. The smooth but conservative lines of both the coupe and sedan seem well conceived to stay fresh over a long period of time, which means your car won't look dated next year, or the year after that.

The squared off trunk and taillights give the car a sporty look, enhanced by a tall rear deck spoiler on the coupe. The downside of the spoiler is that it does impede rearview mirror vision as it cuts directly across the center of that field of vision.

Unlike most small cars, the coupe and sedan don't share a common wheelbase. The sedan wheelbase is three inches longer, which pays off in additional rear legroom. There are other differences, as well. Both models are larger inside and out than previous generations.

The overall profile goes from a low nose to a high rear deck, a look which is prevalent in the more sohisticated market offerings. The wedge shape also contibutes to stability at freeway speeds, as well as fuel economy, since it guides the air around and over the car.

Depending on the engine/transmission combination, a Mirage owner can anticipate fuel economy ranging from the low to the high 30-something mpg realm on regular fuel. This falls off a bit with the optional 1.8-liter engine, but not much. Even with an automatic transmission, the Mirage's fuel economy is near the top of its class.

Incidentally, you will no longer see Chrysler clones of the Mirage. The advent of the Dodge and Plymouth Neons ended Chrysler's need for Mitsubishi-supplied small cars.

The Inside Story

Borrowing from the dictionary, it seems apt to describe the Mirage interior as organic. The dash, controls, even the seating seem totally natural. Controls are where they should be without searching and they operate easily and logically. The seats are comfortable and supportive--surprisingly so for a car in this entry level segment. And the driver-side height adjustability feature makes the Mirage useful to a wide range of body types.

Slim roof pillars and the large, raked windshield provide excellent vision in all quarters, as well as an open feel to the cabin.

Mitusbishi has obviously done its homework with the interior color schemes and fabric selection, which has a quality feel and should bear up well over the long haul.

A surprisingly thoughtful touch: sun visor extensions to block those rays that always seem to filter in around the inside rear view mirror and directly into your eyes. It's a feature we usually associate with much more expensive cars.

We were also favorably surprised by the low interior noise level. The Mirage is exceptionally quiet for a small car, another sign that Mitsubishi has taken pains with quality. There's not much wind noise, and very little road noise filters up through the suspension components.

Like all cars, a variety of sound systems are available for the Mirage. They range from a basic AM/FM radio, to radio/cassette or radio/CD combinations. All of the sound systems we sampled were more than adequate and excelled in ease of deciphering how to operate. This was also true of heat and ventilation controls, as well as other functions on the dash.

A word of caution here. If bottom line cost is a major issue--and it usually is in this class--weigh your option selections carefully; the extras can add up quickly.

So what interior upgrades or options really matter? Since modern car marketing has options grouped by packages, it makes little sense to list individual options.

Suffice it to say that most of the amenities which add to the cost of the car will also add to its value later on as a resale.

Some specific items (which are part of packages) we feel add significantly to the liveability of the Mirage are the tilt steering wheel, the 60/40 split-folding rear seatback (to expand cargo capacity), and power door locks. All of these items are part of an option group that also includes power windows and remote adjusting mirrors.

Ride & Drive

Option-wise, what's important to the driveability of Mirage? The 1.8-liter engine definitely makes a positive difference.

The economical but anemic single overhead cam 12-valve 1.5-liter engine powers the DE coupe and sedan, while the twin cam 16-valve 1.8-liter is standard for LS models and it gives the Mirage respectable hustle, particularly with the standard five-speed manual transmission.

We invariably prefer manual transmissions in this size class, since they make the most of limited engine power, and they also lend a little more driving fun.

However, if you'd rather have the car shift for itself, the four-speed automatic offered as an option ($680) for the Mirage is a very good one, enhanced by Mitsubishi's Adaptive Transmission Control Management (ACTM) system. The ACTM's computer control actually catalogues and learns driver habits and adjusts the transmission's shift points to obtain optimal performance.

Although even the basic Mirage is commendably agile, its responses can be enhanced with Mitsubishi's Value Package, which includes larger diameter (14-inch versus 13-inch) wheels and tires, creating a bigger contact patch between car and pavement, which means better grip.

Even if the handling enhancement doesn't matter, the package makes sense from an all-around enjoyment point of view since it also includes air conditioning, floor mats and upgrade sound system components. Other package details vary between coupe and sedan models.

While the Mirage basically holds its own in terms of handling compared to some very good competition, it's distinctly above average in terms of ride quality.

Like the handling, this is a benefit of an exceptionally good job by the Mitsubishi chassis engineers. The extensively stiffened platform gave the suspension team plenty of latitude for tuning, and they chose a supple setup that sops up small bumps and potholes without sacrificing a firm sense of control.

We think it's a pleasant blend, one we'd rate in the upper half of this segment.

Final Word

In an aspirational world, it's easy to overlook an entry level car like the Mirage. But we think this appealing new small car is considerably more than mere basic transportation.

It's pleasant to drive, nicely styled in and out, well assembled and an excellent value.

All in all, we'd say this Mirage is not an illusion.


5 Mitsubishi Mirage vehicles in stock at carmax.com

5 Mitsubishi Mirage vehicles in stock