2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SE

PHOENIX — When shopping for a new car, the Mitsubishi brand is one that seldom bubbles to the top of consumers’ consideration set. That isn’t a surprise, since the Japanese automaker has little relevancy compared with stalwarts like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and others. Mitsubishi has had an on-again, off-again approach, with a complicated marketing history.

At one time, they were committed to all-electric vehicles, then utility vehicles — there were even strong suggestions they were withdrawing from the U.S. market entirely.

For 2017, Mitsubishi product offerings include two utility vehicles (Outlander and smaller Outlander Sport), Lancer sedan, the all-electric i-MiEV, and the subcompact Mirage tested here.

The latest Mirage was all new for the 2014 model year as a five-door hatchback; the four-door sedan was introduced for 2017. This iteration includes most of the same features and powertrain, with little unique distinction.

Built in Thailand, the diminutive front-wheel drive Mirage is one of the smallest and least expensive new cars on the market. It also has the distinction of being the most disappointing new car I can recall testing.

For 2017, Mitsubishi did give the Mirage a modest styling tweak: a new grille, headlamps, hood and bumper. Out back, the taillamps have been slightly redesigned and new 15-inch alloy wheels on our mid-level SE are an improvement. The five-door hatch is the better looking of the Mirage vehicles, but styling is still a throwback to vehicles built in the ’80s and ’90s.

The interior, while surprisingly roomy, is completely finished with the type of low-grade plastic one would find in the kids ball pit at a McDonald’s playground. With the cardboard headliner, flimsy sun visors, cheaply upholstered cloth seats and low-grade carpeting, it falls far behind any other vehicle in this segment.

One of the few highlights was the 6.5-inch touch screen media center, which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, and is generally easy to use.

Under the hood is a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine making 78 total horsepower, matched to either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission.

With just 78 horsepower, things don’t get much better behind the wheel. The Mirage is horribly underpowered with 0-60 taking 12.4 seconds with the engine bleating and straining - almost begging for mercy. A very slow time even for a subcompact car.

I drove the Mirage on some two-lane mountainous roads in Arizona, and even under full acceleration it struggled to maintain speed on the inclines. Even merging onto the interstate can feel like an adventure. I didn’t attempt to pass another vehicle.

And if the power wasn’t disappointing enough, the handling was even worse, with spongy suspension. The body leans and rolls on curves and cornering, with a floaty ride even at city speeds. Handling felt worse on the highway and didn’t lend itself to what we would consider confidence or security. There was so much wind whistle and noise we thought one of the doors wasn’t completely shut.

Around town, the Mirage, with its small turning circle, is easy to maneuver in traffic, and parking is a breeze.

Standard safety features include seven airbags, hill-start assist and child-safety rear door locks. A rearview backup camera is standard on the SE and GT models, while front and rear parking sensors are optional on all trim levels.

Overall the Mirage falls far short of competitors in its class. We think vehicles like the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, or Nissan Versa would be a better choice.

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage GT depicted in video

Vital Stats

Price: $12,995 - $16,495
Price as Tested: $17,830
Seating: 5
Engine: 1.2-liter 3-cylinder
Horsepower: 78
Fuel Economy: 35-MPG City – 42-MPG Highway

Competes With:

Ford Fiesta
Honda Fit
Nissan Versa
Toyota Yaris

Fab Features:

Generous warranty

— Jim Prueter