I've just driven the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage through glorious autumnal scenery surrounding Canada's quaint Quebec City. Not to veer overly poetic but much like the leaves that speckled the landscape the new Mirage appears in vivid colors and shows only faint signs of life. The previous sentence might sound awfully damning but first a little context. 

Unlike most small cars I've driven recently the Mitsubishi Mirage has no agenda beyond economics. It's not a lifestyle vehicle and it's not trying to start a movement. It's a tiny 5-seat commuter car, plain and simple, with a base price of $12,995 plus $795 destination. Demanding excitement from basic transportation is like demanding nuanced subtext from Transformers 4. The folks at Mitsubishi have no illusions about the Mirage's place in the universe and neither should the buying public. 

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Inside the arm rests are unforgivingly hard, the glove compartment opens with a robust "thunk", and there's only one string connecting the cargo cover to the rear hatch (a thrifty move even the extreme couponing crowd might find cheap). And yet given the price tag the cabin really isn't so bad.  There's not much style to be found but the audio and climate controls are so simple you could train a cat to operate them. Ok, not a cat but maybe a well-tempered lemur. Sitting in the comfortably contoured front seats there's plenty of space. Things are somewhat tighter in back where, at 5-foot-10, my head barely brushes the headliner in the outboard positions. My head does the ceiling in the middle position though I'd feel pretty confined flanked by other passengers. 

Our drive route consisted largely of smooth tarmac which unsurprisingly failed to reveal the suspension at its worst. But over rare bits of marginal roadway the ride remained perfectly acceptable. On quicker sections of freeway interior noise stayed mostly in check, thanks largely to a noise reduction package that's applied to all US-bound cars. In terms of handling we can verify that the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage will indeed turn...both left and right. There's not much satisfaction in doing so but the car's tight 15.1 foot turning circle does make it easy to double back for that elusive parking spot. 

Mitsubishi envisions the Mirage as a low-speed urban car, a logical function given the engine only develops 74 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque. That modest output is produced by an adorable 1.2-liter 3-cylinder paired with either a 5-speed manual (34 city/ 42 hwy) or a continuously variable transmission (37 city/44 hwy). The engine is both underpowered and sounds bad. And not in the high-pitched style you might expect from such a small car. More like the gravel-y churn of a paper shredder. Sound aside, there's enough power to reach freeway speeds and for passing, just reserve extra time for each.

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At the moment the 2014 Mirage is the "most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline vehicle available in America" due to its dainty engine, a slippery .28 drag coefficient and a roughly 2,000 pound curb weight (only 1,973 pounds in 5-speed DE trim). The same high-strength steel that enables a light chassis also contributes to good occupant safety, at least according to Australia's ANCAP vehicle testing organization. The American IIHS is set to test the Mirage later this year but in the meantime stability control and seven airbags including a driver's knee airbag should help mitigate crash fears. Along with those safety features power windows, mirrors and door locks, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, an audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs and automatic climate control all come standard. Not bad for $12,995 with the manual transmission and $13,995 with the CVT. Buyers willing to part with an extra $1,200 can step up to the ES trim with its alloy wheels, Bluetooth, cruise control, and other delights. Navigation with a backup camera is another $900. 

In absolute terms the Mirage is not an amazing car but, as with most things, context matters. In this era of underemployment and tight finances the low asking price, high fuel economy and strong warranty of the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage might make it the right car at the right time for a specific kind of driver. Yes perhaps, given the state of affairs, it's time for a spiritual successor to the Geo Metro. That sure beats driving an actual Geo Metro.  


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