The newest Mitsubishi Mirage gets very good fuel economy. It also has a suspension that, for an inexpensive small car, is surprisingly well sorted.

And...there. I've praised it all I can.

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I'm no bully, and I didn't drive this car looking for things to pick at. I don't even have a thing against small, inexpensive cars. But they have to actually be good at the basic duties of being a car, and this one just isn't.

The engine--a meager 3-cylinder--shakes at idle, surprising since Mitsubishi literally invented the balance shaft technology that saved us from similarly rattling small engines in the late 1980s. The brakes struggle to bring this modest little car to a stop, and audibly protest if you press too hard. I wasn't expecting it to be fast, or even quick, yet its lack of acceleration at full throttle still managed to surprise me. The steering doesn't self-center, to the point that if you leave the wheel cocked a couple degrees to the left or right, the car will just blindly track that way, unwilling to even straighten out its front wheels. Of course, when going straight, the steering wheel in our test car was already cocked a little to the left, which just added to the surprise value of the driving experience.

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Mitsubishi has filled the Mirage with a bunch of modern gadgets--Bluetooth for your phone, automatic climate control, auto up/down driver's window, push-button start--but they're just dabs of frosting on an under-baked cake. There's noise, there's discomfort, there's not enough room between the front-seat passengers, and there's no cargo space behind the rear seat. It reminds me a lot of old Kia and Hyundai models from the 1990s. Mitsubishi used to have that knack; heck, in the early '90s, Mitsubishi seemed like it could do no wrong. The thing is, if Mitsubishi had introduced this Mirage back then, it still would be panned as a lackluster effort, albeit without the yawning gulf between it and the competition.

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