Mitsubishi Mirage: Economical and Feisty

By Lee Pang Seng
THE Mitsubishi Mirage thrives on its role as an Eco-Car in which it is expected to deliver good fuel mileages while serving a great A-B vehicle for most people going about their daily lives. That was our impression, from the time we first saw it at the Mitsubishi factory in Rayong, Thailand, and driving it at the Bira Circuit.

Then again, the drive at the Bira Circuit wasn’t exactly one that would have impressed us as to what the Mirage could do other than a gauge of its driveability below 80km/h over less than a lap. The Mirage may not have the ‘wow’ factor that one may draw from the Suzuki Swift or Honda Brio, but we feel that beneath its unassuming looks, the Mirage could hold its own at the extremes.

Fine, the Mirage is not targeted at young hotheads with a yen for dynamic driving but the Average Joe who is interested in a roomy compact car that will provide him the best fuel mileage possible and enough power to scoot around easily. In fact, at the attractive prices that the Mirage is currently available (RM56,000 to RM63,000 on the road without insurance depending on models), it is amazing that this Mitsubishi is not selling faster than expected.

At the time of the media drive between PJ and Malacca, some 1500 units were sold or about 500 Mirages a month. Ninety per cent of buyers chose the Mirage CVT (continuously variable transmission); 40 per cent were below 30, and 15 per cent were above 50. Perhaps the lack of awareness or the perception that few car brands could match the national makes on prices had something to do with it.

The Mirage is clearly in the Perodua MyVi category where general dimensions are concerned although in body styling, it is conservative with less aggressive overtones. It holds its own appeal and with looks being subjective, first impressions from onlookers were positive most of the time.

It qualifies for the Eco-Car status by virtue of its capability to deliver fuel mileage of 21km/l and above under ordinary driving. The media was challenged to achieve the best possible and of the 10 cars that took part, everyone recorded mileages above that benchmark. The best mileage achieved was almost 10km/l better but this was done under controlled conditions and with lots of patience!

Many took the advice of double Dakar Rally champion Hiroshi Masuoka, including maintaining engine speed at between 1500 and 2000rpm during acceleration and cruising. This rarely saw cruising speed above 80km/h on the highway (the route was more than 90 per cent highway), and we had to cover the 135km distance within a given time and under controlled air-cond settings.

An interesting note was that the top three cars in the fuel mileage run were CVT models. Though initially surprising, we later learnt that the engine management system optimised engine revs for a given load, allowing the CVT cars to run more efficiently than the two five-speed manual transmission cars that also participated.

We had a better gauge of the Mirage through the winding road section that followed. The 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine had all the modern devices: four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts and MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve Timing Electronic Control).It was grossly undersquare with a 90mm stroke against a 75mm bore to displace 1193cc, and output was reasonably good at 57kW (78PS) at 6000rpm and 100Nm at 4000rpm.

That was best viewed against its kerb weight of 825kg (Mirage manual) and 850kg (Mirage CVT), which made this Mitsubishi clearly lighter than the MyVi. This is made possible through greater use of high tensile steel, which is lighter but stronger. This gives the Mirage a power-to-weight ratio that is about on par with more powerful but heavier rivals.

We enjoyed a livelier response to accelerator input for overtaking manoeuvres and electronic control of the CVT gearing allowed us to tap the torque for quick corner bashing. However, the suspension set-up (MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear) is tuned for ordinary driving than spirited ones. This had the Mirage’s body leaning a fair bit when taking corners, requiring us to control speed and pick good lines through without too much understeer.

On the same token, the spring rating had the capacity to absorb the harshness of road impacts and most bumps were taken without a jolting effect. It was a comfortable ride through most of the B-grade section as well as a stable one on the highway. The standard tyres fitted were 165/65 R14 on alloy wheels, which looked rather skinny on the Mirage.

For its engine displacement, the Mirage CVT had the legs for high speed touring if you want to push your luck. We clocked 170km/h (based on GPS reading) with the engine revving above 5500rpm, while the car cruised easily between 140-150km/h (averaging 4500rpm). The three-cylinder ran smoothly and exhaust roar was nicely muted.

We were also impressed with its body aerodynamics as we hardly heard much of the air turbulence around the door mirrors and roof during the high-speed cruise. Road roar was also well subdued, varying in pitch according to road surfaces. We could carry a conversation without raising voices. The car’s stability was similarly enjoyed as there was no lightness felt through the steering or the car in general.

In ergonomics, the Mirage’s cleanly designed dashboard made use of the respective functions quick and easy. The CVT model comes with pushbutton start, another likeable item, and there are enough space for storage of minor items like keys, toll cards, and bottled drinks. The interior is sufficient for four adults for long-distance travel with a fairly big luggage area. The rear seatrest is split 60:40 to increase storage space when required.

The Mirage certainly lives up to the hype of its Eco-Car status and Mitsubishi’s ‘Small is More’ tagline. This interesting and affordable car is definitely a good reason to visit the Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia dealerships.

Hiroshi Masuoka’s Fuel Efficient Driving Tips
HIROSHI Masuoka, a two-time Dakar Rally champion, came in second, driving a specially-built Mitsubishi i-MiEV Evolution race car in the Electric Vehicle Class at the 2012 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. He is also busy being a ‘fuel consumption master’ conducting a variety of activities, including eco runs. Recently, he gave us some tips on fuel efficient driving, with some eye-opening details.

Smooth driving: Sudden acceleration affects life span of tyre and car. Maintain consistent speed, observe vehicle in front and keep your distance.

Avoid traffic jams: When average speed falls from 40km/h to 20km/h, fuel consumption decreases by 30 per cent. Know the location you are heading to as losing your way for an hour or spending 10 minutes looking for a parking spot will cost you up to 13 per cent in fuel mileage.

Gentle acceleration: One fifth accelerator pedal pressure for slow acceleration and one third for fast pick-up. Engine rpm should be kept between 1500 and 2000rpm for best results.

Engine braking: On downhill, use engine braking. Helps save fuel for cars with electronic fuel injection, which is commonly used these days. Engine rev should be above 1200-1500rpm for fuel saving range.

Short warm-up: Oil will circulate in engine within 15 seconds of start-up. If you insist on long warm-ups, a three-minute run takes up 100cc of fuel.

Limit short drives: To warm up cold engine, it takes an extra 50cc of fuel. Making many short drives is like doing frequent engine warm-ups.

Don’t load up unnecessarily: You can save three per cent of fuel with every 100kg less in weight.

Tyre pressure: Low tyre pressure causes higher resistance to forward movement, requiring more fuel to be burnt. Check pressure regularly.

Air-conditioner use: When compressor is on, 5bhp will be used. On hot days, it is best to open doors and let hot air out before starting engine. It is also good to control air-conditioner manually (rather than use auto mode). If there is an economy mode, use it.

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