When exposed to an early production model in Thailand last year, Carsguide failed to find a single positive in this revived and once loved nameplate.

A tinny Third World econocar, it was woefully underdone for Australian expectations in terms of ... Well, most terms. It got a grudging 2.5 stars. Drastic improvements were required. Mitsubishi's claim to have made them was largely borne out on a test drive this week through its natural habitat, the urban wilds of Sydney.

For this unlike the doughty hatchback that once bore the Mirage brand and which remains amply in evidence on the roads is purely a city car. At $13K driveaway it's in the ball park as the family's second car or an affordable first car for the family's newest driver.


The bottom end of the new car market is burgeoning. The agency responsible for counting new car sales numbers lumps everything from Suzuki's Alto to Alfa Romeo's MiTo under the "light car" label.

But the former is - like the Mirage - of a marginally if distinctly smaller cut than the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2; flyweight to bantam weight. Like ever more cars -- not least Volkswagen's class-leading Up - it weighs in well under a tonne and makes do with a three-cylinder engine.

A $12,990 starting price for the entry level ES manual is underwritten by four year's serving capped at $250 and five years' warranty. The auto option, one of the continuously variable ilk, renders Mirage less alluring at $15,490.

Take delivery before very before January 31 and the pricing is driveaway plus a $1000 voucher. You can, if so moved by shiny bits, drop almost $20K on the top model LS by which time you're well into the territory of VW's Polo, and the 2010 Carsguide Car of the year is half a size bigger and leagues of magnitude better in every other respect.

It's also the point where the still bigger Corolla class stars, so what's the point? If venturing into the world of the little cars, it's wise to keep your pen away from the option list and make do either with the wholly adequate entry model or the mid-level ES Sport. In any case, each has as standard niceties, even necessities, such as Bluetooth streaming, keyless entry and all electric windows.

The ES gets by without alloys, push-start ignition and auto lights. But again, why spend more when the object is to buy into the least expensive mode of new four wheel transport?


Not much to see here but the essentials. Uniform to all Mirages is the the choice of five-speed manual (which achieves the federal Government's five star green car rating) or the CVT (which scores 4.5). The 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine uses Mitsu's variable valve timing to produce 57kW and 100Nm at a too high 4000rpm. Still, it's low weight means this is enough to do what's asked of it.

Among the gubbins introduced since that unpalatable serving of Thai, is a front stabiliser and compulsory for Australia stability control. It keeps this diminutive device on  if not the cutting edge of dynamics then at least on the straight and narrow. Local testing confirmed the necessity for more sounds deadening, though the Mirage is still some distance from refined on coarser tarmac.


Stay away from more lurid colour choices (the deafening fuschia would require a braver buyer than I) and the Mirage is easily passed in a carpark. Again, though, the interior has been lifted considerably from the desert of hard plastics and cruddy fittings that were so kicked last year.

The is a relatively spacious place, not least vertically, tarted up with standard two tone door inserts, piano black centre panel, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear stick, and decent seat material. We like the use of storage  you won't risk dehydration with all those bottle holders. There's a small grocery shopping trip of space with the rear seats up and a monthly blow out stowable when they're lowered.

Jolly accents notwithtstanding, this remains a car built to a tight budget. The plastics aren't poor but they ain't class contenders and those on the door could come off with some spirited tugging. Still, and this is always a good sign, the doors shut with a solid click.


Here's a caveat. The Australian New Car Assessment Program -- in its infinite wisdom and with toughened criteria -- has yet to crash one and release the results. Mitsubishi's people did not this week rush to forecast a five-star score. 


Never mind the polar ice caps and the penguins, get the CVT. While no fans of this transmission type, it does a better job of masking the peakiness and gruffness of the tiny engine than the sloppy, long-throw manual. While hardly relishing the prospect of freeway driving, once wound up the Mirage is composed and poised at speed, its 14-inch wheels creating more of racket at street knots.

In the latter environment, however, where it will spend almost all its time, it is a fuss-free device. The low beltline makes for fine all-round visibility, the turning radius of 4.6 metres is exceptionally tight. 

Rolling down one of outer Sydney's steeper descents, with corners comically indicated at 5km/h, the Mirage requires not so much as full lock to negotiate hairpins that saw drivers of even marginally bigger cars steering from wide into the oncoming lane. The shopping centre carpark will be a doddle.


Mitsubishi Mirage

Price: from $12,990
Warranty: five years 130,000
Resale: We'll see
Service: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: Untested
Engine: 1.2-litre 3-cylinder petrol; 57kW/100Nm
Transmission: five speed manual or CVT
Dimensions: 3.7m (L), 1.6 (w); 1.5 (h)
Weight: 865kg
Thirst: from 4.6l/100km; 110-113g Co2/km