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Video | The Mitsubishi Mirage Is Better Than Nothing

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2017

The Mitsubishi Mirage does not have a steering wheel lock. I'm going to just start there. The Mitsubishi Mirage, a new vehicle you can buy in 2017, does not have a steering wheel lock from the factory. You park your Mirage, you turn it off, and then you can spin the steering wheel around and around and around just like you could if the car was running. I don't remember the last time I drove a car without a steering wheel lock. Vehicles from the 1970s have steering wheel locks. The Mitsubishi Mirage does not.

Why does the Mitsubishi Mirage not have a steering wheel lock? Because it is, by an enormous margin, the cheapest car on sale today. I'm not sure if it's actually the cheapest car on sale today based on MSRP, as the Nissan Versa gives it a run for its money, but it is the cheapest car on sale today -- there are new examples on Autotrader hovering around $9,000, or even less. New examples. Not used ones. You can buy a brand-new car for nine grand.

I wanted to see exactly what you get when you buy a brand-new car for nine grand, so I rented this Mirage using Turo in the San Francisco Bay Area. Turo lets you rent interesting and unusual cars instead of normal, boring rental cars, and I really had to know what the Mirage was all about -- so I drove it around for three days, and at the end of the whole thing, I realized why these sell for nine grand.

One reason is the sheer decontenting. Yes, it's true, the Mirage has power windows, power locks and power mirrors, just like a real automobile. You know what it doesn't have, aside from a steering wheel lock? Any contour lines in the back seats. It's just a flat slab of cloth and foam, with no real way to get comfortable. You're in the back of a Mirage, you deal with it.

There's no sun visor mirror on the passenger side. Only the driver side. There's an inexplicable hump under the front passenger seat with visible part numbers and plastic. When you look through the engine bay, you can clearly see the ground. The rear carpet doesn't fit the rear cargo area. The door locks don't clearly indicate when they're locked and when they're unlocked. The primary features of the center console are a parking brake and a cup holder. There are exposed screws everywhere. When you put on the brakes, an enormous amount of the light expended by the third brake light ends up inside the vehicle. The hood is curved around the Mitsubishi badge, presumably so they didn't have to order a badge in a different size.

And we aren't even on the road yet.

Get on the road and you discover the real problem with the Mirage, which is that it's slow, underpowered, crashy, noisy and loud. And slow is slower than regular small car slow. The Honda Fit is slow. The Mirage is glacial, using a 78-horsepower 1.2-liter 3-cylinder, possibly the least powerful engine in any vehicle today. A CVT automatic doesn't exactly make things more thrilling. Then there's the vague steering, which ensures you can't really position the Mirage where you want it with any sort of confidence -- and you aren't exactly helped by skinny tires that are no wider than a standard cell phone. The ride is rough, the interior is loud, and -- inexplicably -- the climate control buttons beep every time you press them, like you're setting a microwave.

So why would anyone buy this car?

Because it's a brand-new vehicle for nine grand.

I always thought cars like the Mirage were stupid, because people could just buy used cars, until I recently had a discussion with some friends who work for Nissan -- and they convinced me otherwise. What they said is this: Cars like the Mirage (and Nissan's own Versa) are for people who absolutely need to be at work, or else they'll get fired; people who can't afford to lose a job or even lose a few hours because they show up late due to car trouble. They're for people who have been burned by used cars before, who don't want to take a chance, and who want a new vehicle with a warranty that won't cost them big money. And they're for people who need financing, since it's often easier to finance a new vehicle than a used one.

When you put it like that, and you look at the Mirage that way, its purpose becomes clear: it's a car. Not a good car, not a fun car, not an exciting car, but a working automobile that can bring people from Point A to Point B with relative efficiency -- and with a 10-year warranty, which is a highly appealing thing for someone who doesn't want to pour money into a vehicle. Sure, certified pre-owned vehicles exist, but it's even hard to find one of those for the prices of some used Mirage models -- and a CPO car won't have anywhere near the same warranty length.

As a car enthusiast, I find it to be terrible; surely the worst car you can buy. But for many people, it's an alternative to a bus pass and unreliable public transportation, or a used car and unreliable out-of-warranty vehicles -- and it is, quite literally, better than nothing. With that, I agree. Barely.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Video | The Mitsubishi Mirage Is Better Than Nothing - Autotrader