Mitsubishi, a manufacturer known in SA for imposing vehicles such as the Triton, Pajero and Outlander, has built something a mere 3,7 metres long and taking aim at some of South Africa’s biggest sellers. Called the Mirage, it is contesting a segment of the market that has grown exponentially over the last few years.

The little car certainly faces a tough task if it’s to lure potential buyers away from market staples and into Mitsubishi dealerships – this is, after all, not exactly a brand you’d describe as “front of mind” when it comes to South African car buyers. So what exactly does the Mirage offer that would sway buyers away from the likes of the Renault Sandero, Nissan Micra, Ford Figo, Volkswagen Polo Vivo and the rest? The short answer is: not much ... except for the Joker. But we’ll get to that later.

In the company of quirky and stylish competitors like some of those mentioned above, it was always going to be difficult for the Mirage to stand out from the crowd. In its defence, it doesn’t try too hard, either. The almost-grille-free front-end is a piece of design that’s best described as neat and inoffensive. The rounded nose is melded with angular headlamps and slight arches on the sides of the bonnet to give it a sweptback look, and the front foglamps are standard on this GLS model. The rear gets a large bumper and small hatch lid for a more pinched appearance.

The straight-down-the-line styling continues in the cabin, with sensibly sited controls for the audio system and air-con, while the instruments are clear and concise. The impression is of no hassle and no fuss. The one thing that the CAR team unanimously agreed on was that the cabin felt more upmarket than the interiors of most rivals.

The Mirage offers very similar levels of interior kit as found in most of its competitors – electric windows front and rear, an audio system that has auxiliary and USB plug-ins (though no Bluetooth, even
on this flagship GLS) and a leather-bound multi-function steering wheel. What’s more, this version boasts luxury-car items such as key-less entry and start-up, and climate control.

Some of the standard features you don’t see, such as ABS with EBD ‒ which allowed it to stop from 100 km/h to zero in a good average time of 3,08 seconds ‒ central locking and Isofix anchorage points all add to the bang-for-buck appeal that Mitsubishi is marketing with the Mirage.

While all of these features are important for cash-strapped shoppers, they also want a vehicle that feels solid and has some pep. Armed with a 1,2-litre, three-cylinder engine that pushes out 57 kW and
100 N.m, you can’t expect any fireworks, but thanks to a low mass of just 874 kg and short gearing the engine feels lively when the vehicle is loaded with just a driver.

On the downside, the  five-speed  ‘box doesn’t appreciate being rushed, and with two adults the Mirage starts to wheeze. However, stir through the  first three gears to keep the engine on the boil and it
performs much better; the zero-to-100 km/h sprint took a class-competitive 12,49 seconds.

Slow down the pace and the Mirage promises frugal running. The Japanese manufacturer claims an average of 4,9 litres/100 km, but the CAR fuel index pegs it at more realistic 5,88 that allows a range of 595 km between  ll-ups.

Inner-city driving highlighted the Mirage’s compact dimensions and easy-to-park nature. Free it from the confines of the urban jungle, though, and it starts to falter due to mediocre refinement and overly vague steering. The Mirage is also very susceptible to crosswinds and, as a result, can feel unsettled.

It does, however, offer effective damping and absorption of road imperfections. But, many of its rivals – most notably the Sandero, Figo and Polo Vivo –  find a more satisfying dynamic balance.

The Mirage is a sensible offering in a cutthroat segment. It has few serious failings, but it certainly doesn’t push the envelope far enough to be considered better than its competitors. Along with the decent spec of the GLS (though we’d opt for the GL model at R124 900, which has most of the essentials), it does however have another card to play … and it’s something of a Joker.  The little car comes with a one-year comprehensive insurance deal, worth about R2 000, no matter your age or location. In an era where youngsters struggle to get financing and realistic insurance rates, this is a definite boon. Unfortunately for the Mirage, that may also be its only unique selling point.