2017 Mitsubishi Mirage GT:
Is this as bad a car as you've read? Or are journalists seeing things?
Price: $17,330 as tested (a base model could be had for as little as $12,995).
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com notes the car has "impressive fuel economy with CVT; one of the least expensive cars available; generous warranty" but "acceleration is very sluggish, even by subcompact standards; rough, chattering engine note; lots of road noise at highway speeds; low-quality interior materials."
Or for a quicker synopsis, Consumer Reports used the adjective regrettable.
Marketer's pitch: "Smart. Social. And seriously fun."
Reality: Well . . .
Not a car snob: When I started the Driver's Seat column five years ago, one of my aims was to give cars like this a second look. Not everyone has money to blow on a fancy new unit, and so I contended there's a place for cars like the Mirage.
What's new: Mitsubishi says the 2017 Mirage gets "a new exterior design, improved performance and enhanced interior appeal." I was able to borrow a couple of 2015 models for comparison as well, so I can make my review with full knowledge of all the models.
But after a very close comparison, I'm not seeing the big changes.
Up to speed: The 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine still sounds nothing if not like a SEPTA bus getting up to speed. Sturgis Kid 4.0 and I agreed it sounds like a swarm of bees as we buzzed up a country road.
The power level - 78 horses, up from 74 in 2015 - takes Mr. Driver's Seat back to his youth, to subcompact cars of the '80s and '90s. You'll need to keep the accelerator pressed firmly or the gear selected engaged in S for Sport.
Shiftless: The CVT does not offer much help at all. The car feels like a golf cart to begin with, and the CVT completes that circle. Furthermore, it whines, it shifts harshly - a neat trick, from a transmission that doesn't have gears - and it stumbles, especially when it's still cold. A five-speed manual is also available.
On the road: As one would expect from such a small car (just over 12 feet long), the handling was bouncy. Otherwise, the car was not too bad on winding roads, and even a little fun.
Bumps were enhanced by the small tires and the light weight of the car.
Driver's Seat: The seat, like the car, is too small, a tad uncomfortable, and not all that versatile. But it's still not the worst seat I've been in among new cars. So consider the price point.
Friends and stuff: After having the Mirage for close to a week, I finally had a chance to have the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and Sturgis Kid 4.0 accompany me on a journey.
I ran back in the house for a second, and when I came back out, I was struck by how far the car sagged in the rear with only 130 pounds of 4.0 seated back there. His weight also changed the handling dynamics of the car greatly.
The rear seat has ample legroom and headroom, but its flat bottom and straight back make it a place few legs and heads really want to be. Three seat belts are there, though that would be a snug fit.
There is no console storage front and center - there are simply three cup holders and a little phone spot.
Play some tunes: The stereo interface is upgraded over the previous incarnation, with a nice touch screen and Apple CarPlay available for all your favorite functions.
But the sound remains a C+ at best. Familiar songs sounded distorted and just wrong.
The sleek ebony plastic covering the interface is a problem in the sun, creating glare and making the screen invisible.
Keeping warm: The 2017 model also adds heated seats, though I didn't get to try them out in the 70-degree weather during test week.
Fuel economy: I mostly averaged around 33 mpg in this tiny car. It's worth noting that the trip computer resets after a certain number of hours sitting, and that the fleet company got 40 mpg while delivering the vehicle to my house. Perhaps I need to slow down.
Still, if you're buying this car for mileage and fun, it appears you can have one or the other.
Where it's built: Chonburi, Thailand.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability will be good. Couple that with the 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and owners can feel some confidence in the purchase.
In the end: Having just aided 25-year-old Sturgis Kid 1.0 in shopping for her first car, and seeing the real price possibilities for decent little Hyundai Accents, Honda Fits, and Scion iMs, I can't in good conscience get behind this Mirage. This is a Smart ForTwo with a backseat, although without need for premium fuel.