Honestly, you couldn’t make it up. I thought I was seeing things the day I got the latest offering from Mitsubishi to try out on some local roads. The diminutive but fully five-door supermini is the successor to the Colt and is a surprisingly nippy little three-cylinder job. I arrived home to a surprise because parked there was not the solitary one I’d expected, but two of them – a sparkling metallic Pop Green and an equally bright solid Polar White.
Were my eyes deceiving me? No, it was no trick of the light, there were definitely two of them and what made the event more bizarre was they both proudly bore the new name – Mirage. A few phone calls later and it turned out there had been a few crossed wires on the admin front which explained the double vision of mini Mitsubishis.
After the white one was whisked away, I cast my eye towards the remaining Mirage, a top-of-the-range 3 version with the 1.2-litre engine. Once I’d got over the bile-green paintjob I got the chance to see what had been done to bring this baby into the highly competitive supermini segment to go head-to-head against the likes of stalwarts such as the Nissan Micra, Kia Picanto, Suzuki Splash, Chevrolet Spark and one of the most recent arrivals, the cheap-as-chips Dacia Sandero from Romania which, under its Renault ownership, at less than £6,000, is about the cheapest family car you can buy.
The Mirage offers a lightweight no-frills alternative to the mainstream models, tipping the scales at only 845 kgs at the kerbside, much lighter on its 15-inch alloys than its rivals, such as the three-cylinder Toyota Yaris which is more than 150 kgs heavier.
Weight – or a lack of it – is crucial in the battle for economy, squeezing as many miles as possible out of every costly drop of fuel. Mitsubishi claims it has created the lightest, most aerodynamic and efficient petrol-powered five-door hatchback on the market and it’s the only model available in the UK to offer 100g/km or less CO2 across the entire range, which means you’ve no Vehicle Excise Duty to pay and no London Congestion Charge if you travel south.
The small engine and the use of high tensile steel in the car’s construction help keep off the kilos, but it also means that some of the body panels feel extremely thin, and the overall impression is that this is a car which is pretty insubstantial. It’s a balance which has to be struck but you’d certainly be wasting your time if you waited around to hear a satisfying “clunk” as any of the doors shut.
That’s the downside. On the upside, it means it’s easy to throw along with a surprising amount of power coming from that wee unit under the bonnet. There’s also a lot of space inside with good legroom for everyone on board and all their luggage too, and yet the car is only 3.7 metres long. Perhaps this apparent optical illusion is the inspiration for the Mirage name.
Even the £9,000 one-litre base model has a surprising amount of standard kit, including front electric windows, AM/FM radio and CD player and glovebox USB terminal. The Mirage 2 adds Stop/Start, which you either love or loathe, rain- sensing wipers, privacy glass, auto headlights, air con, pollen filter and electric door mirrors.
The Mirage 3 test car came with front fog lamps, leather-trimmed steering wheel, rear parking sensors and keyless entry with a push-button engine start.
On the economy front, there’s a regenerative braking system, high-efficiency alternator and low-friction tyres, while, in the dashboard, there’s a three-bar eco display to remind you how frugally you’re using your right foot.
With its near vertical back end and good driver’s view of the end of the bonnet, it’s great for around town, especially with its best-in-class turning circle.
I’m not sure I’d like to spend hours in a Mirage on a lengthy motorway drive, but then it’s not designed to be a long-distance cruiser. It’s built in a brand-new factory in Thailand, and all right-hand-drive UK models are shipped here through the company’s own import facility at Bristol.
Mitsubishi say they’re confident of selling 4,500 in Britain over the coming year. It may be called the Mirage, but if they hit their sales target, you’re quite likely to see one.
CAR Mitsubishi Mirage 3 1.2-litre manual
PERFORMANCE Max speed 112 mph. 0-62 mph 12 secs
MPG (combined) 65mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 100g/km