Altitude Made the Mitsubishi Mirage Nearly Undrivable
High altitude made a bad car worse.
Being Mr. Miserly Mister, Mr. Extreme Deal Searcher has landed me in a few situations where I’ve played too fast and loose with getting a good price on a car. “Oh, how bad could it be?” I say to myself, as I book the cheapest flight, hotel, and rental car. The hotel usually bites me in the ass, literally, as I get stuck in some bed-bug-filled Howard Johnson, but the flight and rental car are usually fine. I’m of the belief that there truly aren’t any bad cars, so even if I book the cheapest car a company has, I know the driving experience will be fine. At least, I thought it would be fine, until I got stuck in the worst car currently on sale, miles above sea level. My rental car was a Mitsubishi Mirage.
I flew into Denver on a Sunday evening and arrived in the Mile-High City just before 8 p.m. Priceline matched me with a compact or mid-size rental at a company that advertised that it serviced the airport but closed at 5 p.m. Ugh. Eventually, after about an hour of complaining and bellyaching, my car was canceled, then rebooked at a rental car company that was actually open. Fox Rent A Car put me in a brand-new 2021 Hyundai Accent.
The Accent was great, cute, easy to drive, and spacious for the type of vehicle it was. Despite the roughly 15 percent power loss due to Denver’s less dense air, the 120-horsepower 1.6-liter engine didn’t have any trouble ferrying me all around I-470 at speeds upward of 70 mph, and returning 40 mpg while doing it. Everything with the Accent was all fine and dandy, until halfway through my stay, the check engine light kicked on, ending my pleasant Hyundai-based motoring around Denver.
Fox-Rent A Car switched my Accent out for a 2019 Mitsubishi Mirage. I could only be mad at myself, because I wanted to save a few bucks so I chose the economy choice when I rebooked my rental reservation. Rental car classes are messy and nonsensical, so the Accent and Versa were classified as compact, therefore an upgrade.
I don’t like the Mirage, but I figured, “How bad could it be?” All I needed it to do was shuttle me around Denver. I knew this car isn’t very good, but I didn’t think it could be that bad.
It is that bad. At sea level, the Mirage generates a Husqvarna lawn mower-rivaling 78 horsepower. At 5,000 feet above sea level in thin air, about 15 percent of those ponies escape. You could also likely take another 10 percent off your new power figure, accounting for powertrain losses as the continuously variable transmission (CVT) turns those couple dozen donkey thrusts into forward momentum. In a word, the Mirage was slow as shit. Dangerously slow, almost.
I left Fox Rent A Car and merged onto 470. The ramp was uphill and it met a 75-mph freeway. Flattening the accelerator to the floorboard and firewall, the Mirage’s engine would race to 5,500 rpm, as the speedometer took a whopping 30 seconds to reach the 75-mph speed limit.
At speed, the Mirage’s freeway roadholding was remarkably solid for a tall and skinny car with 155 series tires, but its handling, especially fast freeway sweepers and offramps, was like dancing drunk with a broom in your living room. I’ve driven fully laden cargo vans that felt more stable in curves.
When holding a steady speed, the Mirage’s lack of power was manageable. The car was loud, but it was generally content to maintain 75 mph with cruise control on, at least on flat ground. Don’t ask the Mirage to do that and go uphill. In some cases, it might actually decelerate.
In Denver rush hour traffic, the Mirage’s reduced power was annoying. Darting through traffic or accelerating out of bad situations was impossible. Flooring the throttle resulted in more noise rather than forward progress, and I would have to yield or move out of the way as even the most base of economy cars would regularly cut me off and push me out of the way.
If you check the comments section of nearly any Mitsubishi Mirage review, you’ll likely find a cohort of similar-minded Mirage boosters that insist the car is just fine the way it is. They’ll probably say something like, “It’s a great cheap car!” Any positives somebody might find, however, are negated by the fact that you can get better cars for similar prices.
A base Hyundai Accent and a base Mitsubishi Mirage are nearly identically priced, and yet the Accent feels so much more like a real car. The Accent’s ride, handling, interior, and dynamics are shockingly not-budget. The Mirage never fails to remind you that it is a very badly designed budget car. The Mirage didn’t even get great fuel economy. Through two days of driving, I only averaged 36 mpg, compared to the much faster Accent’s 41 mpg, according to the onboard computer readings.
The Mirage wasn’t an uncommon sight around Denver, I saw more than a few green and white plated Mirages running around the area. I don’t know how they do it, because the car is already naturally slow and not very responsive, but the high elevation made my rental damn near intolerable. Mirages at sea level are peppier cars. You can get used to anything, I guess.
If you’re in the market for a super-budget car and insist on buying new, save yourself the trouble and buy a Hyundai Accent or some other alternative. Avoid the Mirage, I promise it’s not worth it.
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