During the past three decades, since Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) became a partner in the National Car project, the brand has not been active in the compact segment.

This was because MMC chose to stop selling small models which were in the same class as the Proton Saga to demonstrate its commitment to making the project a success.

In the past decade, MMC’s product line-up also shrank as the company reorganised itself to face the competition of the 21st century and it did not have a small global model to sell either.

Nevertheless, seeing that there is growing demand for compact, simple and most importantly, fuel-efficient cars globally, the company has put in much effort to develop a brand new model that will eventually account for a third of its global sales. The model is the new Mirage hatchback which is currently being manufactured only in Thailand with plans for production in China as well in due course.

With the lessening of ‘restrictions’ in the Malaysian market with regard to the sale of models which are in or near the same segment as the national cars, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia (MMM) found it could seriously consider selling the Mirage in here as well and given the good economies of scale that MMC has achieved by concentrating Mirage production in a single facility, the production costs have been low enough that the model can be offered in Malaysia at a very low price (for a non-national model).

Today, Mitsubishi returns to the segment it left in the 1980s with the Mirage that comes in three versions with the following prices (inclusive of insurance):

Mirage GL (Manual) – RM56,980 | Mirage GL (CVT) – RM61,980 | Mirage GS (CVT) – RM64,980

At this price, MMM aims to sell 400 units a month and their first month’s target has already been met as over 500 bookings have been received, according to MMM’s CEO, Tetsuya Oda. Of this total, over 90% are for the top GS version. It’s not unusual that the most expensive version sells better as buyers who compare the specifications will find that, instalment-wise, it does not cost a lot more to go for the best-equipped version.

The Mirage is imported from the Thai factory in CBU form and comes with five colour choices – Metallic Yellow, Grey Mica, Metallic Red, Pearl White and Silver. According to a MMM source, White and Yellow are the popular choices among Malaysians at the moment.

The Mirage is available only with one petrol engine, a new 3-cylinder 1.2-litre unit that produces 78 ps and 100 Nm. The priority has been on fuel economy and data for the model sold in Japan shows that the car can do 27.2 kms/litre (Japanese JC08 test cycle). This figure puts it as the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid model in Japan and even better than some of the hybrid models.

However, the official figure which MMM quotes for the Malaysian market 21 km/litre which is based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), depending on driving style and conditions of course. With that sort of consumption figure, the Mirage doesn’t need a big fuel tank and its 35-litre capacity should be good for at least 750 kms.

Part of the secret of such high efficiency is the use of a CVT as well as attention to aerodynamics and rolling resistance. Also a major contributor is the concerted weight-reduction strategy which makes the Mirage just 850 kgs (with the manual transmission). This has been achieved by optimisation of the body structure as well as extensive use of light but strong high-tensile steel. As a result, the Mirage is said to weight 7% less than a typical car in its class.

Mirage is imported from factory in Thailand which is the only MMC factory making the model

In the past, light cars raised questions about safety but with  modern computer-aided design and engineering, safety is not compromised. Assurance was given that the bodyshell, which has Mitsubishi’s RISE (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution) structure provides very good protection during accidents from all sides. This structure is used in all versions of the Mirage and a senior MMC executive confirmed that the version sold in Malaysia has the same structural safety as the one sold in Europe.

“However, for specific equipment, this will depend on each market’s requirements and in Malaysia, the Mirage comes with two airbags as standard, front pre-tensioners, ABS and EBD,” said Ryujiro Kobashi, Vice-Corporate GM in the Asia & ASEAN Office of the Overseas Operations Group. He added that should there be a requirement from MMM in future for additional safety features, there are other options that can also be included.

Small on the outside and large on the inside has typically been the claim for many hatchbacks. The Mirage also boasts of this and that its rear legroom is the most spacious in its class. Headroom is also pretty good with the high ceiling but this has been achieved without making the car look too bulbous.

Going through the equipment list, the GS version comes with nice features like an engine start/stop button and an automatic air-conditioner but generally, the equipment level is pretty good for all versions. The driver’s power window, for example, has automatic /up/down operation and the centre seatbelt at the back is a three-point type. The only thing that’s missing for the GL version which we think should have been included is a tonneau cover for the cargo area. It’s not such a good idea to leave it exposed to passers-by.

For convenience, the Mirage has an Electronic Times & Alarm Control System (ETACS) which is actually quite useful. It relocks the doors automatically if any door is not opened within 30 seconds after the lock release button is pressed and sounds a buzzer if any door is not closed properly when the car starts moving. The system also delays shutting off the cabin light for 15 seconds after all doors are closed and whenever the engine is switched off, the headlights will be turned off even if they are not switched off by the driver.  The power windows can also be operated 30 seconds after the engine is shut off.

For those who want to personalize their Mirage a bit more, MMM also offers some custom accessories. There’s an Aero package which costs RM1,999.90, Chrome Package for RM750, leather upholstery for RM1,500 and even a Ralliart fuel lid cover for RM150. Presumably, the accessories need to be ordered when placing the order for a new car so they can be installed by the dealer.

It’s good to do so since the extra cost can be included in the loan amount, allowing you to pay for the accessories by instalments as well.

If you like everything about the Mirage but you don’t like hatchbacks, then wait a while longer as a sedan variant will also be added to the range in future. This was revealed by MMC President, Osamu Masuko, who confirmed that production will most likely start in Thailand sometime next year. This would certainly be great for MMM as well since Malaysians do have a preference for sedans (though the best-selling model in Malaysia is a hatchback – but that’s largely due to price).

Also revealed today at the launch was a plan to assemble Mitsubishi models locally. Mr. Oda did not give any specific details about the model that will be assembled nor where it will be done. It could be at the DRB-HICOM complex in Pekan, Pahang, since MMM is a joint-venture with EON, which is DRB-HICOM’s subsidiary. The time-frame has not been finalized though like other companies, MMM probably wants to strengthen its competitiveness by 2015 when some major developments are expected to occur in the Malaysian market.

Mr. Oda also stressed that the Mirage will remain strictly a Mitsubishi-badged model and there are definitely no plans for it to be sold under any other brand. Mr. Kobashi also mentioned that as far as discussions with Proton are concerned, they have ‘almost disappeared’ and what remains now is only the supply of components which has been an ongoing business.

To know more about the new Mirage and where to test one, visit www.mitsubishi-motors.com.my

For our first driving impressions which were done in Thailand, click here

Click here to find secondhand Mitsubishi models in our 24-Hour showroom


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