The non-hybrid new car with the best gasoline mileage rating in the United States is not a Honda or Toyota. It's a Mitsubishi that's priced less than the average cost of a used car or truck.
Mitsubishi's 2015 Mirage compact, five-door hatchback is rated by the federal government at 40 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. Specifically, the five-seat Mirage with good-sized cargo room of 17.2 cubic feet behind the seats earned a city rating of 37 mpg, while the highway rating is 44 mpg.
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These numbers are higher than the mileage ratings for many smaller-size cars that have just two seats, such as the Smart fortwo and the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
And judging by the results of a test, 2015 Mirage with continuously variable transmission (CVT) — which averaged nearly 39 mpg — the Mirage mileage numbers aren't, well, a mirage.
Retail pricing for the gasoline-sipping Mirage is surprising, too. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the base 2015 Mirage DE is just $13,805 with five-speed manual transmission.
This makes the 2015 Mirage the third lowest-priced new car in the U.S. market, behind the 2015 Nissan Versa sedan, with a $12,800 starting retail price, including destination charge, and the 2015 Chevrolet Spark that starts at a $13,095 retail price.
But the federal government fuel mileage ratings for the 109-horsepower, 2015 Versa sedan with four-cylinder engine and the 84-horsepower, 2015 Spark, are lower than that for the 74-horsepower Mirage with three-cylinder engine.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2015 Mirage with a CVT that a driver operates like an automatic is $14,905.
Note that it is the Mirage with CVT that is rated at the top 37/44 mpg, while the Mirage with manual transmission is rated lower by the federal government, at 34/42 mpg for a combined city/highway 37 mpg.
All 2015 Mirage models come with the 74-horsepower, 1.2-liter, double overhead cam, three cylinder.
In comparison with the Mirage retail prices, the average retail price of a used vehicle in the United States this year is more than $17,000.
So shoppers looking at used cars for inexpensive transportation might want to add a new Mirage — with electronic stability control, antilock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, frontal and side air bags and a driver's knee airbag — to the shopping list.
Mitsubishi cars and sport utility vehicles generally are not well known by U.S. consumers.
Few may realize that the Japan-based automaker includes a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty on its 2015 Mirage. This is equal to the time coverage for the powertrain warranty that's on Hyundais and Kias and is more generous than the five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty that's on Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans.
The Mirage's new-vehicle limited warranty, exclusive of powertrain, also is noteworthy. It's good for five years/60,000 miles, while Hondas, Toyotas and many other carmakers have three-year/36,000-mile new-vehicle limited warranties.
While the 2015 Mirage's light weight — about 2,000 pounds — and little engine can make the car seem miserly, it does come standard with some items not normally associated with low-cost cars. These include rear spoiler, power outside mirrors, micron air filter, carpeted floor mats, keyless entry with panic alarm, power windows and door locks and air conditioning.
The Mirage audio system is a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 unit with four speakers. But a USB port is standard.
Meantime, Bluetooth hands-free use of a cell phone in the base Mirage is just a $210 extra.
For buyers who choose the uplevel Mirage ES that starts at $15,105, Bluetooth plus push-button start and leather-wrapped steering wheel, among other things, are standard.
But leather or leatherette seat trim is not offered on any Mirage, nor are heated seats.
There are bright paint colors. The test Mirage, just over 12 feet long, was an eye-catching Sapphire Blue with a nice-looking black-patterned fabric on the seats.
Power from the three cylinder came on weakly in the test car with CVT. Torque peaks at just 74 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm, so even with only the driver aboard, the Mirage got going from stoplights in a leisurely manner.
Engine sounds were noticeable. So was road noise from the small-looking, 14-inch tires on the tester. Wind noise emanated from around the side outside mirrors at highway speeds, too.
The rack-and-pinion steering with electric assist had a loose, uneasy feel, and the driver often made regular, slight adjustments to keep the test car on track.
The ride was firm, and, except for big potholes that could be jarring, was acceptable. The small turning circle of 32.1 feet made U-turns easy.
All passengers sat up a ways from the floor on supportive seats and did not feel like they were riding low to the pavement.
There was a surprising amount of headroom for even tall passengers — 39.1 inches in the front seat and 37.3 inches in the back seat. This back-seat headroom is more than the 36.6 inches in the rear seat of the 2015 Nissan Versa sedan. But the Versa sedan boasts 37 inches of rear-seat legroom compared with the Mirage's 34 inches.
The Mirage can carry more cargo, however, both with rear seats occupied and not.
While three seatbelts are in the back seat, there are head restraints for just two people, and it would be a tight squeeze for three. The rear seat cushion is flat, with little contour.
The Mirage's small gas tank holds 9.2 gallons, so a fill-up in the tester approached after 340 miles. But at today's average price for regular gasoline, the hit to the wallet can be less than $30.