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2015 Mitsubishi Mirage
The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage is fuel-stingy and versatile.

Prices: $12,995-$14,295

The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage is the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered non-hybrid vehicle sold in America. That, alone, should make it attractive to the frugal-minded, although there's more to the car than frugality..

The subcompact Mirage delivers 37 miles per gallon in the city and 44 on highways with the available CVT automatic transmission or 34 city and 42 highway with a five-speed manual gearbox.

This front-drive, four-door hatchback is for those who want sparkling fuel economy but don't want to spend a lot for a practical, but surprisingly roomy, subcompact that is decently equipped.

Mitsubishi says customers are expected to include first-time drivers, retirees, short-hop urban dwellers who live or work in the city or for those with marathon commutes.

Major rivals include the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Mazda2, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris.

The 2015 Mirage entry DE version stickers at $12,995, while the higher-line ES model costs $14,295.

I tested the ES with the smooth, responsive CVT transmission.

There are no radical changes to the 2015 model. New are chrome interior trim accents for the audio and HVAC panels; rear-mounted short-pole antenna; interior seat fabric (ES model) and side view mirrors with turn indicators (ES model).

This is a short, front-drive four-door hatchback with good room for up to five adults, although the split backseat is more comfortable for two occupants. The adjustable steering wheel moves up and down  but doesn't telescope. And the manual adjustment for the driver's seat height is awkward to use.

The Mirage DE is generally slick-looking for a short, small car and has a very aerodynamic body. It's fairly well-equipped. Standard items include a 4 -speaker 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with USB input, automatic climate control, keyless entry, power windows, split folding rear seat, rear heater ducts and body colored power side mirrors, door handles and tailgate handle.

The ES costs an additional $1,300 and includes all the above items, besides  a Bluetooth hands-free phone system; pushbutton starter(curiously put to the left of the steering column); steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and 14-inch aluminum alloy wheels, compared to the same-size steel wheels on the DE.

Optional are front and rear park assist sensors and a navigation package that includes a rearview camera (for the ES). 

Safety items include 7 air bags, including dual side-impact curtain bags. There's also a driver's knee bag.

The cargo area is marginal (17.2 cubic feet) with the rear seatbacks in their normal position, but expands to 47 cubic feet when the seatbacks are flipped forward. The cargo area has a low, wide opening and the hatch swings up a lot and has a deep indented inner area to help close it.

Doors open wide for easy entry to the generally quiet interior, which looks  average, with lots of plastic used. But the front seats offer good support in curves. Gauges can be quickly read, and controls are well-placed and easy to use. Dashboard vents also are nicely positioned.

 Dual front console cupholders seem buried under the center of the dashboard, and there's only one rear cupholder placed at the rear of the front console.

Powering the Mirage is an advanced  1.2-liter 3-cylinder dual-overhead-camshaft engine with a variable valve-timing system for maximum fuel efficiency and power output.

The engine produces 74 horsepower at a high 6,000 r.p.m. and 74 pound-feet of torque at a lower r.p.m. It provides lively around-town acceleration because the Mirage just weighs 1,973 pounds. Only regular-grade gas is needed.

However, the engine is noisy during hard acceleration, and acceleration above 65 m.p.h. is just so-so. On the other hand, the engine is only at about 2,000 r.p.m. at that speed.

The electric power steering is quick, although it feels rather dead. The Mirage is handy in tight spots, with a tight turning radius of only 15.1 feet. The all-disc anti-lock brakes work well, helped by electronic brake force distribution with brake assist.

The Mirage is generally fun to drive, once away from 75-m.p.h. plus freeway or highway traffic. Its roadability is helped by stability and traction control systems. I found that it clung to the pavement while sweeping through decreasing radius freeway on- and -off ramps.

I wasn't all that surprised by the Mirage's roadability, despite its economy car status. After all, Mitsubishi has a long heritage of innovation, performance and reliability, earning 4 consecutive World Rally Championship titles, 12 grueling Dakar victories and  1st and 2nd place finishes at the 2014 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

The Mirage is backed by a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

The light hood is held up with a prop rod and opens to disclose a deftly designed engine compartment.

The Mirage initially may appear to be just another inexpensive high-economy car, but those who look closer will see there's a lot more to it than that.