Driving the Highest MPG Car in America (That's Not a Hybrid)


Mitsubishi Mirage CVT

A few weeks ago, Ford announced that its new 2014 Ford Fiesta with a 1.0 liter Ecoboost 3 cylinder engine was the highest MPG car you could buy that wasn’t a hybrid with its 32/45 (37 combined) mpg rating. Almost immediately, the Mitsubishi fan base started grumbling. “Not so fast, Ford!” they said. “Mitsubishi has the highest MPG car you can buy that’s not a hybrid, the Mirage CVT that gets 37/44 (40 combined) mpg.” For the most part, though, a lot of the media guys that I know dismissed the Mitsubishi, with one even saying “Mitsubishi’s not a thing anymore.”

Could that be true? Could it be that the driving force behind the DiamondStar turbos and the 2.2L Dodge Shelbys of the 80s were simply “not a thing anymore”? I didn’t buy it, so I reached out to Mitsubishi and asked to drive one of the new Mirage CVTs- a few days later, a 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage CVT ES in “Infrared” showed up at my door in Oak Park.

My first impressions of the Mirage were largely positive. It’s a cute little car, with much better proportions than the neighbor’s Smart despite the tiny wheels. The Infrared paint, too, was deep and reflective. So far so good, I thought as I looked through the Mitsubishi paperwork- the $15,990 ES PKG included all the usual power this and cruise that, along with ABS, traction control, a CD player, and a few other safety gizmos. It even had a few options (which ticked the price up a bit, of course) like fog lights and a Bluetooth system.

Getting into the highest MPG car in America was easy enough, and I was met with my first happy surprise …


… a starter button.

I know, I know- in 2014 a starter button is nothing to get excited about, but my last exposure to a Mitsubishi was a 2011 Galant. That experience was not positive, so to find a little bit of sporty playfulness in the Mirage gave me some hope. Glancing over at the 140 MPH speedo (see, above) also made me chuckle, since the Mirage, in stock trim, makes just 74 hp from its 1.2 liter non-turbocharged engine.

I was already smiling before I started the car. The little engine buzzed to life and settled into its idle as I adjusted the seats. Nothing special there, but they were significantly more comfortable than, say, the seats in the Sonata Hybrid I drove in Texas. I put the little Mirage in “D”, and puttered off with the wife in the passenger seat.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Why doesn’t it have a mirror up here?” she asked.

It was a question answered with a question, so I knew the little car was in trouble. Sure enough, there was no mirror in the passenger-side sunshade. “That’s pretty janky,” she said, flipping the sunshade up, dismissively. “You know what happened,” she began. “They had a group of people in a focus group somewhere, and they thought ‘Yeah, I usually drive alone, so I don’t care if there’s a mirror over there’, but that’s the kind of thing that would make me, as a passenger, think it was a cheap car.”

I had to agree with her, and not just because I’m a little afraid of her. I looked at the steering wheel of the Mirage, and I felt like I didn’t need the audio controls. I would have traded those for a mirror on the passenger side. I had a tachometer, too, in a car with a CVT. I’d have traded that for a mirror, too- which reminds me: in D mode, the Mirage is absolutely misrable in-town.

Yeah, no “car guy diplomacy” here. In D, the Mirage CVT “upshifts” too early, is never on boil, and is genuinely bad. There’s a fix, however, and it looks like this:

Mirage CVT in B Mode

B mode. In “B” mode, the Mitsubishi keeps its engine right around its 4000 rpm torque peak, and throttle response becomes instantaneous. The effect, on a car this small, light, and otherwise low on power is utterly transformative.

Instead of behaving like a miserable little “econobox”, the Mitsubishi Mirage CVT in B mode behaves like a cartoon turtle with a nest of angry honeybees crammed under its shell. It scoots, too! Driving around town in B mode, I never felt like the Mirage was underpowered- and during Monday evening’s snow dump on Chicago, I got to test the Mirage in snow, on the interstate, in heavy rush hour traffic. I never felt like I was in a cheap car (helped, I’m sure, by the comfortable seat and leather steering wheel/shifter, which were all I touched, for the most part).

After a week of fun, inner-city running about with the little Mirage, I was more than a little sad to see the car go.

“Your gonna miss your little friend, aren’t you?” asked the wife, condescendingly.

“You know, I actually am,” I said.

She eyed me suspiciously. “Did Mitsubishi just sell you a car?”

“Maybe,” I said. “It kind of depends what we can get out of that engine block.”

“What did you get out of the race car?” she asked, referring to the white DSM drag car me n’ the boys are planning to run next year.

“That’s making about 800 wheel,” I said.

“At least you’ll be able to get it to 140, then,” she said.

That’s true- but will I actually buy one? If I did, I’d go for the lower-end DE version and skip the cruise control and steering-wheel audio buttons, but I’d fight the dealer pretty hard to get the leather wheel and shift knob. I’d get mine in “Kiwi Green”, too, since I decided the Infrared looks like it’s trying way too hard to be an “upscale” color and it plays better with the “bee-ridden turtle” analogy that I came up with earlier … and the fact that I’m even that far along in the process should tell you how much I dug driving the highest MPG car that’s not a hybrid.

What did you think of the Mirage? Have you driven one? Did you like it? Let us- and Mitsubishi!- know, in the comments.


Original content from Gas 2.

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • J_JamesM

    I have a DSM Eclipse, and I pretty much trust Mitsubishi to get “small, light, cheap sporty car” right. They seem rather good at it, from what I’ve seen.

    • That’s a fair point- what are you running in the Eclipse? Love those things- the one we’re running next year is a 1st-gen Talon.

      • J_JamesM

        Just the 1990 1.8 and 5-speed, nothing modded or fancy about it.

        The car’s in beautiful condition. It was put in storage for nigh on a decade. It’s well into its twenties, but looks just a few years old. My family’s quite into the local hot rod scene, so I can’t wait to do an engine swap to something with a bit more high-end oomph- similar to my aunt’s corvette-powered Pinto.

        • An unmolested DSM is fancy in 2013, son. Enjoy it!

  • dljfldj

    what about the jetta diesel??

  • Tom Johnson

    Doesn’t the Jetta TDI do much better in real world tests?

    • I’ve seen it hyperlinked to 58 MPG, which is probably doable in this. The EPA rates it at 34 combined, which is far short of the Mirage.

      • 58 is doable with the Mirage. It has tons of hypermiling potential.

        Simple, conservative eco-driving techniques (no fancy hypermiling stuff like pulse & glide or shutting the engine off) got me 49 MPG US in CITY driving with the 5-speed, and 42 MPG US with the CVT.

        Mitsu has held numerous mileage competitions where drivers have gotten mid-60’s to low-70’s MPG. Lots of examples: http://mirageforum.com/forum/forumdisplay.php/14-Fuel-Economy-Gas-Mileage

        Darin (nope, no Mitsu affiliation)

        • That’s sick! Thanks for the link …

          • No problem!

            I must say though… your review (while entertaining) is oddly Jekyll & Hide: starting out in defense of the car’s impressive MPG ratings, and then proceeding to destroy them by blasting around in “B” mode! 😀

            I don’t think buyers of this car are looking for scintillating performance — they’re looking for “cheap to buy & cheap to run.” And they’ll need to leave it in “D” to get that second bit.


          • Fair point, but we’re gearheads here- gearheads who care about the kind of planet they’re leaving their kids, yes, but still gearheads.

  • David

    So… Driving around all the time in ‘B’, what was your average efficiency?

    • It dropped to about 28 MPG, but in-town, the trade-off was fine. On the highway, I did put it back in “D” and use the cruise control. That pumped me up to over 40.

  • danwat1234

    Does the Mirage have auto start/stop? Do you know if the USA 2014 1L Fiesta have auto start/stop? The European version of the 1L Focus does

    • Both Euro Mirage and Fiesta have stop/start available. I’m not sure about the Fiesta in North America, but Mirage doesn’t get stop/start on this side of the ditch.

      Euro Mirages are also available with a 1.0L petrol (n.a., but with higher compression than the 1.2L we get).

      Darin (nope, not affiliated with Mitsu)

      • Even so, it doesn’t seem to need it to get the big numbers.

        • True. But MPG would be even better if we had the option. Maybe Mitsu will offer it at some point as competition heats up and more cars nip at the Mirage’s heels in terms of MPG.

          FYI, the EPA ratings for the Mirage may be a bit conservative: 25 Mirage owners reporting on MirageForum are averaging higher than the best EPA combined rating of 40 mpg (for the CVT car). Interestingly, manual drivers are slightly beating CVT drivers on average. (Could be for a number of reasons.)

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  • James P

    What kind of review is this???? You review the highest mpg non-hybrid. Then you observe that it is un-driveable in it’s normal (ie: get that fuel economy mode). Then you proceed to drive it in agressive keep the engine at 4K RPM mode and then you turn in the car. Nowhere did you say what your average self calculated mpgs were in normal or “engine boil” mode and then you discuss banter with your wife.
    Is this what passes for a car review these days? Seems to me that Gas2 should be in the top10 ignorati blogs instead of technorati blogs.

    • I’m not sure you read the same article I did. Throughout, I have mostly positive things to say about the car, I never call it un-driveable, and add that it’s awesome fun to drive in tight traffic in “B” mode. As for self-calculated MPGs, once you get married you’ll realize that what your spouse thinks of the car is probably more of a factor than some pencil and paper scribblings. I also remark about how I’d be pretty likely to buy the car- that seems like the kind of thing most readers would be interested in hearing, since I get to drive dozens of cars a year and “What would you buy?” is typically the first question I get asked by real people in real life (that thing that happens when I’m not on the internet).

      Still, you’re probably right. Please don’t hesitate to send us a detailed list of what you want to see in a new car review, and we’ll stick only to that, with absolutely no banter, judgement, or subjective interjection of any kind.

      (just kidding- none of that will happen) 😉

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  • Jen

    I have an ES Mirage with the navigation package – MSRP ~16,000. I bought it a few weeks ago and I absolutely love it. I’m coming from a crossover SUV, commuting ~60 miles per day over a large mountain. I find it to be quite comfortable, it has plenty of power, and is cute with nice convenience features. Also, it has comparatively quite a bit of space in the back for my son and his car seat, and best of all I have achieved 58/48 mpg on my daily commute. That is significantly better than the Prius C I was considering when I purchased my much-less-expensive Mirage. We’ll see how the car holds up over time but I have a second Mitsubishi with 180,000 miles on it so I’m confident in the technology under the hood. I have found that the “break-in” or CVT adjustment period is VERY important to consider with this car. When we hit ~1,200 miles we noticed much better performance in the driveability of the car around town. Perhaps the car adjusted to me, or maybe I “learned” to drive it but either way it’s a very smooth ride now.

    At any rate, my car will pay for itself in fuel savings alone in 4 years or less (depending on gasoline prices), my insurance rates on this vehicle vs. other models is outstanding, and I have the best warranty in the business. I’m a VERY satisfied Mirage owner.

  • Mini

    I recently purchased a 2014 Mirage and I absolutely love it. Is it a cheap little car, yes. When you get inside do you forget all about that,YES! This car is the first brand new car I have ever bought. I’m a 25yo female soldier in Colorado. This car was everything I wanted. The start button, the Bluetooth (I get in my car and my playlist automatically starts from my phone so I don’t have to worry about what I’m listening too) the seats are super comfortable and I can go an average of 280 miles on a tank of gas (average between 5 tanks) and it only cost 25$ to fill it up! Mine is black and I had the dealership tint the windows and it gave it a pretty sporty look.
    Another blog was posted that with duct tape modifications, you can up to 74mpg!!
    This of course is in D mode and safe driving. I only have to use B mode if I’m going up a steep hill.
    The car this guy drove only had 200 miles on it, once I reached about 700 miles the pick up seemed to steady out and it drove a lot better than the first few days. Any car person would know that you have to give an engine about 600 miles to get everything into a smooth ride.
    The guys at work make fun of me because of course either the drive big pick up trucks or really sporty cars, but for me, my car is perfect. It’s cute, small, I love the inside and the mpg that I get! Also it’s ranked 8 on the greenest cars list!!!

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  • Efreet

    I rented one and I liked it. I always thought that the “B” setting was some sort of engine braking thing. At least that’s what I was using it for. I preferred the “D” setting.

    • Dave Mac

      I never drove one, but have been interested in them since they re-introduced last year. But I’ve been wondering what word ‘B’ stood for. Does anyone know? The only thing I could think of was (engine) “braking” too, but it apparently isn’t.

      • Efreet

        since i made that above post, i have read a mirage owner’s manual. the “B” setting is indeed intended for engine braking, although i suppose it could be used for any situation where you want high revs.

  • Jim Ottinger

    I test drove a Mirage before I bought my Chevy Spark. I could not get used to the vague and jerky steering on the highway. The salesman that rode with me said they were all that way, so I excused myself and moved on. I have owned many Mitsubishi cars in the past, but driving this Mirage scared me.

  • Felt hugely underpowered using D… must try B (engine braking) next time!

    The suspension was woeful!!! Wallowed down the road with lots of body roll.

    Will book another test drive and try again.

    Wish my local dealer wasn’t so bad… as they would discourage anyone from buying Mitsubishi.

  • Erik

    I have owned a Mirage for the past 4 months now. I traded in my Ford Focus ST for two of them, one for me and one for the wife. Let be be honest in saying I couldn’t be happier with my car. When I first drove it I thought ok it’s fun to drive but it’s just ok, the price point is right and my wife and I need a gas efficient inexpensive car so we made the purchase going these are ok; however three days later I realized that this little car is amazing, it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, it’s not a 6 cylinder mustang with a shouty exhaust pretending it’s a v8 race car. It has room enough for four people comfortably and five in a pinch when four buddy’s and I make a lunch run. It has 2 ways to connect my iPod for tunes and a CD player for good measure. As far as the masses of people who say this vivacious little go cart is under powered, I have to disagree; I have the 1.2L standard transmission and have had zero problems accelerating off a stop light or getting up to highway speeds. That being said I have not driven the cvt model and can’t attest to how it drives. The trim is adequate for the price and the controls are exactly where I feel they should be. The seats are very comfortable and the only thing I could ask for is an arm rest. I have not treated my mirage like a weak little city car I fold down the seats and put several hundred pounds of tile in it for home improvements; I’ve taken it up logging roads unpacked, unpaved, and very up hill. This car has very much changed my view of vehicles and practicality, I don’t miss my Focus, in my opinion the Mirage is more fun to drive it handles like a go cart you can do a u turn on a two lane road with out going off on the shoulder, you can park it literally anywhere, and finally they under sell the gas mileage I usually see 42mpg city and about 44mpg highway, my highway driving in Washington state is normally at 70mph. All in all this is my favorite vehicle that I have owed and the only changes I plan to make are adding fog lights and a roof rack.

  • owlafaye

    Well its NOT the highest mpg car being driven in America, My car gets 47 mpg combined, 53+ mpg highway…it is 21 years old, weighs 1565 lbs. and everything still functions as designed…Yes, a 1994 Geo Metro hatchback. When new, EPA rated at 58 mpg highway…and it doesn’t burn oil.

  • Kenny Heggem

    I drove a new one. It was fine. I did not feel the negative steering issues and handling was not unacceptable. I thought it was quite comfy and handled well enough. The motor made decent noises. The outward vision (important to me) was good. When Mitsubishi goes away (they will, they simply sell few cars here) I will get the best deal I can on one. I still cannot imagine dropping under 10 grand on a new DE (yes, they are selling for $9995) because used cars are still a better value. For around -8k.. I will be on board and keep it for 20 plus years. The equipment was more than I would want.. but honestly, the vanity mirror? This is CHEAP car.. go buy one with Snoopy and Woodstock on it at Kragen Auto Parts for $5. That is hardly something to trip on. But it is nice not hearing complaints about silly stuff like lacking a rear armrest or rear view camera.. it is an ECONOMY car.. why do reviewers make a point of pointing these things out?? Now, my REAL desire is the i-miev. I followed up with driving a 3 years old one with 25k. LOVED it! Smooth quick electric acceleration. It handled better, road a little better. It felt even a little more solid.. VERY quiet. Plus, it was 7700 bucks. HELLO! NO GAS, tuning, oil change.. just plug it in at around 3 cents a gallon. SIGN ME UP. I hope for massive discounts on the i-miev, as well.. when they go under. I knwo they end up barely 12-14k brand new after incentives. TOTALLY worth it. 70 miles is perfectly decent range for us. We only go on bigger trips like 3 times a year.. could rent something.

  • joelpur

    Own one 2015, Manual transmission an in the hills doesn’t feel under-powered at all.