The Mitsubishi Mirage and the Toyota Yaris are both five-door hatchbacks, but the Mirage is a large minicar while the Yaris is in the (slightly) larger subcompact class. Neither rate very high in our full-review system, but each has advantages—and drawbacks.
MORE: Read our reviews of the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage and the 2016 Toyota Yaris
The Mirage has been adapted for North American sale from a global vehicle built in Thailand and sold throughout Asia. Like the Chevrolet Spark minicar, it’s family transportation in less affluent countries, but the Mirage is neither as sophisticated nor as cheerful as the Spark. The Yaris, on the other hand, is the smallest and least expensive car in Toyota’s U.S. lineup—although it’s not a particular sterling example of small-car design.
Both hatchbacks have relatively tall shapes with angled accent lines through the upright sides, but the Yaris wins more style points. The nose of the Mitsubishi is round and bland, and that theme extends to the rest of its shape. It will hold four adults, however, with some negotiating between front and rear. The front end of the slightly bigger Yaris was recently restyled with a gaping maw below the bumper, giving it a strange, vacuum-cleaner appearance, but the rest of the car is tidier—and we like the resolution of the hatch area and the taillights that stand proud of the body.
Inside, though, both are pretty basic and anonymous—but the Toyota is clearly made of better-quality plastics and has more solid-feeling switchgear. It also has a plethora of bins, cubbies, and other storage areas, and even a dash of silver trim, plus some newly-added soft-touch surfaces. The Mirage, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the old “econoboxes” of 20 years ago, and some of its fittings are downright flimsy.
Neither car has a particularly enjoyable powertrain. The main specification for the smaller, lighter Mitsubishi is its combined fuel economy: 40 mpg for the version with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). That’s the highest gas-mileage rating for any non-hybrid sold in the U.S. But with only a 74-horsepower 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine, the Mirage is neither fast nor powerful. If you drive it hard, the performance around town is fine, although it runs out of breath very quickly once it’s on highways. A 5-speed manual gearbox is also available—at a savings of $1,000, but it cuts the combined gas mileage to 37 mpg.
Using the 106-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that powers the Yaris feels like you’re behind the wheel of a 1990s econocar. Performance is tepid, and that’s if you opt for the standard 5-speed manual gearbox. The 4-speed automatic is one of the only ones left on the market, and a painfully wide gap between third and fourth gears makes the Yaris feel almost as slow as the Mirage. Its fuel economy isn’t very good for a car its size, at 33 mpg combined for the manual and only 32 mpg for the automatic. (The Honda Fit, by way of comparison, comes in at 36 mpg for its CVT version.) If you want a small Toyota with the highest gas mileage, have a look at the Prius C subcompact hybrid, which starts about $4,000 higher than the Yaris.
Handling and roadholding isn’t a particularly strong suit for either car. The soft suspension of the Mirage gives it a lot of body roll and tire squeal, and a dead spot in the center of the steering can find the car drifting toward the edges of its lane without any driver feedback. Its tiny 14-inch wheels and tires may be at least partially to blame. The ride is smooth and quiet on good roads, but acceleration causes the engine noise to soar—and broken pavements are jarring. The Yaris received a suspension upgrade this year that includes softer springs, a stiffer rear torsion beam, and stiffer shocks. Its electric power steering is better than that in most Toyotas, and the stiffer suspension and thicker anti-sway bars of the Yaris SE give flatter handling without much impact on ride comfort.
Each of the cars is light for its segment and was designed before the advent of the new small-overlap front crash test from the IIHS. Safety test results for both cars have been a mixed bag from both the IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
All Mitsubishi Mirages come with automatic climate control; power locks, windows, and mirrors; a 60/40 split folding rear seat back (although it doesn’t fold flat); and variable intermittent wipers. The AM/FMCD audio system has a USB port, an auxiliary input jack, and there’s a 12-volt power outlet in the console. The base DE model has standard steel wheels with silver plastic wheel covers. The ES model is a $1,200 upgrade that adds alloy wheels, pushbutton start, cruise control, a height adjustment for the driver’s seat, Bluetooth pairing, and audio controls on the steering wheel. Even a top-of-the-line Mirage won’t be much above $15,000; both trim levels can be ordered with either transmission.
The Toyota Yaris comes as the base L, the mid-level LE, and the sporty SE. All versions now definitely come better-equipped than the Mirage, as they include a split-folding rear seat, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and an Entune Audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, HD Radio, a USB port, an auxiliary input, voice recognition, and Bluetooth pairing and streaming. Top SE models stand out; they add 16-inch machined-finish alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, projector-beam headlights, LED daytime running lamps, upgraded seats with sport fabric, leather trim, and a rear spoiler. Navigation is available as a dealer-installed option.
Neither of these small cars ranks at the top of its segment, although the Mirage gets a lower score than the Yaris. Either will provide inexpensive transportation for one or two people, but each is slow—the Mitsubishi because of its small engine, the Toyota due to its ancient four-speed automatic transmission. The Toyota is nicer inside and offers more standard and optional equipment, but the Mirage is a few thousand dollars cheaper. You get what you pay for, but Mitsubishi has sold roughly double the number of Mirages it expected to, so clearly there’s a market for inexpensive and minimal minicars—even in the U.S. Despite its lower scores, we can see why some might pick the Mirage; but the Toyota will probably be a better fit for most drivers.