The air was shimmering in the midday heat over the deserted metropolis. Far away, on the horizon, a distinctly ‘90s blue two-door appeared suddenly, as if by magic — or perhaps by some well-known optic phenomenon. “Is that a Mirage? I cannot believe my eyes,” thought the thirsty CC writer. And so it was, and of the refreshing Asti variety, to boot. There was no way this car could end up being as boring as it looked, right? Right?
Let’s be real though. Mitsubishis are not really my thing, but some are fine and a few are even quite interesting. This generation Mirage/Lancer/Colt though, aside from its multiple personality disorder (a common plight for mid-range Mitsubishis), suffers from a distinct lack of flavour. Fifty shades of beige. Except I found a blue one.
The fourth generation Mirage appeared to materialize in October 1991 as a four-door saloon and a three-door hatchback. Certain markets called these cars Lancer or Colt; the platform is pretty much a Lancer, but that name (on the JDM) was reserved for certain saloons only. On certain other markets however (e.g. Australia), the whole range might be known as Lancer. The wagon, for reasons that will always remain mysterious to me, was named Libero on the JDM and built until 2000.
Even more confusingly for those of us not located in North America, Mitsubishi-US built Eagle, Plymouth and Dodge versions of this generation (as they did since the ‘70s) for North American consumption, badged as the Summit (for Eagle) and the Colt. I guess some were also badged as Mitsubishis, but I’m not 100% sure. And that’s not all: in Malaysia, Proton made their versions of this Mirage as the Wira (4-door), Satria (3-door) and Putra (2-door), and continued making them until the mid-2000s. Multiple personalities, but none of them the kind you’d want to get to know better.
Well, that’s a bit unfair. There were a bewildering array of engines available for this car, from 1.3 to 2.0 litres for 4-cyl. engines, some turbocharged, as well as a 1.6 litre V6. So some variants were fun to drive at least, though they all were quite bland to look at. But let’s not forget the context: this Mirage arrived on the scene just as the Japanese economy plunged into a prolonged crisis, so although it was programmed to be as luxurious as possible, the only cars that sold in this segment on the JDM were strippers.
So when the Asti coupé joined the range in 1993, Mitsubishi astutely priced the super-basic 1.3 litre “V” version just below ¥1m and pretty soon started selling those by the truckload. They were such a hit that Mitsubishi pushed production of the Asti a couple months past the introduction of the next generation Mirage in October 1995.
A quarter century of use is starting to show on our feature car’s interior, though for a no-frills base model, it’s proven remarkably resilient. Though one should not that, in early ‘90s JDM cars, “no frills” still meant power windows, so we’re a step above most contemporary European econoboxes. It also means a 3-speed automatic mated to that 75hp Orion 1.3 engine, which must make progress pretty leisurely, but then performance was obviously not the point of this particular version.
Rear seating was also none too generous, either. But hey, it’s a two-door notchback, so that back bench was never going to be like the business end of a stretch limo. At least, it’s (marginally) better than a VW Beetle.
In Japan, these Mitsubishis had a brief moment in the sun and sold well for a couple years, but the one that is still seen on occasion is the Libero wagon, due to its far longer production run. I guess these are now starting to look somewhat dated and therefore interesting from an archeological perspective, but realistically, unless you had your first drive or your first kiss in one of these uninspiring little vehicles, they’ve likely already left your consciousness with a level of discretion bordering on indifference. Mirage by name, immaterial by nature.