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    Two from Mitsubishi Pack Plenty Into A Very Parkable Footprint

    auto2As we LGBTs fight for visibility in the mainstream, so too does Mitsubishi continue its fight to pull itself out of the margins. It has been selling cars in the US since 1983—and it supplied Chrysler with Dodge Colts and pickups for years before that—but it still isn’t seen by many.

    I recently drove two of Mitsu’s smallest cars, the iMiEV and Mirage, and I found them well-suited for driving in San Francisco. The iMiEV is all-electric, and the Mirage is gas-powered with a three-cylinder engine. Both are four-door hatchbacks that are less than 150 inches long, and so they pack a lot of versatility into a very parkable footprint, with uncommonly tight turning radiuses.

    Affordability is key; the i-MiEV is the cheapest electric car in the U.S. at a $23K starting price, which shrinks further once the tax incentives kick in. The base Mirage is just $13K with the five-speed manual transmission. Step up to the $14K version with a CVT—yep, the automatic gets better mileage than the stick—and you’d have the most fuel-efficient gas-powered car sold here, with a whopping 44 mpg highway rating. These two have the numbers covered.

    auto2So why aren’t we seeing Mitsus with the frequency of facial hair at Folsom? Well, the i-MiEV and Mirage are loud and proud in their own ways, and they require some adjustment for the uninitiated to become comfortable with them.

    With the i-MiEV, it’s the styling that steps out: few are inclined to drive a car that looks like a surprised insect. It all serves a purpose; the taller proportions open up lots of room inside, but the i-MiEV requires toleration of a style you’ve not seen before.

    Limited range is also a factor. Mitsubishi claims 66 miles, but San Francisco’s hills made it about half of that. It is also slow to charge, needing 12 hours on a standard plug.

    autoOn the other hand, the Mirage can be gassed up anywhere, and Mitsubishi bravely let me drive this city car to Los Angeles as I covered the L.A. Auto Show. Regarding loud and proud, the Mirage’s three cylinders were very much the former as I floored the accelerator up over the Grapevine. A guttural growl filled the passenger compartment as the hamsters under the hood ran for their lives.

    I ended up flooring it a lot in the Mirage, but as noisy as it was, it felt sturdy enough to pump along at redline all day. And as hard as I whipped the Mirage through L.A. traffic, gas mileage remained in the 34–38 mpg range, where my larger-engined test cars had dipped down to the teens.

    So just as mainstream folks adapt to drag performers asserting their identities on Facebook, they will also need some prodding to find connection with these Mitsubishis. Functionally, the i-MiEV and Mirage are fine within their parameters. If either of them reflect your needs, they could work for you very well indeed.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at www.gaycarguy.com. Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com