By Arv Voss, Motor Matters

The Mitsubishi Mirage returns to the 2014 marketplace as a super-fuel-efficient gasoline-powered vehicle. This all-new stylish five-door subcompact hatchback accommodates five passengers and boasts an EPA fuel economy rating of up to 44 miles per gallon highway.

The diminutive 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage hatch serves up a stylish persona with an efficient approach, including its minimized grille opening, tidy yet elegant patented teardrop-shaped roofline, sculpted crease character lines along the bumper corners, underbody aero covers, and a sporty-looking high-mounted rear spoiler "wing" that effectively helps to reduce drag.

Other aesthetically appealing exterior design elements include sharply raked headlights, a forward sloping beltline, and an athletically taut rear hatchback design -- all contributing to its modern youthful look.

The Mitsubishi Mirage is available in the base DE and a more upscale ES trim levels, both drawing motive energy from a 1.2-liter 12-valve, inline three-cylinder engine that produces 74 horsepower at 6,000 rpm while producing a like amount of torque (74 ft.-lb.) at 4,000 rpm. The engine's energy is geared to the front driving wheels via a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional CVT. The EPA projects fuel ratings of 37 mpg city/44 mpg highway/40 mpg when mated to the Continuously Variable Transmission.

Electric power steering is standard and contributes to fuel efficiency while providing the driver with a sensitive steering feel along with a sharp turning radius. The spirited little Mirage serves up adequate acceleration in urban stop-and-go driving. An ECO indicator light illuminates to let drivers know when they're driving in a manner that allows for the best fuel efficiency.

Inside, the Mirage features thoughtful design touches such as an ergonomically designed instrument panel and driver controls as well as a rich, high-gloss piano black center console trim. The 60/40 split folding rear seat allows for plentiful and easily accessed interior cargo volume.

The base DE model starts at $12,995 with the five-speed gearbox and provides a long list of standard amenities including tilt steering; automatic climate control; power windows with driver's side auto-up/down; power side mirrors; body-colored side mirrors, door handles and tailgate handle; a 60/40 split folding rear seat; keyless entry with panic alarm; variable intermittent wipers; a rear spoiler, and a four-speaker 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 with USB/iPod input. Among the safety features are seven airbags.

Buyers who step up to the Mirage ES trim also receive 14-inch aluminum alloy wheels; front fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, free-hand Advanced Security Transmitter-key passive entry, one-touch start/stop engine switch, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system.

My 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage was in ES trim with the CVT transmission at a base price set of $15,595, while options and destination charge bumped the total to $16,890.

The Mirage's acceleration is not blistering, but is rather on the mild side. When prodded, the little engine makes its presence readily known in a buzzy sort of way, and at idle, it tended to be on the rough side. But hey, its primary purpose is economical operation. In fact, the all-new Mirage has already won several green vehicle awards in this regard.

The handling on the other hand is quite nimble and responsive. The ride quality is compliant -- neither too harsh nor too soft. Seating is comfortable but don't count on a cross-country excursion for five large adults yielding the most enjoyable experience.

The new 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES is attractive enough, and is appealing in its affordability, as well as in its operational efficiency. For the price, it represents an attractive purchase. Mitsubishi's warranty programs give the little car even more long-term value. These include a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty; 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper new vehicle limited warranty; 7-year/100,000 mile anti-corrosion/perforation limited warranty; and 5-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance program.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 MITSUBISHI MIRAGE ES

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger subcompact FWD hatch

BASE PRICE___________________ $15,195 (as tested: $16,890)

MOTOR TYPE___________________12-valve 3-cylinder w/MFI

DISPLACEMENT_________________1.2-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 74 at 6000 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_________________ 74 at 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ CVT

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 148.8 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 32.1 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 2,051 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 9.2 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 37 mpg city, 44 mpg highway