Saving money with sub-compact cars: Mitsubishi Mirage GT vs. Honda Fit EX-L

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Saving money with sub-compact cars: Mitsubishi Mirage GT vs. Honda Fit EX-L
Image Credit: David Lardner
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Let’s say you’re in need of a new car but you’re not all that concerned with having the latest styles and features. What if you’re primarily focused on getting reliable transportation that has a manufacturer’s warranty, sips fuel and is priced significantly under the $33,000 average price of a new car? What options do you have?

saving money sub-compact car

To find out, I spent a week’s worth of seat time in two of the possible answers to the questions posed above.

I chose the Mitsubishi Mirage GT and the Honda Fit EX-L for comparison. They do a pretty good job of representing the bottom and the top of the sub-compact class. The Mirage is about as entry level a new car as possible. The Fit, meanwhile, has a high level of refinement and feels like it’s in a class above.

Both of these econoboxes are priced far below the average cost of a new car and both have higher than average fuel economy ratings. And while not loaded with the latest and greatest technological and safety advances, they still both offer a surprising number of niceties.

The Mirage and the Fit are similar in that they’re both front wheel drive, five-door hatchbacks that seat five passengers. Both examples I drove were top of the line in terms of options and both were equipped with a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) though both are available with manual transmissions in more basic versions.

Disclaimer

For this comparison, both Honda and Mitsubishi provided and delivered a sparkling clean example of the above mentioned models to my driveway full of gasoline and ready to go. Other than that consideration, I received no compensation.

Read more: How long should you warm your engine up on a cold morning?

saving money sub-compact car

Driving the Mirage

The Mirage get its power from a 1.2 liter, 3 cylinder and, like most 3 cylinders, isn’t the smoothest in terms of noise and vibration. With only 78 horsepower on tap, nor is it speedy. That being said, it has enough power to keep up with traffic but it doesn’t sound particularly happy when pushed hard.

The CVT offers both an Eco and a Sport Mode that’s selectable via the shifter. Strangely enough, when driven in Eco Mode, it’s almost as peppy as in Sport Mode.

Where the Mirage most surprised me was on the freeway. Accelerating to freeway speeds is a noisy and somewhat arduous experience until you get to your chosen cruising speed. But, after that, the car settles down nicely and provides a fairly reasonable driving experience. What I didn’t expect was to find that the car rides much better than many cars of similar size, which is a really nice bonus. Whether in town or on the freeway, the suspension is compliant and absorbs bumps from pavement irregularities with surprising composure. In day-to-day driving, it’s a safe bet to expect handling that’s competent and predictable. No one, however, will ever mistake the Mirage for a sports car. But, that’s not its role.

There’s not much to say about the braking other than it’s quite good with quick stops and a reasonable amount of feel transmitted through the pedal.

saving money sub-compact car

Driving the Fit

Compared to the Mirage, the engine in the Fit in a larger and more powerful 1.5 liter, 4 cylinder. Like all of Honda’s engines, it exudes refinement due to the lack of vibration and overall quiet operation. When pushed, it’s capable of producing 130 horsepower and, like the Mirage, puts all of its horses through a CVT.

The transmission in this test car also included steering wheel-mounted paddles that the driver can use to step through seven pre-programmed “gears.” I suppose this allows folks a sportier driving experience and more of a feeling of interaction with the car. I didn’t find using them to be particularly compelling or sporty and I imagine that very few Fit drivers will use this feature with any regularity. But, the feature is there and it works as designed.

The Fit also has an Eco mode that, like all Hondas, is activated by pressing a bright green button on the dash. Honda’s Eco Mode works by retarding the throttle and recalibrating the air conditioner’s settings to be as efficient as possible. It works and it works well. It’s a fantastic tool to extract every last mile out of a gallon of gas. Just set it and forget it and you’ll save a bit more on fuel!

In typical Honda fashion, the handling is smooth, predictable and exactly what Honda drivers have come to expect. The ride is well controlled and most bumps are absorbed well with only larger pavement irregularities and potholes making themselves obvious.

The braking in the Fit is excellent. Emergency stops are short and confidence inspiring.

Inside the cars

saving money sub-compact car

While not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, both cars come well equipped. Both have power windows, locks, cruise control and excellent climate control systems. Both cars came equipped with heated seats and those in the Mirage are some of the quickest to warm that I’ve ever experienced.

Inside the Mirage, there are chrome-trimmed gauges and comfortable cloth seats for the front but seating is tight in the rear and probably not comfortable for long with three occupants. There’s a touchscreen audio system that incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This system gets its navigation capabilities through a connected smartphone using Google Maps while an Android device is connected or Apple Maps when an iPhone is connected. Both devices were tested and work really well. Kudos to Mitsubishi for going this route because it means never having to purchase expensive navigation system updates. This system also incorporates a very much appreciated backup camera.

In terms of carrying capacity, the rear hatch opens wide and there is room behind the back seats for three or four smaller size suitcases. The rear seats do fold down but don’t create a level floor. But, that being said, there’s plenty of room for shopping binges.

saving money sub-compact car

Moving from the driver’s seat of the Mirage to the Fit’s is definitely a step up. It should be as it’s nearly a $5,000 bump-up on the bottom line. The increase in price gets you both front and rear seats that are comfortable, supportive, provide ample room and, in the EX-L, are upholstered in leather. The gauges are clear and, when equipped with the HondaLink touchscreen, the dash is devoid of many of the buttons or switches we’ve come to expect as they’re integrated into the touchscreen interface. Speaking of the HondaLink system, it’s fast and intuitive and includes a navigation system. Honda really has put together a great instrument panel. And, like the Mitsubishi, the touchscreen incorporates a backup camera.

Where the Fit really shines is in its carrying capacity, With the back seats folded, it’s fair to call the car cavernous. The seats fold to create a level floor that’s low. Couple that with the high roofline and uncontrolled Costco binges are not a problem. The interior space is big enough that I was able to load an 8×10 rug into the Fit and close the hatch. Its carrying capacity is nothing short of amazing for a sub-compact.

Fuel economy is a big part of the package

Both of these cars are fuel sippers but maybe not as much as you’d expect. The Mirage is rated at 37 city, 43 highway and 39 combined. Those numbers appear to be fairly accurate. I averaged 39 MPG in mixed city and highway driving.

The Fit is rated at 32 city, 37 highway and 34 combined. Over a week of mixed city and highway driving, I averaged just under 35 MPG.

Less expensive by how much?

The Mirage GT I tested had a bottom line price of $17,330 though the very base price of the Mirage ES is $12,995. For that price, you don’t get much in the way of extras and the CVT is replaced with a real, honest to goodness manual transmission.

The Fit EX-L that Honda provided came in at $22,100 though the most basic model has a starting price of $16,090. Again, that price takes away a number of extras and also comes equipped with a manual transmission.

You have choices…

Both of these cars are a good choice for folks who want to spend as little as possible but want a new car with a decent warranty. The Honda provides a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty with a 5 year/60,0000 mile powertrain warranty. The Mitsubishi offers a 5 year/60,000 mile basic warranty with a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. This type of coverage coupled with reliability will likely be a large part of what puts buyers in the seats.

The fuel economy numbers, while respectable, stand in stark contrast to the numbers returned from much larger and more sophisticated cars that are more satisfying to drive. But, many of them come at a much higher sticker price and return significantly lower city MPG and may lack some of the versatility that these cars offer.

There are also models such as the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Hyundai Excel and Nissan Versa that compete with these cars. So there are plenty of choices when it comes to buying at the lower end of the market. Wise buyers will check these cars out as well.

Where this class of cars really shines is in city driving. Their city mileage is hard to beat by anything short of much pricier hybrids and both the Mirage and Fit returned admirable city fuel economy numbers. Both are simple to park and offer enough in the way of comfort and extras that the driver doesn’t feel like they’ve been sent into exile. However, if you’re in the ever-decreasing minority that doesn’t mind driving a manual transmission, buying the more basic versions of these two cars will not only provide a bit more driving fun, but also save you even more money.

Between the two test cars, the Fit is clearly the better car. It’s refined, well built and a typical Honda in every way. The Mitsubishi is an entry level car and, no matter how many options are added to it, there’s no escaping that it lacks the refinement of the Honda. And, while someone who has driven bigger and more sophisticated cars might be able to move into a Fit, the same can’t be said for the Mirage. Its entry level grade means that it’s suited best as a first car for a teenager. It will have a long enough warranty to carry them through the college years.

Either way though, the prices are way below average and that’s a pretty solid reason to look at the sub-compact car market for a way to save a few bucks.

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David Lardner About the author: David Lardner
David Lardner is a volunteer at Team Clark Howard's Consumer Action Center. He is also an active board member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.
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