For some bizarre reason, CNBC decided that a bad review of the Mitsubishi Mirage was Big News, and so they featured it, and the writer on their show. They were right about one thing: it is a shockingly bad review. But not of the car. The bad part is the review itself, because it's everything wrong with the way cheap cars get reviewed.
Let's get a couple things clear right off the bat: 1. Writers could definitely be more honest and critical in their reviews (and the lack of such honesty may be why this review is newsworthy). 2. I'm not in the pocket of Big Mitsubishi and the Mirage really isn't that great a car.
I feel like I can take issue with this review because I reviewed the car as well. And, I certainly didn't give it a stellar review, but I think I had one quality in that review that this reviewer, John Pearley Huffman, lacked: I'm not absolutely deluded about what a cheap car should be.
I get the appeal of writing a bad review — they're a hell of a lot more fun to write than a good review. A good bad review can be a really satisfying thing, and once you get going it's an almost cathartic experience. But you have to keep that critic-lust in check, sometimes, and try and really get to the truth of things.
Many of the criticisms in the review are valid — those hard efficiency tires are pretty gripless, that three-cylinder engine does idle rougher than a four, the brakes aren't great, nobody likes the CVT — but it feels like the majority of the issues are closer to complaints like this:
The controls are straightforward and logical, but the dashboard is made of cheesy plastic. There's even a visible 1990s-style seam around the passenger air bag's cover, something that virtually all other cars have managed to hide.
Is he really bitching about seeing a visible seam? Was he under the illusion that the car was hand-carved out of one perfect aged piece of wormwood by a Swiss craftsman? Is he the fucking Sultan Of Luxuristan, so refined and cultured he can't have his eyes violated by the sight of a seam?
There's also complaints about the "cheesy plastics" and how the door feels "flimsy" and he says the 0-60 time of 10.9 seconds gives you a "sense of peril." This is all ridiculous hyperbole. You know what had a 0-60 time slower 10.9 seconds? A 1984 BMW 318i. Ten years later, the 1994 318is managed to shave that down to 10.1 seconds. If a car that can get to 60 in around 11 seconds is giving you a "sense of peril," you're either driving it wrong or racing for pinks against a Camaro.
I'm picking on Mr. J. Pearly Huffman because for whatever reason, his review's gotten a lot of attention, but he's by no means alone here. There's a certain pervasive belief that, somehow, no matter what the car costs, we all deserve the finest-feeling plastics and the best acceleration and that certain aspirational look that tells everyone we're mere weeks away from being able to buy some islands.
This is bullshit.
In the same review, Huffman also mentions that the car is roomy, and can get 37 MPG city and 47 MPG highway (I personally observed almost 49 MPG in my tests). Then he goes on to say that "Greyhound bus tickets" and "hitchhiking" are viable alternatives. You know who probably doesn't agree with that? Every fucking person hitchhiking or stuck on Greyhound bus.
The Mirage is a cheap car. You can get the base one for under $14,000. Maybe it's not as good as a Fiesta or Fit — that's a fair point to make. But the idea that somehow low-end cars need to have interiors with finger-orgasming plastics and no obscene seams like mid- and luxury cars costing 3-5x as much is absurd.
I love low-end cars. I love what low-end cars used to be. There was once an honest dignity about a cheap car that made it useful, easy to maintain, and classless. I love exposed screw heads and easily visible seams on things because that means if something needs tweaking or fixing, you can actually figure out what needs doing and do it without having to fight with stupid plastic tabs and screw-head modesty covers and other effete frippery.
All the emphasis on the sort of bullshit that reviewers are panning cheap cars on is making these cars more expensive than they need to be, and diverting development resources away from what matters: durability, efficiency, safety, and driving dynamics.
The truth is this humble little Mirage can compete head-to-head with a $300,000 Bentley in the contest of getting your ass from Point A to that adorable café by Point B and do just fine. It knows its job, and it does it well. The door panels feel plasticky? That's because they're made of fucking plastic, genius. And you know why? On a $14,000 car, plastic is a fantastic choice for an inner door panel.
You find the plastic too "cheap" feeling? Spend more money or buy a used car or get a thrift store bomber jacket and a staple gun and have at it. I'm not saying cheap cars shouldn't strive for quality — they absolutely should — but I think the focus on these insipid trappings of "luxury" are totally out of place for a review of a low-end car.
I managed to have fun in that 3-pot little Mirage. I drove it hard and pushed its limits and the result was a pretty good time, considering. I drove it with my wife and son and never once did I feel like my life was in danger. It's so vastly better than the entry-level cars we had years ago, it's not even funny.
And safety-wise, I'd rather be in a 2014 Mirage heading into a wall than a 1977 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. So all of you reviewing cars under $15,000 and bitching that you can see stitching or a seam or a screw head can all go take your pampered little new-media hands and rub some velvet on your cheek or whatever you do to calm yourself after you touch some cheap plastic.
I guess it's not really all the fault of car reviewers. I blame the designer that first decided to put fake stitching on a Chevette dashboard.