The 2021 Chevy Spark is the cheapest car in America, but Mitsubishi’s announcement of the 2021 Mirage starting at $14,295 is here to ask, “Is it though?” So let’s take a closer look into these two hatches under $15,000, now the cheapest cars in America.
(Welcome to Who Ya Got, a series where you get to vote on car rivalries, some more notable than others.)
And let me say that cheap is not a dirty word. Who doesn’t love a cheap car? Mitsubishi announced the release of the subcompact Mirage along with the compact sedan G4, which is the more expensive of the two, starting at $15,295. The 2021 Mirage starts at $14,295 for an ES with a five-speed manual transmission. That is just $300 more than the outgoing 2020 Mirage, which started at $13,995 at a similar trim level.
The Chevrolet Spark, on the other hand, has maintained the same price even as its model year moved forward. The 2021 Spark still costs $13,400 in LS trim, and you can still get a five-speed manual. The Spark is sticking around as the sole subcompact in Chevy’s lineup now that the Sonic has been discontinued, and it’s shown great resilience to the cuts carmakers have recently made. It’s even more impressive that the Spark has hung on without a price bump.
So aside from the difference in price between the Mirage and the Spark, how do you choose between them? When it comes to dimensions here are the figures:
- Wheelbase: The Mirage has a wheelbase of 96.5 inches; the Spark has a wheelbase of 93.9 inches.
- Overall Length: The Mirage is 151.4 inches long; the Spark is 143.1 inches.
- Overall Width: Not including mirrors, the Mirage is 65.6 inches wide; the Spark is 62.8 inches.
- Overall Height: The Mirage is 59.4 inches tall; the Spark is 58.4 inches.
Here’s an image of the Mirage to help you visualize the numbers:
And here’s a less colorful schematic of the Spark:
The Mirage is the bigger of the two outside, but what about inside? Well, the Mirage edges out the Spark in many, but not all, metrics:
- Headroom: The Mirage has 39 inches up front, 37.2 rear; the Spark has 39 inches up front, 37 inches rear.
- Legroom: The Mirage has 41.7 inches in the front, 34.2 rear; the Spark has 41.7 inches in front, 33 inches rear.
- Cargo Volume (w/seat up): The Mirage has 17.1 cubic feet; the Spark has 11.1 cubic feet.
Here is how those numbers translate to the Mirage’s cabin, but keep in mind these seats are not from an SE model:
And here is the Spark’s cabin:
Mitsubishi does not list the Mirage’s cargo volume with the seat down, unfortunately, while Chevrolet does. The Spark’s cargo volume more than doubles to 27.2 cubic feet with the seat down, and I would imagine the Mirage’s would grow in similar proportion. The Mirage is barely bigger both outside and in.
Maybe that’s why the Mitsubishi Mirage seats five, while Chevrolet is strict about the Spark seating four people in total and outfits the Spark with only four seatbelts. I’m going to give Chevrolet the nod here, because it’s clear about use-case, and I’m not as optimistic as Mitsubishi regarding squeezing passengers in the back. Chevy is more in line with comfortable real-world use for adults. In place of a fifth seat, Sparks have that nifty cupholder and cubby for those who do fit in the backseat.
Both cars come with relatively good tech on the inside; features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard even in base models. Both cars have a seven-inch infotainment system screen, but I prefer the climate controls in the Mirage over those of the Spark.
Here is the Mirage’s dashboard:
And this is the Spark’s:
So far, the Mirage seems to have a leg up, but then again, we haven’t yet covered power and weight or fuel consumption. Here they are, with the Mirage being lighter but the Spark being more powerful:
- Engine: The Mirage has a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine; the Spark has a 1.4-liter four-cylinder ECOTEC engine.
- Output: The Mirage produces 78 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque; the Spark produces 98 HP, and 94 lb-ft of torque.
- Curb Weight: The Mirage weighs 2,040 pounds with a manual transmission in base trim; the Spark weighs 2,246 pounds with a manual transmission in base trim.
- Fuel economy: The Mirage gets 36 mpg city, 43 mpg highway; The Spark gets 30/38 city/highway.
Keep in mind that the fuel economy figures will be slightly lower for buyers who choose the five-speed manual. Computers are more efficient than we are now, so the argument for thrifty manuals is less true. And both cars have comparable fuel capacities, around nine gallons.
Both cars have ABS disc brakes up front and drum brakes in back at all trim levels, which irks me in 2020. Both are front-wheel drive and can be had with CVTs if you’d rather not row gears.
And of course one of the main reasons drivers would be cross-shopping these two is for the dealer support new cars provide. The Spark comes with a five year/60,000 mile warranty. The Mirage comes with a generous 10 year/100,000 mile warranty. The Mirage’s warranty looks better.
To further entice drivers, Mitsubishi includes modern standard safety features such as lane departure warning, pedestrian detection and forward collision mitigation. This is on top of the Mirage’s seven-airbag system. The Spark comes with a ten-airbag system, but the base trim does not get the smart safety features.
And the question of the engines is a sticking point. It’s the battle of the four-cylinder against the three, which matters to buyers. The Spark is not going to run circles around the Mirage since it’s a little heavier, but having a smaller engine in a bigger car does make me slightly uneasy. I think I’d have to look at the Mirage’s curb weight — which is lower than the Spark’s — to make me feel better.
This is a genuinely exciting comparison to be able to make because it’s always refreshing to see new cars that are conceivably available to many drivers — cars that may lack the power or amenities of mid-market and flagship models but can get you where you need to go. And honestly, both of these cars come with solid features even in base trim levels.
I miss seeing cheap, earnest cars like the third-generation Sentra or the Plymouth Acclaim, so it’s nice to see two cheap cars again.
Of course, $15,000 could buy you a lot of car if you went used instead of new, but used prices are climbing, too. Ditto certified pre-owned. If I were buying something new and my hard limit was $15,000 I’m going for that Mirage. All day.
What about y’all, you buyers of affordably-priced cars? Who ya got?