i finally got into the dealership to test drive a couple mirages and these are my thoughts:
i test drove a base with manual transmission and a higher level trim with a cvt. although i have read many bad things about the steering, i was pleasantly surprised to find that the steering didn't bother me at all. it felt completely fine. it didn't feel much different than my yaris. the hard plastic interior didn't bother me at all. i found the seats to be comfortable and the driving position in relation to the wheel and pedals to be superior to my yaris. the truning radius of this car is beautiful. i'm a 90% city driver and this would be extremely useful. i pulled into a parking lot and did some tight circles. the turning radius of this car is the best i have ever driven. also, the power and torque were just fine. the car didn't feel gutless, although you will certainly be aware that you're in a 3cyl.
many people mentioned how "soft" the clutch is and they are correct. it's feather-soft and a delight for the foot. the stick shift is high up in relation to where your hand is. it's a matter of personal preference as to how much someone likes the position of the stick shift. for me, it felt quite comfortable and my hand rested comfortably upon it. i laughed at first gear for how steep it is. i was barely moving and already up to 4k rpm. thankfully, the other gears were much more "normal" and i assume the ratio on the 1st gear was created to compensate for the low power of the engine. the transmission was stiff, but in a "new car" sort of way where you know that after a couple thousand miles it will loosen up. it also had a "light" feel to it, which is hard to describe, almost as if the parts were not very heavy-duty. the idle was silky smooth and the engine was not overly loud, as some reviewers have claimed. also, road noise was not an issue, as was also claimed. those reviewers should try a 1992 civic. they'd probably poop themselves.
this is the first time that i have driven a CVT and i certainly enjoyed it. i even laughed at it a couple times as it was trying to figure out what i wanted it to do. to me, the CVT felt "faster", as if it always wanted me to push it a little harder. it was while driving the CVT that i took some hard corners and noticed that infamous body roll that keeps getting mentioned. this is really my only solid criticism of the car and if i bought one i would install the rear sway bar. i'm sure it would be fine after that. in the CVT model, the engine was much more "throaty" on acceleration, which is a nice way of saying "more noisy". the idle was also rougher on the CVT. i'm not sure why, but it did not share the silky purr of the MT. one interesting thing i noticed is that even though i felt like i was bagging on the CVT, the "eco" light was on much of the time, whereas in the MT it was only on while i was cruising. this leads me to believe that i might be able to get pretty decent mileage with my personal driving style in the CVT. with that said, i think i prefer the MT. i just like the control that a MT provides.
overall, i was very happy with both cars and would be happy to own either one. unfortunately, the dealer and i were not able to come to an agreement on price so it's not going to happen. among other things, they wanted a $695 DOC fee, which on the base model represents an almost 7% mark-up over MSRP. no thanks! they also only valued my trade-in (2007 toyota yaris) at $1000. lol. why would i not sell it myself for 4 times as much?
any of you out there considering this car, do a test drive and you might find, as i did, that many of the criticisms of this car are unwarranted.