Mitsubishi’s plug-in electric car, the cool little i-MiEV, is planned to be in dealers’ showrooms by the fall of 2011, with a target price of under $30,000 before possible government incentives. We got a short sneak-preview test drive in Seattle, in the Japanese-spec production model that’s been on sale since 2009.
Mitsubishi has been working on the EV concept for 35 years. The i-MiEV (pronounced eye-meev, and meaning Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) is based on the award-winning gasoline i minicar that’s been in Japan since 2005. The engine is located just forward of the rear axle, allowing the best stability and interior space, with a wheelbase that’s long for the vehicle’s short overall length.
The four-door i-MiEV seats four adults, with an interior that’s basic but comfortable especially for the driver, who has plenty of room. Rear-seat legroom is acceptable but not spacious.
The i-MiEV is powered by a 330-volt, 16kWh Lithium-ion battery, and a 47kw magnet electric motor. Its range is 80 to 100 miles, and it can be charged from a 110v outlet (12-14 hours for a full charge); 220v outlet (6-8 hrs), or 3-phase quick-charge station, which delivers an 80 percent charge in 20 minutes. Such stations have been set up all over Japan.
The overall length of the i-MiEV is 134 inches, which puts it right between a two-seat Smart Car (106 inches) and the old VW beetle (160 inches). Its curb weight is 2376 pounds (light by modern standards, heavy by historic standards). The width of the right-hand-drive Japanese model is 58 inches, and it allows good elbow room inside, but don’t be surprised if the North American version is wider, to pass rigid U.S. crash tests. So it will be heavier, and the battery might have to be beefed up, to achieve the same range of 80 miles, which Mitsubishi says is a non-negotiable minimum.
The i-MiEV turns heads, with its big sloping front glass and headlights that give the car a personality. Visibility is excellent, with big side windows having a nice-looking downward slant behind the windshield A-pillars.
We drove our i-MiEV for more about 40 minutes around a lake north of Seattle, and had a blast in the zippy little car. By using judicious and aware EV driving (there are three ranges, for power, Eco, and in-between which provides the best all-around performance), we brought it back with nearly as much charge as when we left. We sucked some juice driving up a steep, curvy hill, where it handled well; and gained much of that juice back with regenerative energy by lightly dragging the brakes downhill. We accelerated away from stoplights up to 40 mph briskly, whenever we needed to. Overall, it was fun to maneuver and easy to drive. Maximum speed is 81 mph, although you can’t run for an hour like that.
The Eco mode uses the least energy, and you can definitely feel the reduced torque and acceleration, but even in Eco it’s still quick enough for around-town driving. We got it up to 35 mph no sweat, without getting in the way of the cars behind us. It’s easy to shift into B (all-around) mode, or even D (power) for hills. The accelerator response is immediate.
The instrumentation is simple, with a digital speedo and the gauges you need to measure and watch battery use and charge, labeled full and empty, like fuel. The plug-in receptacle is the right rear fender, under a cap that looks just like a gas hatch.
If the U.S. government offers incentives as the Japan government has, the effective price will drop from that target 30k, and the i-MiEV might emerge as a true early contender for practical city transportation, if you need four seats.