Mitsubishi i-MiEV History
Side Exterior View - 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV 4-door HB SEEnlarge Photo
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The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a subcompact hatchback, and the Japanese automaker's only electric car offered for sale in the U.S. A relative unknown when it was new in 2012, the five-door is smaller than a MINI Cooper, with batteries and motors that provide 62 miles of driving range. Less than $30,000 at launch before incentives, the i-MiEV was the smallest electric car you could buy, though for 2013 it's joined in the minicar ranks by the Smart Electric Drive two-seater.
For a more detailed look at the i (or i-MiEV), see the full review of the 2013 Mitsubishi i.
Even the Mitsubishi's low price didn't produce sales success: Fewer than 600 of Mitsubishi's electric car found buyers during 2012. The company seems to have gotten serious about its plug-in offering of late, however. Total i-MiEV sales during January and February of 2013 combined exceeded the total sales during 2012, thanks to more generous incentives and increased awareness by dealers and distributors as well as consumers.
The Mitsubishi i competes with the handful of battery-electric vehicles now sold in the U.S., most notably the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, both larger and pricier (considerably so in the case of the Tesla luxury sport sedan). By late this year, there will also be four so-called compliance cars, sold in California only to meet that state's zero-emission vehicle sales requirements: the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, and Honda Fit EV--though to be fair to Ford, its electric Focus is offered outside California, though it sells at compliance-car volumes.
Mitsubishi's little 0-MiEV was adapted from a Japanese minicar (or kei car) of the same name. Its rear-mounted gasoline engine has been replaced with a 49-kW (66 hp) electric motor that produces 147 pound-feet of torque, powered by a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The electric version of the 'i' weighs almost 2,600 pounds. A full recharge takes seven hours with the Mitsubishi-approved Eaton 220V charger, installed by Best Buy, or up to up to 22.5 hours on a standard 110V household plug.
Over several drives, we've found the Mitsubishi i to be a good low-speed city car. While it steps away from traffic lights quicker than some gasoline small cars, it leaves its comfort zone on the highway, feeling sluggish at 55 mph and above. Those speeds also cut driving range significantly from the EPA estimate of 62 miles.
While other electric cars have introduced complicated interfaces, as well as more range tools and eco-driving coaches than you might want or need, Mitsubishi has kept is remarkably simple with the i. There's a traditional ignition key you turn, a shifter you click into gear, and a very basic LCD trip meter that shows estimated range.
Back in the city, its personality is enhanced by excellent steering and great maneuverability—although a soft suspension calibration means that you'll never mistake the i for any kind of hot hatch. Gentle, lower-speed driving makes the 62-mile range realistic on a full charge—although by using the 'Eco' or 'B' settings on the shift lever, you can take better advantage of the regenerative brakes and recapture more of the energy otherwise lost in stop-and-go.
Thanks to the tall, bulbous profile, the interior accommodations are surprisingly good for such a tiny car. Four adults can ride comfortably, although their shoulders may touch, and the 50/50-split rear seatbacks flip forward for more cargo space. Ride quality is reasonably good, with a quiet cabin, but the trim and upholstery scream economy car.
Features are quite basic, although remote climate control and charging operation are provided via the keyfob. Options include a heated driver's seat, an eight-speaker, 360-watt sound system, and an in-dash navigation system.