New & Used Mitsubishi i-MiEV: In Depth
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The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a subcompact hatchback that's powered by electricity alone. It can travel up to 62 miles on one charge, and it's even smaller than a MINI Cooper. In short, it has a lot of inherent design choices that limit its appeal. After slow sales over a few years, the i-MiEV took the 2015 model year off to let demand catch up with supplies, with a lightly revised version returning early as a 2016 model.
MORE: Read our 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV review
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). That set doesn't include 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--to be fair to Ford, its electric Focus is offered outside California, though it sells in compliance-car volumes.
Mitsubishi's little i-MiEV was adapted from a Japanese minicar (or kei car) called the Mitsubishi i. 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.
We've found the Mitsubishi i-MiEV to serve best as a low-speed city car. While it steps away from traffic lights quicker than some gasoline-powered 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.
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.
Where some EV makers have gone the complex and showy route when it comes to interfaces and controls, Mitsubishi went with simplicity. The vehicle is turned on by a traditional-looking key, there's a shifter that slots into gear, and only a basic trip meter in an LCD gauge to show the estimated remaining range.
Because of its rear-mounted motor and non-traditional profile, the i-MiEV offers a surprising amount of interior room. The Americanized version is also wider than the Japanese car it's based on, allowing four adults to fit pretty comfortably inside. The rear seatbacks are split down the middle and fold to allow more cargo room. It's pleasant, although the trim and upholstery show signs of cost-cutting. The i-MiEV's ride is pretty good and the interior is quiet thanks to the electric operation.
Features are quite basic, although remote setting of 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.
Mitsubishi skipped the 2013 model year for its electric car and brought the i-MiEV back for 2014 with a price cut. It's now for sale at just $22,995 before incentives, a $6,130 reduction which Mitsu hopes will make it more competitive with the larger Nissan Leaf (which starts at $28,800).
Like all battery-electric cars this year, the i-MiEV is eligible for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit, along with a variety of local and state incentives. In California, those include single-occupant access to the carpool lane and a $2,500 purchase rebate; in Georgia, it's eligible for a $5,000 income-tax credit.
The i-MiEV took the 2015 model year off. It's likely that dealers had sufficient supply of the little EV so as to not warrant continued production. This was the case when the model skipped the 2013 model year. Mitsubishi sold only a couple hundred of the cars in 2014, compared to a little over a thousand in 2013. The i-MiEV returned in early 2015 as a 2016 model, with a (pre-tax-credit) base price of $22,995 and a newly optional navigation package.