- Much lower 2014 price
- Nimble in town, easy to park
- Holds four adults
- High speeds eat range
- Marginal highway performance
- Cargo requires folding down seats
The 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the least expensive electric car on the market, and it can carry four adults despite its tiny size and nimbleness around-town, though it's less good at highway speeds.
The 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric minicar, which reached dealers late in spring 2014, is essentially the same car last seen as a 2012 model (there was no 2013 model year). But it carries one significant difference: a sticker price that's more than $6,000 lower than the previous model, along with a few feature upgrades and detail changes.
The smallest four-seat electric car sold in the U.S. is now offered at just $22,995 before incentives--that's a whopping $6,130 reduction--to undercut the larger Nissan Leaf (which starts at $28,800). It's now less expensive than the two-seat Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, whose Coupe model starts at $25,750 (the Cabrio is pricier yet). Like all battery-electric cars this year, the electric Mitsubishi remains 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; and so on.
The rounded shape of the 2014 i-MiEV hasn't changed from that of previous model years, though there are a few interior trim updates. It remains a small car, but it has far more length and headroom inside than it would appear. Four six-foot adults can sit comfortably upright in the i-MiEV, although their shoulders may touch in this somewhat narrow car.
The i-MiEV is adapted from in a tiny minicar (part of Japan's so-called kei car class) called the 'i', introduced back in 2007. As a gasoline car, the littlest Mitsubishi had a small three-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels and located under the cargo deck. The electric version, one of the first modestly-priced mass-produced electric cars in the world, replaces the engine, transmission, and gas tank with a 49-kilowatt (66-horsepower) electric motor driving the rear wheels, powered by a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the floor and under the rear seat.
With an EPA efficiency rating of 112 MPGe combined (126 MPGe city, 99 MPGe highway), the i-MiEV is one of the most energy-efficient cars sold in the U.S. (MPGe is a measure of how many miles an electric car can cover on battery energy that equals the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)
The company provides a 120-volt Level 1 portable charging cable as standard, switchable between 8 amps and 12 amps, and the charging port now has a lamp in it to make nighttime recharging easier. But most important, Mitsubishi has made the CHAdeMO quick-charging port standard on every i-MiEV, meaning that the little car can use the same DC quick-charging stations now used by Nissan Leafs.
The EPA rates the i-MiEV's range at 62 miles, though in temperate weather and with gentle driving and making maximum use of the regenerative braking to recapture every possible watt-hour of energy, you can stretch that somewhat. It's less good at highway speeds, where its small size and relative lack of power above 50 mph make it a challenge in fast-moving traffic--not to mention that its driving range drops significantly at freeway speeds. Top speed is listed at 81 mph, but it's a struggle to get there--and stay there--and it will chew through range at a worrisome pace.
The little i-MiEV is at its best around town, where it's torquey and as quick off the line as most gasoline cars. The very tight turning circle makes it very easy to maneuver in crowded city streets. It may not be easy to park as the tiny Smart Electric Drive, but it's still far shorter than almost any other four-door car, so it's an ideal urban combat vehicle--if you have access to a charging station.
The inside is plain but functional, although the plastics are now somewhat dated looking and the overall trim is relatively sparse. The car rides smoothly, helped its wheels-at-the-corners long wheelbase, and the suspension is tuned for comfort. Cargo space is minimal, however, unless you fold down the rear seat.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2014 i-MiEV four stars out of five for overall safety, with four stars for frontal crash and rollover safety, but only three stars out of five for side impact safety. The NHTSA also notes some concerns with the car's performance in NCAP safety tests that are not reflected in those ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not rated the i-MiEV at all. The 2014 i-MiEV model now has electronic stability control fitted as standard, as required by law.
Mitsubishi has made several features standard for 2014 that had previously been optional. Every 2014 i-MiEV now comes with heated front seats for both driver and passenger, heated door mirrors, daytime running lights and front fog lamps, rear door speakers, and a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob.
Mitsubishi will never sell anything like as many i-MiEVs as Nissan will of the Leaf (or Tesla will of its Model S). But if you're looking for the least expensive plug-in electric car sold in the U.S. that complies with all passenger-car safety standards and can run at highway speeds, this is the one.