The Mitsubishi i doesn't have a lot of power—just 49 kW (66 hp) for a 2,579-pound vehicle—but as is the case with most electric cars, it's surprisingly strong and responsive at low speeds. That's because its electric motor system's peak torque of 147 pound-feet is available right away, with no need to rev. That said, it doesn’t have the sort of mammoth torque available from a standing start like the Leaf, but once underway it can squirt ahead from say, 5 mph to 25 mph, seemingly in just a second or so—surprising surrounding drivers as they expect that sort of dash to be accompanied by a roar of high-revving engine.
Just as in a number of EVs, the Mitsubishi feels considerably more sluggish past 50 or 55 mph; it gets from 55 to 70 with relative ease, but climbing from 70 to 75 and above is much slower; on our non-eco-conscious run we saw an indicated top speed of 82 mph. On the bright side, the widened track appears to help; the MiEV feels stable and planted at those speeds, though the quick steering required attention and very small adjustments.
The U.S.-spec i is surprisingly fun to drive around town. This little minicar, despite being so tall, takes tight corners with a planted, stable feel, thanks to its very low center of mass (lower than the gasoline version)—and at a curb weight of 2,579 pounds in base form, it simply doesn’t feel portly. The steering, too, caught us by surprise as one of the better racks we’ve sampled as of late, with actual surface feedback and nice weighting—not really a surprise given the excellent steering of the Lancer-family vehicles, but nevertheless a surprise given the i’s appearance. That all said, the very soft suspension calibration means there’s lots of lean and protestation if and when you find that driver’s road.
From the driver's seat, what you'll notice first, likely, is that there’s no complicated interface. You simply put the key in the slot, turn it to the on position, and you’re ready to shift to Drive and go. The battery range bars remind you how much charge remains, with a simple trip computer to click through, and a sweeping analog gauge showing you the degree of discharge or regenerative braking. In addition to the usual ‘P R N D’ positions along the shift gate, there are ‘Eco,’ and ‘B’ positions. During regenerative braking, the motor runs as a generator, and when you shift to reverse, the motor is electrically reversed rather than shifted to a reverse gear.
Company officials recommend doing normal driving in Eco mode, then clicking up to ‘D’ for long uphill grades or fast merges; on long downhills ‘B’ is recommended for maximum regenerative braking. Even in ‘D,’ lifting the throttle slows you rapidly, dialing up more regen than in the Leaf, and in Eco you’ll soon find yourself using the mild braking that’s built into the accelerator calibration. The brakes themselves (ventilated discs in front, drums in back) are up to the task in hard braking—although with such a regen calibration, with careful driving, their pads might even last the lifetime of the vehicle, or close to it.