- Holds four adults
- Lowest-cost electric car
- Cheap to run
- Parks in tiny spaces
- Freeway performance minimal
- Range plummets with speed
- Safety scores low
- Little cargo space
- Grim interior
While the 2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is okay around town and holds four adults, its low price tag doesn't make up for inadequate range, marginal acceleration, and a dated interior.
The 2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the current incarnation of what is now the world's oldest electric car still in production, dating back 10 years to the first test fleets launched in Japan.
Sadly, the i-MiEV's age shows in virtually every facet of its design, performance, and specifications. Even the features added more recently to its single trim level can't disguise its inadequacy for uses beyond city and suburban errand and commuter duties. Its time has simply passed.
It earns a lowly 3.8 on our overall scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
This year's i-MiEV has changed little from the versions offered in 2012, 2014, and 2016 (it skipped two model years). It got a price cut in 2014, to the current level of around $23,000, but even its status as the least expensive electric car doesn't make up for its limitations. Changes last year included the addition of an optional navigation package, with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, real-time traffic data, a USB port, Bluetooth hands-free pairing, and a rear-vision camera. There are no changes for 2017.
The little Mitsubishi competes with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which offers a range of 200 miles or more, at a price about $15,000 higher. That car doesn't have the compromises in range and performance that plague the little i-MiEV. The Nissan Leaf, with range options of 84 and 107 miles, is the world's best-selling electric car, and also far larger and more capacious. An all-new Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is expected this year as well.
Style and performance
The egg-shaped i-MiEV is a tiny five-door hatchback with a wide-eyed, friendly face. Its smaller even than its sibling, the highly fuel-efficient Mirage hatchback, and it's all but dwarfed by the latest Mini Cooper, which looks virtually hulking next to the little Mitsubishi. The interior, surprisingly, will hold four adults and offer entirely adequate headroom due to the tall shape. It's narrow, though, and their inboard shoulders may touch. Surprisingly, the rear seat reclines, adding to the space.
The i-MiEV's 10-year-old roots really show in the functional but extremely plain and dated interior. Hard plastics abound, and the trim is sparse. Cargo space is also minimal, unless you fold down the 50/50-split rear seat.
The electric Mitsubishi is powered by a 49-kilowatt (66-horsepower) electric motor driving the rear wheels. It draws its power from a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the floor and under the rear seat, and the EPA rates its electric range at 62 miles. That's the lowest range of any battery-electric car sold in the U.S., and just 9 miles more than the 53 miles offered by the current Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, a far more comfortable, capable, and long-range vehicle. Worse, high-speed travel or using either the air conditioning or the heater will drive that number down substantially to as little as 35 or 40 miles in the winter.
The i-MiEV is largely a city car, happiest at 40 mph or less. Its small turning circle and short length make it superbly easy to maneuver through tight streets and park in tiny spaces, and it's torquey and almost as quick off the line as other cars. The car rides smoothly, helped its wheels-at-the-corners long wheelbase, and the suspension is tuned for comfort. If you have access to a charging station, it's an ideal urban combat vehicle.
Take it on the highway, however, and things get grim quickly. It has almost no reserve power, and higher speeds chew through range at a frightening pace. Drivers will find it a struggle to get anywhere close to the listed top speed of 81 mph.
The i-MiEV's standard charging port accommodates 120-volt charging with the included portable charging cable, or 240-volt Level 2 recharging from a charging station. The onboard charger is only 3.3 kilowatts, meaning Mitsubishi quotes a 14-hour charge time on household current and 7 hours at a 15-amp Level 2 charging station.
To its credit, Mitsubishi has now made the CHAdeMO DC quick-charging port standard on every i-MiEV. That lets it recharge up to 80 percent of its battery in less than 30 minutes where such stations are available.
Safety, comfort, and features
Safety is a weak point for the i-MiEV, more so now than ever. The NHTSA rates it at four stars out of five for overall safety. It gets only three stars for side impact safety, and four stars for frontal crash and rollover safety. But the federal agency notes concerns with the i-MiEV's performance in NCAP safety tests that the ratings do not reflect. The IIHS hasn't rated the car. It has none of the active-safety features now coming into widespread use, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, or automatic crash braking.
Standard features for 2017 include remote keyless entry; power windows, locks, and mirrors; aluminum alloy wheels; heated front seats and door mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; and a 100-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers.
Only about 2,000 i-MiEVs in total have been sold in the U.S. since it went on sale in late 2011, while the Nissan Leaf is approaching 100,000. The electric Mitsubishi 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.
The little i-MiEV minicar has an honorable history, but times have simply passed it by. Its simplicity and small size may have their charm, but far more practical and versatile all-electric cars cost just a few thousand dollars more. They're worth the money.