Reviewers struggling for metaphors to describe the odd look of the i-MiEV use words like jellybean, bubble, or egg-like. These poetic terms are euphemisms for a subcompact electric car that is quirky at best, and downright goofy at worst. In an era when electric cars have graduated from sub-standard golf-cart-like platforms to legitimate full-bodied vehicles, it's the rare EV aficionado who feels connected to the diminutive i-MiEV. For those buyers, they might see the small all-electric car from Mitsubishi as cute—and completely different than anything else on the road.
If that's your cup of tea, read on. But if a tiny gizmo aesthetic—or the sound of doors closing with a meek ping or the need for tall drivers to get creative with their knees—bother you, then it's probably not worth your time to continue investigating a car that has more than its share of functional compromises.
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV’s 47-kilowatt motor sends 66 horsepower and 133 foot-pounds of torque the car’s rear-wheel-drive system. The claimed maximum speed is 81 miles per hour.
In our test drive, carrying four adults, the car was a tentative off the line when the light changed. But it kept up with traffic, and like any EVs, power delivery was smooth and linear. The small car rode well, though firmly, crashing somewhat over cracks and joints in the streets. With a very short turning circle and a center of gravity lower than the gas equivalent—due to the low-mounted battery pack—the Mitsubishi i-MiEV handled perfectly for quick urban cut-and-dart driving.
The car offers three driving modes: Standard, Eco, and “B.” The Eco mode limits the engine’s output to 18 kilowatts (one third of peak power), to increase the range of a single charge—and the decline in performance was substantial. “B” mode added more regenerative braking on downhill stretches and when the car is coasting, to recharge the pack more aggressively. In that mode, the regeneration felt “grabby,” and far less smooth than some competitors.
The car in Standard mode maneuvers fine—think Toyota Corolla or something middling like that. Its most distinctive quality on the road is leisurely acceleration—15 or 20 seconds to 60. But when you get above speeds of 60 mph, the ride and handling feels skittish.
While the i-MiEV is well suited to slow-moving urban roadways, and crowded parking lots, it hardly can be described as an exciting ride.
The Mitsu i-MiEV is among the highest rated cars for EPA efficiency at 112 MPGe, but the incremental edge on efficiency doesn’t mean much if you don’t feel comfortable or safe, or if range and performance are weak.
Range was definitely an issue for us, in our test drive. After just 31 miles of around-town driving, where electrics should be strongest, we got a blinking fuel gauge indicating three miles of range left. The car is supposed to have 62 miles of travel, according to the EPA, and we’ve seen anecdotal evidence that some people have gotten that and more, but probably in California or a similarly mild climate. Our evaluation was on the east coast during cold weather, which meant blasting the cabin and seat heaters, and running the defroster, as well as listening to CDs—a bunch of power draws.
The net result was a need to pass up using the i-MiEV for several highway trips, out of fear of ending up on the end of tow hook. The most range we ever saw on the in-car display with a full change was 46 miles. Even in more forgiving warmer weather, but when robust driving is applied, the 62 promised miles of range can drop to 50 miles or lower. Competing vehicles use battery packs on the order of 20 to 27 kilowatt hours. No matter how you slice it, the i-MiEV’s 16-kilowatt-hour pack is modestly sized for a battery car.
The i-MiEV’s 240-volt Level 2 charging capacity is unchanged on the 2014 model. It carries the relatively slow 3.3 kW on-board charger, which takes seven hours to recharge from empty to full. A 240-volt charging rate of 6.6 kilowatts—twice as fast—has become state of the art.
However, for the 2014 i-MiEV, there is an important addition to the 120-volt, or Level 1, charging capability. It has a cord with a switch that allows the owner to manually choose between 8-amp and 12-amp charging. Previously only 8-amp charging was available. Using 12 amps rather than 8 amps cuts the 120V charging time from 22.5 hours to 14 hours.
With the arrival of the updated Mitsubishi i-MiEV ES model in late spring 2014, a quick charge port (using the CHAdeMO standard) comes as standard equipment. This will allow drivers to use properly equipped public charging stations to recharge the car’s 16 kWh battery pack to about 80 percent in about 30 minutes. Public “Quick Charge” stations are quickly becoming more abundant, especially in regions where electric cars are relatively popular. The smaller pack offered by Mitsubishi means less time to top up a battery, but the penalty for having a smaller pack—and therefore less overall range—is a bigger drawback.
The i-MiEV can squeeze four decent-sized grown-ups, but shoulder room is very tight. The driver’s seat could have more backwards travel, and the rear seat is a flat bench with so-so legroom. The interior is bare and minimalistic.
Despite the tight quarters, the cabin has an open and airy and feel that’s bigger than you might expect from the outside. Headroom is decent. Access and visibility are both good.
The rear seats fold, which is good because storage is somewhat limited. With the rear seats in use, there is 13.2 cubic feet of space. That’s similar to what you would find in comparable affordable subcompacts. With the rear seats folded, cargo space increases to 50.4 cubic feet.
Standard features include a short list of items: four-speaker stereo, remote keyless entry and power windows and door locks. Available options include an eight-speaker stereo, a rearview backup camera, Mitsubishi’s FUSE infotainment system, Bluetooth, a USB port and navigation, as well as upgraded seat upholstery.
There are new cold-weather options for the 2014 model: a passenger seat warmer, a battery warming system, and heated side view mirrors./p>
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV has low safety scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted it four out of five stars for its overall rating, but only three stars in the side crash. The car’s subcompact size and tinny feel does not inspire confidence.
Standard safety features promoted by Mitsubishi include: a 6 air bag supplemental restraint system featuring advanced dual front air bags, with side air bags and side curtain air bags; anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist; brake override system; Active Stability Control with Traction Control Logic; and specialized EV-related safety features including an Approaching Vehicle Audible System to help alert pedestrians to the approaching electric vehicle and a high-voltage power cut-off system.
For 2014, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV starts at $22,995, which reflects a $6,130 price reduction from the previous model. After considering the federal tax credit of $7,500, the net MSRP of the 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV drops to $15,495, the least expensive electric car on the market.
The 2014 model will be very similar to the 2012 model but many of the features of the higher trim level are now standard. One of the most significant changes in the 2014 model is that the DC quick-charging port will be standard on the 2014 i-MiEV. It was a $700 option on the 2012 model.
After considering the federal tax credit of $7,500, the net MSRP of the 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV drops to $15,495, the least expensive electric car on the market. The second generation of the Smart Electric Drive, a two-seater, is expected to carry a similar price tag, when released in 2014.
Comparison with Similar Models
The i-MiEV is the bargain-basement lowest-priced electric car on the market, so it's features and design do not stack up well against the much more capable Nissan LEAF, which can be had in a compelling lease price of $199 or less.
The EV market will soon add small electric cars from luxury automakers, such as BMW and Mercedes. But those models will roughly be priced at twice the amount—not exactly a fair comparison.
The only other model that comes close to the i-MiEV’s price and down-market quality is the Smart Electric Drive. As we just mentioned above, that vehicle only seats two. The Smart car, whether powered by a battery or a gas engine, has assumed an iconic status in the public's mind. Maybe its ultra short stature, and ease of parking, will appeal to you. The updated version of the Smart it is vastly improved over the previous iteration, but like the Mitsubishi electric car, it lacks power and its 17 kWh pack is barely up to the challenge of confident daily driving. The Smart is notorious for shaky highway driving.
In many respects, the choice between the small electric car from Mitsubishi and Smart, is it a toss-up—likely to be decided purely on the relative odd aesthetics of the two models.
The current i-MIEV was available at EV-certified Mitsubishi dealerships in the US. About 230 of Mitsubishi’s 400 U.S. dealerships have EV certification. However, judging from the current rate of sales—only one word to per month in January and February 2014–the small electric car biz for all intents and purposes off the market until the 2014 model arrives.
The next generation 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is scheduled to go on sale in late spring. The Mitsubishi web page dedicated to the i-MiEV allows you to sign-up for email updates regarding the car:
In January 2013, Mitsubishi issued a global recall of the i-MiEV due to problems related to the car's braking system. The problem was traced to an electrical pump that feeds air to the brake booster. Should the pump malfunction, it would take considerably more force on the brake pedal to bring the car to a stop, and stopping distances would subsequently be far greater than normal. With just 14,700 vehicles affected globally, the total number of cars recalled by Mitsubishi was relatively small. However, the figure represents approximately half of all the i-MiEV EVs sold around the world.