Mitsubishi i Review & Outlook
The Mitsubishi i (formerly i-MiEV) is the leader of the pack for the smallest electric cars on the market—but that’s not saying much. It was stacked up against the Think City, but that plastic-bodied EV appears to finally be down for the count. There’s the Smart ED but Daimler is selling only about 20 of those nationally per month, while according to rumors, it prepares a much more capable version. So that leaves the Mitsubishi i, which also has produced meager sales numbers in 2012—just 403 units through August.
That could mean one of two things: Either the wee EV is not being supported by Mitsubishi with decent levels of production and sales—or worse, consumers just don’t want it.
I would understand the latter, the limited driving range, cargo space, and generally cheap feel of the materials doesn’t seem to be worth the price tag of nearly $30,000—or close to $32,000 if you opt for decent audio, navigation and infotainment features. The $7,500 tax credit drops the price, but given deals available for more capable EVs, like the Nissan Nissan LEAF, or much more feature-rich drivable fuel-efficient gas cars and hybrids, the i is an easy car to strike off your list.
The i can squeeze four decent-sized grown-ups, but shoulder room is very tight. The car will be fighting the long-standing stereotypes of electric cars as glorified golf carts. The Mitsubishi i's performance will also have to work to dispel some of those myths. The electric version replaces the “i” engine, transmission, and fuel tank with a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack, a 47-kilowatt motor producing 133 foot-pounds of torque, an inverter, and the car’s power electronics. The claimed maximum speed is 81 mph, with a range of roughly 100 miles on the Japanese test cycle, and 75 miles on the US cycle. However, some US reviewers driving in cold weather eked out about half that range.
Yes, it’s among the highest rated cars—bar none—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.
In our test drive, carrying four adults, the car was a bit tentative off the line when the light changed. But it kept up with traffic, and like any EV, power delivery was smooth and linear. The tiny 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 handled perfectly for quick urban cut-and-thrust 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, for example, Ford's hybrid system. Unfortunately, the infotainment screen wasn’t activated, so no power-flow diagrams or numeric data were available.
Mitsubishi said it hopes to expand production to between 20,000 and 30,000 units per year. And the company, for some mysterious reason, continues to market the car despite dismal sales. A special racing version, called the i-MiEV Evolution, competed in the 2012 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. However, the carbon fiber bodied and tube-framed EV crashed heavily during an early practice session of the treacherous 12.4-mile race. Mitsubishi has also teamed with the Discovery Channel to run a special program called “The Birth of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV Electric Car” on Canadian television LINK. The goal, according to Mitsubishi, is to cure “Electriphobia”—consumers fear and misunderstanding of electric cars.
Also, Mitsubishi’s North American production hub of Normal, Ill., is in on the promotions, as it is scheduled to become a self-proclaimed “EVtown.” One thousand i EVs will be deployed in the Bloomington-Normal area by 2014.
But in 2012, it looks more like 500 or 600, max. Even with attractive lease deals of $249 a month for the base-level ES (with Quick Charge port)—on a three-year lease and $3,500 down—my best guess is that Mitsubishi will have a hard time finding customers. Even with all these caveats, maybe you are one of the few who simply fell in the love with the cute i, and want to save every penny, even if it means sacrificing range, ride quality and space.
Mitsubishi i Stats
- Availability: Now
- Base MSRP: $29,900
- Est. tax credit: $7,500
- Technology: Electric Vehicle
- Body type: Coupe
- Range: 62 miles
- Battery size: 16 kWh
- Charging rate: 2.3 kW
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