Monday, November 26, 2012

Mitsubishi i-MiEV is serious electric car contender

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Today we wrapped up our first drive of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car. The first such entry from the brand we don't hear about much is likely to change all that. The i-MiEV is a solid and competitive contender in a growing market of electric cars that makes its mark solidly.

To wit, the i-MiEV is the least expensive EV on the market right now, starting at $29,125. After the $7,500 federal tax incentive, that comes down to a downright reasonable $21,625. Some states offer up to $5,500 in local tax incentives that could bring that price into the mid teens.


View slideshow: Driven: Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Like Chevrolet with the Volt extended-range electric, Mitsubishi is also offering a tantalizing lease program that starts at $221 a month for qualified buyers. One of the things allowing for this price is that the i-MiEV is the smallest EV on the market. It measures just 144” in length, about 2” shorter than a a Mini Cooper.

Styling is unique and gets a few eyes your way, but not so outlandish that it's like driving a circus. Our silver SE tester blended in for the most part, only drawing attention of those who knew what it was.

Power comes from a 66 horsepower water cooled electric motor that drives the front wheels. A single speed transmission delivers power seamlessly and smoothly at all speeds. Power is generous despite that low horsepower number thanks to a strong 145 lb-ft of torque available at near zero RPM.

Driving the i-MiEV feels a lot like a traditional car minus the gear changes and vibrations associated with a gasoline engine. It can easily maneuver in traffic as well as cruise at 70 mph on the freeway with little drama. There is a futuristic electric motor sound in the distance, but its otherwise very quiet.

The gear selector has the standard D for drive, Eco for driving that saves your batter life, and B for strong regenerative braking when you lift off the accelerator. In D, the car feels peppy, in Eco if feels lethargic, and in B feels like you are riding the brake.

The latter setting is however your friend if you find yourself getting low on the battery. You charge that baby back up every time you coast and come to a stop light. In all settings you can still dip into the power with a hefty foot to the floor on the accelerator.

The Lithium Ion battery offers up to 98 miles city range, and 62 miles range combined, which is what the EPA label says. It will take up to 22 hours for a full charge on 110V outlet or as little as 7 hours on a 220v charger. If you are counting MPGe, mile-per-gallon equivalent, it is rated at 126 MPGe city and 99 MPGe highway.

We found the range promises to come through just fine. Around town you get the best range as regenerative braking is always putting juice back into the battery. On our first day of testing we ran the batter down to about 15% and plugged in to our 110v overnight. In the morning it had 70 miles ready to burn off.

Handling is predictable on the freeway and at highway speeds. The ride tends toward firm with the i-MiEV's hard compound 15” tires. They are quite skinny in fact, 145/65 R15 in front, 175/65 R15 in the rear. We note this because you notice their lack of foot print when cornering. Combined with the high center of gravity in the i-MiEV, you find that spirited or jaunty driving isn't this car's strong point.

Our SE model had the upgraded interior which has a tasteful two-toned black and brown treatment with cloth seating. Controls are traditional and simple, no pretentiousness to the space age is going on here such as in the Nissan Leaf.

The 360 watt 8-speaker stereo and navigation system was familiar to us from other Mitsubishi vehicles so was easy to adapt to. We liked the simple fold out cup holders on other side of the instrument panel. The leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls made the i-MiEV feel familiar and premium. Gotta have leather on those touch points.

The seats offer a captain's chair position and feel, with a commanding albeit miniaturized SUVish view. The interior is spacious enough, offering seating for up to four. Rear seats fold down and offer a reasonable cargo area too. The battery is located under the rear seat area and takes up little if any room from the passenger compartment.

Fit and finish both inside and out were good. It has the level of aesthetic design and quality you would expect from any car manufactured in Japan. The doors open and close with a good solid thunk, the seats feel substantial, and the ride is free of road noise associated with “tin can” cars.

Overall we came away impressed with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. It's offered from a major manufacturer can expect will be around to service it down the road. It's backed by a 5 year/60,000 power-train warranty and the battery is warrantied for 7 years/100,000 miles.

source: examiner