This is the first article in a new Goodlifer series on sustainable mobility. We will be looking at the full spectrum of clean, green modes of personal transportation, from the latest electric vehicles to the best ideas for getting in and around cities.
The Takeaway: Goodlifer test drove the Mitsubishi i-MiEV 100% electric car in the hills and valleys of Ojai, California. We found it to be a capable and fun urban drive, a perfect second car for a larger family and a worthy contender for an only car with a few caveats. With the typical range of a pure EV, this car is best for the driver who has an alternate vehicle or favors public transportation for long trips but enjoys the satisfaction of never having to stop at a gas station again. The driving position is high and forward, with great visibility, making the drive feel active and light. Storage capacity is great for hauling goods and charging time was good. We were able to charge the car for free at a public charging station in town while we shopped and ran errands.
The i-MiEV (sold in the U.S. market as the “i”), is the first of what Mitsubishi promises to be a line-up of eight EV models worldwide by 2015. There is no mistaking that this is a purpose-built electric car. From its aerodynamic form to its ultralight skinny tires, the i-MiEV has a somewhat utilitarian look and feel. We drove the i-MiEV around our hometown of Ojai, California, a small bucolic city nestled in a valley about 80 miles north of Los Angeles. The terrain is flat in the city and very hilly in the surrounding valleys, and we took it out on the highway on a trip to nearby Ventura, so we were able to gauge performance in a variety of driving modes.
Our first impression was that the car felt light and “fun,” one of those elusive qualities touted by car makers but which we could confirm with goofy smiles on our faces as we zipped silently down the road. Driving an electric car is an unmistakably giddy experience. With so few EVs in circulation, you are guaranteed to be one of the only people driving your particular model car, and you gain instant membership in the small but growing community of EV and plug-in hybrid owners who, like most enthusiast groups, are a friendly and talkative bunch. Early adopters of green technologies tend to be evangelists and we enjoyed the infectious energy of the Chevy Volt owner who pulled up next to us at one of the free public charging stations located in town. Overall, there is a deep satisfaction in being part of something that feels smart and right, and the pleasure of charging (in this case for free) is all the better as you silently roll past forlorn gas stations which will forever be looked upon as public restrooms and potato chip dispensaries.
One of the interesting future scenarios for electric cars is the ability to use the power stored in the car batteries for emergency or backup use in the home in the event of power outages or natural disasters. In the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Mitsubishi introduced the optional i-MiEV Power Box which enables the i-MiEV to supply power to home electric appliances via 100-volt outlets, converting the cars direct current (DC) battery power into alternating current (AC) to power up to 1,500 watts, enough to power most home electronics. This option is currently only available in the Japanese market, but is a great early example of so-called Vehicle-to-Home (V2H) and Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology that will play an important part in future smart grid, disaster-preparedness and neighborhood resiliency efforts. Something to think about in the wake of events like Hurricane Sandy which demonstrated the vulnerablity of the aging electric grid infrastructure in the U.S.
In its price-range, pure electric competitors to the i-MiEV include the Ford Focus EV, the Nissan Leaf, the Coda, the Smart ED and the Honda Fit EV (lease-only). The wider universe of 100% electric EVs is quite small, with the higher-end BMW Active-E (lease-only) and the Tesla Model S the only other options in the U.S. as of the time of this review. The European and Asian markets have a slightly wider range of small, punchy EV contenders, including BYD, that would be price/performance competitors to the i-MiEV but most will not be available in the U.S. in the near future. The i-MiEV is sold under the badges of Peugeot iOn and Citroën C-Zero in European markets.
As of this writing, over 20,000 i-MiEVs have been sold worldwide, a large number of those in Europe and Japan. The i-MiEV is offered by San Francisco-based carsharing service City CarShare in its fleet of fuel efficient, hybrid and EV cars and is available to buy through Mitsubishi dealers in the U.S. You can learn more about Mitsubishi’s green technologies and commitments to social and environmental sustainability at their global i-MiEV and Drive@earth sites.