Good Wheels: Mitsubishi i-MiEV Test Drive

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV overlooking Matilija Canyon, Ojai, California.

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.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV Power Box

The currently Japan-only Mitsubishi i-MiEV Power Box Vehicle-to-home (V2H) backup power system.

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.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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.

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1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Nice to see a friendly review of the i-MiEV, which has more than its pioneer’s quota of arrows in the back. A recent hatchet job in Consumer Reports was particularly disappointing, especially considering the source.

    Couple of notes, though:

    1) The i-MiEV is NOT a purpose built EV. Like the Focus or Spark, it’s an EV version of a conventionally fueled vehicle, in this case the Mitsubishi i “Kei car” sold in Japan and some other markets around the world (kei-type cars are not sold in the United States, being unsuitable for U.S. highways). In addition to the EV conversion that created the i-MiEV for other markets around the world, the North American “i” (MiEV was considered redundant for the U.S. because there was not to be a gasoline version) was also slightly widened and lengthened to accommodate U.S.-spec bumpers and air bags.

    2) For 2012, the i-MiEV was in the price-range of the cars you listed in only the broadest sense; it was the least expensive EV you could buy, and by quite a margin, throughout the year. Even the low-end Leaf SV was thousands more, while the Focus Electric was up at the $40k mark with Chevy’s Volt, and with more limited availability.

    For 2013, only the Smart ED seems on course to undercut the i’s pricing by any noticeable amount, but then no trunk or backseat, so there’s that. The bigger threat is Nissan, which has taken Leaf production stateside and introduced a new base-line “Leaf S” trim level that matches the i’s pricing by eschewing some of the pricier Leaf models’ fancier trappings (nav system, fast charger, LED headlights, etc.) That admittedly still leaves it a plusher and roomier car than the i, with significantly longer range per charge. The SparkEV is priced somewhere in the range of Leaf prices, i.e. higher than the i-MiEV, though it should be noted that it appears to be yet another compliance car (GM denies this, but has made no commitments to sell the SparkEV outside of California).

    If Smart delivers the ED as claimed and Nissan actually plans to meet customer demand for the Leaf S (anyone who’s tried to buy a Prius C2 will understand the importance of that), Mitsubishi will soon be between a rock and a hard place. If they can’t afford to sell the i-MiEV at a lower price, it probably won’t appeal to enough buyers to survive in the U.S. market.

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