What is it
The Miev is an electric car suitable for short trips in the city. It is small and tall and is zippy around town with its high torque electric motor. It is roomy enough with 5 doors and a high roof line.
But get it on the open road and it is not happy. It’s small wheels and high wind profile make it jittery on the freeway. And the range is no joke as 60 miles is really just a best case guideline. Get on throttle or tackle some hills and this can easily drop below 50 miles. So charging stations are your friend and like the Nissan Leaf, you will get to know them and your fellow electric car drivers well.
The Japanese domestic market (JDM) version of the i has been on sale in Japan as the i-MiEV since July 2009. Mitsubishi put the popular i on a bodybuilder program to beef it up for the U.S. market and to meet North American crash regulations and make it more suitable for freeway driving. Adding 4.3 inches through the longitudinal center of the i pushes the width to 62.4 inches. It’s still about two inches narrower than a Fiat 500, but the gains in width translate into much more elbow room than the Japanese version has. Additional front and rear crash structure adds about nine inches of overall length but no additional interior room. The North American i weighs in at a feathery 2500 pounds despite carrying 88 steel-encased lithium-ion batteries under the floor.
The North American Miev enjoys a larger beam that makes the already-tall interior genuinely comfortable for four. Stretching an interior is tough and expensive, but Mitsubishi engineers devised a clever cost-saving move that frames the dash from the skinnier left-hand drive version sold in Europe with another layer of dashboard that makes the extra width appear like it was planned from the car’s outset, which it wasn’t. Look for the telltale gap filler at the base of the A-pillars.
Understeer and squealing front tires greet drivers who push the i hard into corners. The car’s staggered tires (145/65R15 front, 175/65R15 rear) and softly sprung chassis exacerbate the plowing, a trait that sucks the driving fun from the i’s otherwise cheery countenance.
And the 60 mile range really makes it difficult on US roads. Cities may be ok, but the sprawling peninsulas often require more range and buffer than 60 miles.
If you’ve ever driven an electric golf car, you probably remember the jumpy throttle response, a characteristic of electric motors producing maximum torque at zero rpm. The Miev’s Smooth Start Control electronically regulates torque from a stop to eliminate jolting starts, making the car feel more polished than some EVs.
While the Miev’s electric propulsion may seem advanced, driving it is simple as a golf cart. Turning the conventional column-mounted key activates the circuitry. Putting the car in drive engages the motor. Flooring the amp pedal moves the car out smoothly with linear thrust. The lack of gear changes or a traditional powertrain noise adds refinement. The electrically assisted power steering feels light, as do the vacuum-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes. (Since there is no intake manifold vacuum to power the brakes as on the JDM gasoline-powered i, Mitsubishi uses an electric vacuum pump for boosting duties on the EVs.) The seamless transition between regenerative and mechanical braking also deserves kudos. Unfortunately, the lack of excitement is palpable, with 0-60 mph clocking in at about 15 seconds. We saw 81 mph as the governed top speed.
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The Bottom Line
With a price that undercuts the Nissan Leaf by more than $5000 and superior efficiency, Mitsubishi’s North American version of the Miev electric vehicle may attract a broader audience than simply urban-dwelling environmentalists who view personal transportation as a necessary evil. The EPA estimates that drivers will spend just $495 dollars to drive the i 15,000 miles—though putting 15,000 miles on this car is a formidable task, as the i’s practical range is just 62 miles. And that distance must vary quite a bit depending how you use the i: Just 15 minutes of hard driving at Mitsubishi’s Nagoya proving grounds erased four of the 16 energy bars in the i’s “fuel” gauge. Still, Mitsubishi’s management is fixated on helping the world become a greener place, and the practical changes they’ve made to the i will make the $27,990 car more palatable for American drivers and driving environs.
But in the end, this car can use a few hundred pounds more of battery weight and range. The car is a bit fidgety on the freeway and the 80 mph top speed can barely get you out of some tricky merging situations.
The range is the most difficult pill to swallow of all. 60 mile round trip commutes are out of the question without a lunch time charge. And on weekend jaunts, the 60 mile range can drop to 40 miles when going through some hills and mountains. Just like a petrol car, mileage drops significantly when climbing a hill. But if you don’t make it back to the descent because of the range, then you won’t get that lost mileage back to descend the hill.
- Price: $27,990 – $33,230
- Powertrain: 49 kw (66 hp) AC synchronous electric motor; 16 kwh lithium-ion battery pack; RWD
- EPA Fuel Economy/Range: 112 mpge; 62 miles