“Like a smart car, but better.”
That was the first thing I heard a complete stranger say right in front of me about the all-electric 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV which the manufacturer lent me for a week of test drives last month. It was to be only the beginning of the kind of attention the car garnered as I drove all around Los Angeles to try it out.
My first thought upon seeing the MiEV being delivered to my door was “cute.” That’s not a word I normally use when discussing automobiles, as most any car deemed “cute” would never normally be on my radar. But the MiEV is, in fact, cute.
The car I was lent was purple – which I found to be a little odd – and it was an egg-shaped, slightly awkward-looking compact car. It sort of resembled my idea of a future car when I used to doodle them on my notebooks back in school. Its wheels were tiny, almost golf-cart sized, and it looked easy to park and fun to drive. After getting instructions on how to charge it and operate the buttons inside, I was left to my own devices with the kind of car I had never driven before: a battery-powered one with no gas tank.
Upon climbing inside the MiEV, I was amazed at just how spacious the interior was. Wow. With tons of headroom and plenty of room to stretch, the interior is way bigger than it looks like it could be from the outside. Up front there is plenty of room for two adults and the back seat was comfortable enough for either a few kids or some adults going on a shorter trip. The visibility out the front window was great. Being over 6 feet tall, I did wish the front driver’s seat went back another inch or so, but it was decently comfortable. The steering wheel, however, didn’t tilt nor telescope, which I did not appreciate as it is at a strange angle. I found myself continually searching for adjustment levers which did not exist.
The GPS navigation unit worked well in my area, the iPhone USB connectivity worked right away without too much fiddling, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel had full stereo/phone controls, features all normally found on pricier cars. This model came with heated seats, power windows, locks, and mirrors, airbags, antilock brakes and traction control.
The driver gauge cluster contained a “gas gauge” that dropped down in typical fashion the further I drove as well as a mile counter which told me how many more miles I could drive before I needed to recharge the batteries.
There was a lack of storage for drinks and other items (a phone holder would have been welcome up front), but the trunk was big enough to hold five full reusable grocery bags on a trip to Trader Joe’s. If one needed more cargo space, the back seats do fold flat to offer a ton more room for bigger items.
Driving the MiEV is fun, no doubt about it. That instant torque that comes from using only electric power is very cool. It’s not because the car is Ferrari-fast; it isn’t. Not by a long shot. It takes 13 seconds to get to 60 mph with its 66hp electric motor. Rather, it’s because the power is so instant and eager to go when you stomp on the “gas” pedal. Ever driven a go-cart? That’s what it feels like.
The MiEV has three driving modes: Drive, Eco, and Brake. Drive is regular old drive, Eco cuts power to extend your mileage, and Brake is for more aggressive regenerative braking.
The car tracks well at lower speeds but feels a little loose at highway speeds. This is probably due to the fact that it weighs just 2,579 pounds and has those little tiny tires. But it does feel solid and safe, and I totally forgot at times that I was driving a very small car powered only by batteries. After just a little driving, it feels as natural as driving a conventional gasoline-powered car.
Driving the MiEV around my town got me a lot of attention. People waved, talked to me at stop lights, and cornered me as I was waiting for it to charge up a little at a public charging station. A Nissan Leaf owner saluted me when behind me at a light. Little kids stopped and stared while using the crosswalk in front of me. Was it the purple? Was it the tiny tires? Or did I look particularly fetching that day? Whatever it was, people paid attention to this car, even in this community which sees its fair share of EVs and Bentleys alike.
The EPA says it will go 62 miles on a single full charge, but I never got down to less than 15 miles left before charging it up. It gets the MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) of 126 city/99 highway, which results in an average “fuel” cost of just $550 for 15,000 miles of driving. How much did you spend on gas last year? I spent a ton more than that, for sure.
Charging up the MiEV is very easy if a little time-consuming. There are two different plugin ports, one on each side, and depending on the kind of charger you have access to you use one or the other. Right now, there are three options for charging up this car:
1. Do it at home in a standard 120V outlet. This may the easiest method, but it also takes the longest. To fully charge from empty, it takes 22.5 hours. That’s a long time.
2. At a 240V charging station, which are available in some public places or can be installed at home. I used the 240V station at a Whole Foods and at local chain grocer for my charging needs. From empty, this method of charging takes 7.5 hours to complete. I left my MiEV at Whole Foods for an entire afternoon to get charged up.
3. Public quick-charge Level 3 ports. Hard to find and not in many places, Level 3 chargers can recharge the MiEV to 80 percent within 30 minutes.
Regenerative braking does add back some battery life, but I could not find information on just how much this helps extend driving mileage.
No matter what method you use, it’s as simple as popping open the gas cap and plugging the charging handle into the outlet. If you have ever plugged in any electronic device, you can plug in this EV.
- Gets lots of attention
- No tailpipe emissions
- Great city or town car for errands or round-trip commutes of under 60 miles
- Fun to drive
- Easy to park
- Lowest-priced full-electric vehicle at $29,975. In comparison, the Nissan Leaf starts at around $36,000
- Full range of tech hookups: USB, iPod, Bluetooth, phone, etc.
- Lots of green street cred
- Gets lots of attention
- Long charging times (similar to all other full EVs at this point, though)
- Public charging stations not listed in GPS navigation. Why aren’t charging stations built into the GPS system? Seems a no-brainer but they were left out.
- Not many public charging stations yet
- Limited mileage
- Cute but not necessarily good looking. Styling sort of out of a 1990′s version of the future.
With MSRP prices for the ES model starting at $29,975 and $31,125 for the SE, the MiEV is definitely not in the same price category as other compact or subcompact cars. However, it is the least expensive full-EV (non hybrid, battery only) on the market right now. With a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 and state credits available for many people, that price could be down to around the $20,000 mark. Check for the availability of tax incentives and credits where you live.
The MiEV has an eight-year or 100,000-mile battery warranty and a 3 year/36k overall warranty, so any concerns about batteries not lasting too long should be put to rest right there. People didn’t think Prius’ would last that long and there are many people still driving around using the original batteries in the car from the year 2000.
Did I absolutely love the MiEV? Not exactly. But I did like it. It was nimble, fun to drive, definitely easy on the wallet in the fuel category, and a good entry point into the world of EVs at around $20,000. It’s a decent little car, especially for city dwellers. Eventually we are all going to be driving electric vehicles and most of us will never be able to afford a Tesla Model S sedan starting at around $100,000. The MiEV does have some growing up to do in order to compete with the Nissan Leaf and even the Chevy Volt, but being the cheapest of the mass-marketed EVs will certainly get it some customers.
A few small tweaks to the shape, an increase in mileage, and shorter charging times could make the MiEV a preeminent player in the EV market. Oh, and Mitsubishi? Please get rid of the purple paint!
Interested in the Mitsubishi i-MiEV for yourself?
Thanks to Mitsubishi for letting me test drive the MiEV for a week. It was a blast to finally get the chance to drive a full EV car and experience the future of automobile travel.