They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and for the most part they’re right. But when that book has four wheels, an electric battery, and costs upwards of $30,000, well then by golly there is gonna be some judgin’ going on. Case in point: the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) or just the Mitsubishi i as it’s known ‘round these parts.
Like the Nissan Leaf before it, the Mitsubishi i is an all-electric, battery-powered vehicle that is designed from the ground up to be more at home bouncing around the city and suburbs than it ever will be criss-crossing the countryside on open roads.
You could be forgiven for dismissing the i right off the bat as nothing more than an eccentric electric aimed at eco-warriors and early adopters — you’re not far off the mark. But the i offers much more than it’s loud and proud exterior would have you believe.
Say hi to the i
We tend to favor form of function when it comes to the cars we review, but we’ll admit our knees go weak at some of the sexier automotive offerings populating the marketplace. With that being said, aside from running purely on electricity, the Mitsubishi i’s most distinguishing factor lies in its design.
A cross between an oversized golf-cart and smaller compact car, Mitsubishi has definitely decided to take what has now become the typical “electric car” route in designing the i. The four-door all-electric hatchback sports a cute, slightly bulbous look that will certainly turn heads, but it’s unlikely they’ll be green with envy.
Still, we can’t entirely discount the Mitsubishi i-MiEV’s aesthetic charms. For those that want their fuel-forsaking car to make a statement — more than say an EV like the Ford Focus Electric would — the Mitsubishi i-MiEV will undoubtedly talk the ears off of onlookers.
If the Mitsubishi’s exterior is a carnival, then surely the interior is a museum. While the exterior of the car is busy and colorful, stepping inside the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a totally different, more calming affair. In fact, you might just want to give a quick double take to make sure it’s the same car; we had to. That’s because the interior is as conventional as conventional gets. Where the outside screams electric, the interior couldn’t be more, well…normal.
You won’t find an illuminated tech wonderland full of LED lights, or confusing arrays of buttons strewn about. Instead everything from the instrument cluster to the dash display is presented in a no-nonsense, straightforward fashion. In fact, the only piece of modern in-car tech to be found on our SE trim review unit was fairly good-size LCD navigation unit (more on that later).We can’t say we minded too much at first, but after a while it does make the Mitsubishi i feel rather barren. Couple that with Tupperware-like plastic surfaces, uncomfortably stiff seats and all of a sudden we’re wondering where exactly the $34,000 MSRP of our SE review model is coming from.
Sadly it doesn’t fare much better in the back, where space is a real commodity. Obviously the i-MiEV isn’t meant for longer hauls, but it doesn’t even stack up to other city-bred electrics. The Nissan Leaf offers 14.5 cubic feet of back seat space to the i-MiEV’s 13.2, although it should be noted that cargo space swells to 55.5 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. And while the Mitsubishi i-MiEV can accommodate four people, it’s not the most comfortable of rides for full-sized adults. Smaller passengers such as children, however, should be just fine.
Of course part of what makes electric cars so dynamic is their ability to forgo gasoline altogether, and the Mitsubishi i is no different.
Fed by a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery, the i’s 49 kW motor is capable of producing 66 hp and 124 lb-ft of torque. By comparison, the Nissan Leaf sports a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery and an 80 kW electric motor that delivers 207 lb-ft of torque and 107 hp.
Some buyers may be perfectly willing to sacrifice power so long as range remains sufficient, but this is another area where the i is caught chasing the competition. It can only travel about 62 miles on single charge, while the Leaf (73 miles) and the Focus Electric (76 miles) can both travel farther. The EPA has awarded the Mitsubishi i a 112 MPGe equivalent rating, the highest in its segment, but that only means you’ll pay a little less in electricity per mile driven.
More zip than zap
Electric cars get a lot of flack, especially from automotive purists, but despite its bubble-car appearance and anemic interior, this little electric is quite spry and fun to drive in the right conditions. It might not best the competition when it comes to range and power (top speed maxes out at 80 mph), but handling is responsive, and we felt the i maintained a positive grip on the road even during the most arduous of corners.
The Mitsubishi i features three drive modes: regular, Eco, and B. Regular provides 100 percent power and torque when pressing down on the accelerator. Eco helps by limiting energy consumption via restricted power output. And B maximizes range by heavily employing the car’s regenerative breaking system without limited powers, which is the case in Eco Mode.
Of all three, we found ourselves using B the most. In fact, it was really fun and engaging seeing just how much we could enhance our range every time we let off the accelerator or coasted downhill. Sure, it might seem negligible at first, but aspiring hyper-milers and eco elite can have a lot of fun getting every last drop of electric juice out of there i, and then some.
It may not use gas, but the Mitsubishi i will need to be recharged almost daily. For this reason alone we strongly recommend having a 240-volt level 2 charging system installed in your garage. By doing so, you’ll be able to fully charge the i’s battery in seven hours.
Alternatively, you can use the included 120-volt charging cable with a normal outlet, which takes nearly 22 hours to fully charge. A DC quick charger can restore the battery capacity to 80 percent in just 30 minutes, though they are few and far between, and have the potential to diminish the life of the battery pack, which according to Mitsubishi is good for about eight years.
The Mitsubishi i is available in both ES and SE trim levels. If you’re looking to keep costs low, the base ES package is priced at $29,125 (before the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit) and comes with an honest list of standard features such as keyless entry, power windows, 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a 120-volt portable charging cable, and a four-speaker sound system with CD player and auxiliary jack for iPod connectivity.
For $31,125, the SE model features all the same amenities of the standard trim, but throws in an eight-speaker 360-watt stereo, leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded seats, and 15-inch alloy wheels, to name a few.
If you really have the cash to burn, we recommend springing for the Premium Package available on top of the SE model. For $2,790 more, the Premium package ads a hard drive-based navigation system with USB port, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Mitsubishi’s Fuse hands-free link system, and a Level 3 quick-charging port.
While electric cars manage to avoid burning up gasoline for power, they seem have no problem burning cash. The reality is: EVs are expensive, and that reason alone makes them unattractive to the vast majority of consumers. With alternatives like the Ford Focus Electric and Honda Fit only available in select parts of the country — and in short supply for now — there aren’t many electric cars to choose from on the market, let alone affordable ones. That is why a lot of praise has to be given to Mitsubishi for releasing the i-MiEV, with the most reasonable price point of any of the big EV automakers to date.
Unfortunately, the Japanese automaker has done little to allay consumer’s concerns in regard to range and performance. For all intents and purposes, the Mitsubishi i remains a niche car (all EVs do, at least for now). That doesn’t stop it from being a good car, it just stops it from being a particularly practical one outside of its intended scope.
For shorter jaunts though, the i is perfectly adept at handling your daily trips into the city or your local farmer’s market, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence on the freeway and asking it to tackle hills is a lesson in disappointment. Of course we never expected the i to keep pace with the majority of its gasoline-counterparts, but even when stacked up against the Nissan Leaf, its closest rival, the i feels underpowered and a little unrefined.
Still, if you’re concerned about your carbon footprint, serious about giving up your gas-guzzling ways, and looking for a more affordable way into the green car scene, then the Mitsubishi i is your ticket to the show.
- Excellent handling
- Inexpensive compared to other electric cars
- Capable in and around the city
- Doesn’t use gas, no tailpipe emissions
- Dull interior, low on in-car tech
- Limited range compared to Leaf, Focus Electric
- Charge times can be a hassle
- Overly eccentric body design
- Climate control severely limits range
- Cramped cabin space
- Lack of smartphone integration