Mitsubishi i-MiEV Review : A NJ Electric Car Adventure

Remember Apple Computer’s “Think Different” advertising campaign, back in 1997? With photographs of Muhammad Ali, Jim Henson, the Dali Lama, and Albert Einstein, among others, Apple urged us to reconsider our computer purchases in a world dominated by computers running Microsoft’s DOS text-interface operating system. The idea of Apple, with the Macintosh, a computer running a graphic operating system, becoming the most dominant force in the industry was a huge leap of faith.

Steve Jobs may have passed on, but we’re in a similar place now, with regard to electric vehicles. Fifteen years later, we’re faced with far too many closed-minded Luddites, that refuse to see what’s roaring (quietly) down the highway.

There are an awful lot of folks eager to put down electric vehicles (EVs) as being pie-in-the-sky, not-ready-for-prime-time technology. To many (of the same folks) decry renewable energy and the solar power industry as being impractical. This all reminds me of the IBM/DOS-centric world, fifteen years ago.

It’s time for the disinformation campaign to take a break.

Electric cars are real. They’re here right now. The solar energy industry employs tens of thousands of workers. This is not a fairy tale. It’s reality.

I first drove the Mitsubishi i-MiEV way back in 2009, at an Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) event in Washington DC. While Mitsubishi was out there early, it’s taken years for them to finally get around to selling the i-MiEV here in the States. It’s a decision that they didn’t make lightly. The i-MiEV is an odd-looking duck. It has a limited driving range. The interior amenities are spartan. Its charge times are longer than the competition. But despite all that, it’s a cool little car. It has its place.

And that place, primarily, is in progressive cities, where you’ll find a growing number of public electric charging stations. As a city car, the i-MiEV’s primary competitors are the conventionally-powered Smart FourTwo, Scion iQ, Fiat 500, MINI Cooper, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Ford Fiesta. The i-MiEV’s fully electric drive train and comparatively spacious back seat and cargo capacity makes it an interesting alternative to those cars – whether for personal transportation or as a delivery vehicle. Unlike all those vehicles, the i-MiEV is rear-wheel-drive (RWD). The 49 kW AC synchronous electric motor is mounted in the rear. The rear seat provides 30 inches of legroom and 34.3 inches of headroom. The maximum cargo volume is 50.4 cubic feet.

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car - rear quarter view under solar canopy

I’ve driven a bunch of electric vehicles over the years, but I’ve only had the opportunity to put the Chevy Volt through the full review process. While I’m usually able to book most review vehicles for a week, they’re not always available for that length of time. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV – like the Scion FR-S tested earlier this year – was only available for a Friday-to-Monday loan. With the tight time frame and the i-MiEV’s long charge times, I had to think even further out of the box and step up the pace to produce a video. The standard MPGomatic review format wouldn’t work, due to time and range constraints. In order to survive in the car review game, “you gotta take ‘em as they come.”

So I decided to cam up the car and take a tour of the growing number of solar electric power installations in my hometown, before going hunting for public electric charging stations. Mitsubishi kindly provided a Chargepoint card and I began my adventure by searching for chargers on Chargepoint’s website. I found just a handful of charging stations within driving range from home.

When you drive a purely electric car – as opposed to an extended-range electric, like the Chevy Volt – you need to plan ahead.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV charging
The 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a modest range; it’s rated at 62 miles by the EPA. A 240V Level 2 charging station can fill up the 16 kWH lithium-ion battery pack from empty in seven hours. With the standard 120V portable charging cable (Level 1) will take 22.5 hours. If you’re lucky enough to find a Level 3 CHAdeMO protocol “Quick-Charge” station, you can achieve an 80% charge in half an hour … but these stations are rare in these parts. After topping off the i-MiEV’s battery overnight here at Rancho Indebto, the on-board indicator displayed an 82 mile range.

After a short time in the i-MiEV, you’ll learn that stomping on the pedal for a 0-60 mile per hour (MPH) run will show an immediate drop in range and that careful driving with an emphasis on energy regeneration can preserve range. The i-MiEV is operable on the highway and has a top speed of 81 MPH.

The i-MiEV’s interior is austere, but it does most of the features you’d expect in a high-tech car, including hands-free Bluetooth, USB audio connection, rearview camera, and navigation. The audio system has a 40GB HD for music storage. The driver’s bucket seat has a one-level heater … this is an important feature, as the cabin heater can take its toll on range on cold days. The cabin can be pre-heated or cooled while it’s still plugged into a charger. Power conservation while on the road is essential. Plug-hounds may be disappointed that there is just one 12-volt outlet.

We’re in a transitional period. Early electric vehicle adopters are both pioneers and patriots. It takes a good bit of guts and brains to make it work. Folks with a relatively short commute and the ability to charge at home will be able to make the i-MiEV fit into their daily routine. It’s not for everyone. But then again, neither is the Bugatti Veyron. Cars are commitments. You need to choose which one makes the most sense for you.

The kids of today should consider themselves lucky to live in a world where the Graphical User Interface has conquered all. In another fifteen years, electric cars and solar energy might not be dominant, but they will surely be commonplace.

– by

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE

Daniel Gray

6 thoughts on “Mitsubishi i-MiEV Review : A NJ Electric Car Adventure”

  1. 1st let me say I enjoy your articles, I know there are millions of people who live in cities, but there are a lot more people who like myself do not live anywhere near where a vehicle like this will ever be feasible. Here in N. Alabama (Huntsville) people still commute 30-60 miles one way to get to work. I am 22 miles from the nearest Walmart. Until manufacturers figure out how to market to the masses they are just playing around to satisfy government busybodies. The terrain here would kill the average electric car before you could drive to and from work. Did I mention they are butt ugly too. The only ones that will be sold are to the type of person who has to buy anything as soon as it comes out just to say they were the first on their block to have one. Just like the smart 4 2 rolling coffin, nobody takes it seriously. If you get into a bad wreck they won’t cut you out they just dig a slightly larger hole and put you and your “car” in together.

  2. @Robert – Many thanks for your support and comment, Robert! I agree … there are many places throughout the United States where this specific vehicle isn’t appropriate. The i-MiEV is based on the local Japanese market “i” car … they have tiny gasoline engines. The tiny “i” is the exception, rather than the rule with regard to the electric cars that are coming to market.

    The most recent population statistics that I could find (quickly) were from 1990, when approximately 75.2% of Americans lived in urban areas and 24.8% lived in rural areas. (For the record: I hope to live out my days in rural America.)

    The new Tesla Model S sedan has enough range (265 miles in the top-of-the-line model) and power to handle American roads … it’s gorgeous and wicked fast, to boot. Edmunds ran the 0-60 MPH test in 4.3 seconds (and 4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout), with a quarter-mile time of 12.6 seconds at 108.3 MPH.

    So on one side of the electric car equation, we have the tiny i-MiEV city car and on the other, we have the luxurious Model S. As production rises, battery prices will come down … just as they have for all forms of technology from calculators to gigantic flat-screen LCD televisions … and range will expand.

    In the middle, we have the Ford Focus Electric, the Nissan Leaf, and the new Honda Fit EV. The Focus and Fit look almost identical to their gasoline-powered stablemates. I haven’t been in the Fit, so I can’t speak to that yet, but the Focus Electric is a superb car.

  3. I think I’m pretty much their target customer – I use my car for my daily commute which is about 7 miles each way. We have another vehicle for longer trips. I love the idea of an electric car, but for now at least, the cost just doesn’t make it worth it. I hoping that changes in the next few years.

  4. That is the conundrum. For people with very short commutes, the amount of gas used is too insignificant to warrant a pure electric car. The idea target demographic would be someone who could use most of the cars range on a daily commute with some buffer left over. Otherwise either the payback will take forever, or you will constantly need to stop and charge, or go home and switch to your gas car on a busy day.

  5. Dan: I would love to have a car that can get me to work and back (about 60 miles) with no range worries and plug-in stations everywhere. You’re not a Luddite to reach the conclusion that, at this time, it’s not a real viable option for most people. Until they can make an electric car with ranges closer to 100 miles than 30, at a price closer to $20 grand than $40, it will continue to be an esoteric item. The government and the manufacturers need to get serious about making electrics feasible for the masses.

  6. @Shawn – It all comes down to whether the range, cost, and local infrastructure fits a specific driver’s needs. Range will go up over time, as more battery cells are crammed into the packs, but costs will only come down if production rises. While it may not appear to be a viable option at this time for many folks, things will change rapidly. We gotta start somewhere … and realize this is a global market.

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