By on June 18, 2012

A rear-wheel-drive four-door hatchback with staggered wheels and a mere 2,579 pounds distributed 45/55. From the folks who gave us the Evo. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? But the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (conversationally referred to as either the “i” OR the “meev”) isn’t that sort of car. Its focus is just as narrow as the Evo’s but could hardly be more different: the cheapest, most energy-efficient electric car you can buy in the United States. How cheap? The i-MiEV’s low-20s price (after a $7,500 tax credit) isn’t much higher than that of a Toyota Prius c, the cheapest, most energy-efficient hybrid.

The Prius succeeded in part because it looked like nothing else. Even the most car-ignorant person can readily identify one. The i-MiEV similarly won’t be confused with any other car. Even the wipers are radically different (the one on the right was bent upwards by engineers, not hooligans). But will Americans identify this ultra-compact egg-on-wheels as a car at all? The Prius c is nearly 20 inches less lengthy than the regular Prius. The i-MiEV (despite sharing a 100.4-inch wheelbase) is another foot shorter still (144.7 vs. 157.3 inches). The Mitsubishi is also over four inches narrower (62.4 vs. 66.7 inches) but nearly seven inches taller (63.6 vs. 56.9 inches). This is after being widened a couple of inches for North America. Road-legal cars with four doors don’t get any smaller in North America. Even SUVs are generally wider than they are tall.

Given the price range, it should come as no surprise that nearly every interior surface save the seats is hard plastic in both cars. The i-MiEV’s interior nevertheless manages to seem much more spartan than the Prius c’s.

Hybrids and electric vehicles often provide detailed feedback on your driving style and energy use. The i-MiEV’s instruments are conventionally-located and very basic, just a speedometer, a fuel gauge, a needle that instantaneously provides feedback on the heaviness of your foot when accelerating and braking (lighter is better), and an exterior temp / distance-to-empty readout. Unlike in the Prius c, Volt, or LEAF there’s no way to evaluate your driving style beyond the current moment or track your efficiency over time.

Due to the Mitsubishi’s tall, narrow body, you sit higher than in the typical car but with a bare minimum of shoulder room. The front seats are very close together. The width increase over the JDM car went into an extra inch between your outside shoulder and the B-pillar, and you’re still very close to the latter. The steering wheel neither tilts nor telescopes. The driver’s seat has a height adjuster, but hardly anyone will use it. Even with the seat in its lowest setting the windshield header intrudes on sightlines far more than the instrument panel does (for this driver of middling height). You’ll be well versed in the contents of the airbag warning label. And you’ll want to stop well short of the mark at traffic signals.

Sitting behind myself in the i-MiEV, my shins graze the front seatbacks. The seat is mounted high off the floor, so I’m reasonably comfortable aside from not having an inch of space to spare. Cargo space is similarly minimal, no surprise given the nearly nonexistent rear overhang. Even a B-Segment Prius c seems spacious compared to the A-segment i-MiEV.

Elsewhere you’ll find zero-to-sixty times for the i-MiEV in the 13-to-15 second range. But it doesn’t seem quite that slow because of the smooth, torquey delivery of the 66-horsepower electric motor. As with other hybrids and electrics, glacial acceleration with the digital speedometer incrementing about once a second just feels right. Those in your rear view mirror may not appreciate such leisurely acceleration, and even a Prius c, with its 11-second 0-60 time, would hand the i its rear in a thoroughly pointless drag race.

Ah, but the fuel economy. I wasn’t able to measure the i-MiEV’s efficiency. The EPA (which tends to be conservative on this metric) says it’ll go 62 miles on a charge while getting the gas equivalent of 126 miles-per-gallon city, 99 highway, and 112 combined. Only the upcoming Honda Fit EV does better, 118 combined, and it will be lease-only. The upcoming Focus EV checks in at 105, and the LEAF at 99. At the average electricity price of 12 cents per kWh, the i-MiEV costs about two dollars to recharge. In my driving the Prius c, with EPA ratings of 53 city, 46 highway, and 50 combined, averaged about 62 miles-per-gallon (additional details and photos here). It might be the most fuel-efficient gas-powered car, but in terms of fuel cost per mile it’s still about double the i-MiEV.

Refueling remains the largest weakness of EVs.  Using a standard outlet, it takes 22.5 hours to recharge the i-MiEV. Spend a grand or two to install a Level 2 (240v) home charger, and charge time drops to seven hours. A Level 3 (480v) charge port is a $700 option. You can’t get a Level 3 charger at home, at least not at a remotely reasonable price. But find a public Level 3 station and charging to 80 percent of capacity (the max with a fast charger) takes only about 30 minutes.

Yes, this is a slow car, but slow cars can be fun to drive, especially if they only weigh about 2,500 pounds (i.e. about 500 pounds less than the regular Prius and about 800 less than the Nissan LEAF). The i’s basic specs are promising. But the combination of an undersquare body with a rear-heavy weight distribution (the motor is in back) must have kept Mitsubishi’s engineers up at night. They didn’t stagger the wheels to enable more aggressive turn exits. Instead, they’ve designed the suspension and undersized the grip-resistant front tires (145/65R15 vs. relatively meaty 175/60R15s on the rear) to force the i-MiEV to start scrubbing towards the outside curb well before it might build up enough lateral force to spin out or roll over. In the 70s on the highway (it tops out at 81) the Mitsubishi feels tippy and skittish. It’s well out of its element (that element being the perpetual gridlock of metro Tokyo, where the i-MiEV compares favorably to minicars never offered in North America). A Prius c is a serene highway cruiser in comparison. Around town both cars actually ride fairly well; neither is remotely punishing or overly floaty.

The Prius c One lists for $19,710, the i-MiEV for $22,475 (after a $7,500 tax credit but before a Level 2 home charger). Even with both cars in their base trim, the Prius c has nearly $1,600 in additional content, as calculated by TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, for a feature-adjusted price difference that exceeds $5,000 once the cost of the home charger is factored in. On top of this, the Prius C performs and handles better, is roomier, and is simply much more like a regular car. You’re spending more and giving up a lot to save perhaps $500 in fuel costs per year.

A problem for both cars: they don’t just compete with each other. For another $4,065 ($2,935 after adjusting for feature differences), you can get the larger and more powerful but nearly as efficient (based on EPA tests) regular Prius instead of a Prius c. For another $6,075 (but only $2,065 after adjusting for feature differences) you can get a Nissan LEAF instead of an i-MiEV. An argument might be made for the Prius c over the regular Prius, as it gets considerably better fuel economy when driven with a feather-light foot and has a more conventional driving position. It’s much harder to justify the i-MiEV over a LEAF, as you must make major sacrifices in just about every area in return for the Mitsubishi’s lower price. If you can afford to spend the extra money, spend it. Or, if you enjoy driving, spend the extra money on gas and get a Ford Focus or Mazda3.

Pat Hennessey of Art Moran Mitsubishi in Southfield, MI, provided the i-MiEV. He can be reached at 248-353-0910.

Toyota provided the Prius c with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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50 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    The Chevy Volt isn’t mentioned in this comparison because there is no comparing. GM really should rethink their approach to PHEV technology.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      The Volt IS mentioned in the third paragraph, when comparing the driving/efficiency aids of the i-MIEV (it has none) versus the Volt, LEAF and Prius c.

      I think re-evaluating their approach to PHEV is still premature, as its closest rival – the Prius Plug-in, isn’t available nationwide until 2013 (sales are currently limited to dealerships in 15 launch states.

      Unlike Camrys, Accords, and Altimas, which pretty much perform exactly the same task, the current roster of EVs, PHEVs, EREVs and hybrids are all very different animals, and it really comes down to customer preference and their specific driving needs.

      I personally can’t imagine who would choose the i-MIEV over a LEAF, Volt, or Prius c, but that doesn’t mean there’s no one out there for whom the i-MIEV is the ONLY car they’d consider. It’s a big country.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        The Ford C-Max Energi and Ford Fusion Energi are both plugin hybrids that supposed to be released this fall. It’s possible that they could both help to define the market — but we won’t know until Ford gets around to releasing the complete specs and pricing.

        As a wagon guy with a short commute, the C-Max Energi could be a nice fit for me. But, we still don’t know what the EV range is. Also, it’s being marketed as a crossover, and I actually tow with my crossover — so the tow-rating will matter for me. If it can tow as much as a Toyota Matrix and get me and my kid around my town without using gasoline, then it would be the perfect car for me. If I can afford it, anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        with 310 million people, there have to be a few nuts.

        The i-miev looks like a tata nano. And if memory serves, it looks like a ford expire (aspire).

      • 0 avatar
        vike

        The main reason for buying the i-MiEV is close to $7500 difference between the i w/QuickCharge and a LEAF SL. I wanted the quick charge, and was completely indifferent to the LEAF’s additional content, regardless of what value the “price comparison tool” assigns it. I just wanted an EV, because I have a daily driving workload that is not well-suited to ICE. One can argue the value of paying for a Level 3 charge port, but I preferred to err on the side of having the capability – I just didn’t want to buy thousands of dollars worth of other features just to get it.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Rear drive electric car? Can it drift, yo?

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    So, how many kwh is the battery pack?

    One interesting note is that the USDM cars got a 7:1 reduction gear instead of the 6:1 that everyone else gets.

    IMO this review would have been better as a compare/contrast with the smart electric drive.

    • 0 avatar

      16 kWh.

      The smart ED won’t be available until the fall. I haven’t driven one. And it will be a two-seater.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Car2go rents out the current ED in San Diego. The next one gets a bump in battery capacity and a slightly larger motor, but is otherwise the same.

        Does a short-range electric commuter car need a back seat? Compare/contrast.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        That 16 kWh battery is exactly the required size to the get the federal rebate money.

      • 0 avatar
        protomech

        @redav

        Incidentally, so is the Chevy Volt’s 16 kWh battery.

        I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine which vehicle the law was written for.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I haven’t entirely kept on top of the Smart ED, but as of last summer (when I test drove one), it made the i-Miev look good – I’m not even sure it was highway capable. Of course, I know they were working on more performance and range, but it certainly wasn’t ready for prime time a year ago.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Mitsubishi should offer a conventional gas-powered i here, something with a price tag more befitting its size.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    This car will only hasten Mitsubishi’s eventual exit from the US market.

    I sat in one at the auto show – at 6’6″, the interior room was a joke. Mitsubishi’s engineers and marketers should know better than to bring a car with these goofy looks into the US.

    And I’ll say again: I hate it when EVs are decorated look like science projects. Every one of them is guilty of this (in some iteration of the car), and it only contributes to the stereotype that EVs are for geeks – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      This is a bit of a column A column B situation. They need a very good drag coefficient to save the tiny batteries. Weight, battery cost, and all the other issues factor in to creating aerodynamic eggs with small motors, small batteries, and weird looks. The volt and Tesla bucked that trend but at a cost. New battery tech will solve most of these issues but until then engineers will keep drawing weird little cars so they can eek out a bit more MPC.

      To be fair they also allow that design to go out as a way to sell more conventional cars at a higher margin.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        In the EV world, the i-MiEV is actually the exception in the looks department. There isn’t anything objectionable about the Leaf, Volt, Ford, Toyota, or especially Tesla products.

        In Mitsubishi’s case, the i-MiEV is hardly a crowd magnet which will induce sales of other cars. They can’t even sell the conventional cars they already have. This car has received universally bad reviews, and it has almost no redeeming qualities to crow about. I think it’s a very bad showing by a company already in trouble.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Mitsubishi’s sold lots of Calibers, Compasses, and Patriots!

      • 0 avatar
        vike

        @Luke42: Not fair at all. Chrysler jointly developed that platform, Mitsubishi does not build the Caliber or its Jeep cousins.

    • 0 avatar
      vike

      @gslippy: If your point is that a micro-car is not acceptable for the U.S. market if it can’t comfortably seat a 6’6″ driver, that’s just unreasonable. Obviously, you should get a car you can fit in, but a failure to accommodate your statistically outlying frame is no reason to condemn Mitsu for bringing over the car.

      The i’s odd shape is the product of Japanese “kei” standards and Mitsubishi’s clever effort to engineer the maximum space and capability within those limited constraints. As it turns out, those solutions also worked well for addressing the “vicious circle” of range vs. weight vs. cost that plagues EV design with current battery technology. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but in practice it works very well for its intended purpose, and I personally couldn’t justify spending an extra $5-7k for the LEAF’s attractive extras, when the i does everything I really need.

      • 0 avatar
        Applewins

        I purchase a MiEV a short time ago after doing the research.. The research said that buying an EV made no economic sense, with the ROI being about 14 years, and even then it’s iffy. They are just to expensive!
        Enter the Mitsubishi lease with incentives.. Our local dealer had a demo version available at a reduced price that they wanted to lease. Along Witt he low lease rate the gave me $1,500 over blue book on our gas guzzling SUV.
        Along with that great deal our local electric company was offering up to $2,500 back for a EVSU (charger), which not only cover the cost of the charger but also the required fuesbox upgrade and smoke alarms in the house that the city inspector required with a panel upgrade. Along with all of that, my household electric bill will be lower because of the PEV program I’m now on with Consumers Energy.
        So I have a 3 year experiment going with an electric car. It’s not our primary car and it should never be purchased as one. It’s actually a second or almost third car in the family. Big Park Ave for traveling and a motorcycle for the summer. So while all these comments talk about price and limitations, one must use this car in the context for which it was designed. I’m saving about $7000 in gas over three years along with the other savings mentioned. It was a win,win on this purchase.
        In the short time we’ve had it, it seems to be the car everybody wants to drive so they don’t have to fill up the tank. …and it’s a fun car to drive.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I checked one of these out at a Toronto area Mitsu dealer. The window sticker was in the $34k range before tax rebates. It’s trite and surely overused, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a very expensive golf-cart. The body and doors are very thin and I’d be terrified of being in an accident with a real motor vehicle.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Like hitchhikers and bikes with engines less than 250cc, these things should not be allowed on limited access highways.

    • 0 avatar
      vike

      @Detroit-Iron: The i-MiEV passes crash standards, getting a 4/5 star rating, better than many. I’ve had it out on the freeway, and personally preferred it to the Prius C (not consistent with this reviewer’s reaction, but the point is it’s a matter of preference, not gross advantage either way). So unlike hitchhikers or mini-bikes, they’re not in anyone’s way, and they don’t introduce undue socially insured risks, so what do you care if some buyers find them a good solution for their needs? If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If you resent them whirring by at $.05/mile while you’re dumping $100 into refilling your Silverado, you should probably re-think what’s really bothering you.

  • avatar
    redgubbinz

    This car might do well for fleets looking for a shuttle that can also be safely taken on the road, unlike the GEM vehicles. Mitsubishi would do well if they made a bunch of variants on the same platform, playing to the electric vehicle’s strengths. Mail delivery, short distance travel, patrol routes, etc. Trying to make an electric car to replace gas powered daily drivers seems like a square peg/round hole situation, at least with current technology.

    • 0 avatar

      How about the Tesla Model S? It’s expensive at $80k for the 300 mile range version, but competitive with a gasoline close equivalent like the Mercedes-Benz CLS-class (also around $80k). 300 miles (260 miles per the EPA) is fine range for driving within any major metro area. I can, in other words, get from West Palm Beach to Miami and back (about 150 miles total trip) without any range anxiety.

      Since I have no particular interest in making trips outside of my metro area – I will fly if I’m going any further – the Model S has ample range. And I think a lot of automotive consumers are the same way.

      If I didn’t hate the thought of taking huge depreciation on a car that costs more than many houses in my area, I’d seriously consider it. (My next car, purchased roughly in a six month to one year timeframe, is likely to be a 2009 or so CLS).

      D

    • 0 avatar
      vike

      But a “daily driver” is exactly what an i-MiEV is, at least for me. I live in a compact town and just about never drive 50 miles in a day; on those rare occasions I can use our household’s other car. The rest of the time, I can commute and run weekend errands in a clean, quiet, nearly maintenance-free EV. Before I moved a few years ago, I lived in a sprawling metropolitan area, with work and extended family scattered over a wide area; I’d never have considered the i back then, wouldn’t have worked. But for the many drivers whose circumstances do make an EV a viable option, the i-MiEV is a good economical choice.

      To their credit, Mitsubishi makes it quite clear that the i-MiEV is intended as the 2nd or 3rd vehicle in a household, not the one and only.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Mitsu should do a version without doors and an open hatch area – it would make an excellent golf cart.

  • avatar

    This looks like Insight vs. Prius all over again: much worse while somewhat cheaper. A pity, I thought it was intriguing. We don’t see kei-card adaptations in U.S. market often, and commenters incessantly whine about it at forums and blog comments. So, there you go: a kei car can be customized for U.S. crash protection standards. Of course we won’t know how the conventionally powered version would do, but this is at least something. And I’m afraid this something is going to be sharply negative, with the enthusiasts grasping at the electric side to defend the small-car idea.

    • 0 avatar

      If you won’t be driving many miles at highway speeds, and do put a high priority on ease of parking, then a kei car might make sense here. The problem is that not many North American car buyers fit this profile, so the market for “city cars” is pretty small.

      I’d personally love a fun-to-drive small car. But the height-to-width ratio apparently requires a hobbled chassis.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    This car is the dystopian future of upper middle class automobility.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The linked article below compares the i-MiEV to a 1917 Detroit Electric:

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-capsule/2012-mitsubishi-i-1917-detroit-electric-there-and-back-again/

    Not much different. Get it through your heads folks. BEVs are obsolete old fashioned technology. They failed once in the market, and they will fail again.

    • 0 avatar

      Wouldn’t similar logic make a 2012 Fusion not much different from a Model T?

      Love the bit at the end about the maintenance schedule. I knew it was minimal–but a fluid change every 20 years? That might well sell some EVs, though not necessarily this one.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Any updated cost projections for EVs? In my eyes, that’s one of their strong selling points, but unlike fuel costs, there’s no good way to plan for them yet.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        BEVs are mechanically much simpler than ICEVs, they have always had that advantage. There are few systems to differ between the 1917 BEV and the 2013 BEV than there are between the Model T and the 2012 Fusion. Further, it was the GM cars of the post WWI period that ran the BEV off the road, not the Model T. The killer app, by all accounts was the self-starter. However, there have been many other improvements and refinements to the ICEV since the 1920s. BEVs much less so.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    I saw one at an auto show, chuckled at its resemblance to a Tata Nano and scoffed at how close its sticker price was to a Nissan Leaf. While the Nissan is definitely more money, it is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. The same applied to the Coda electric on display, same price as a Leaf for a Chinese Kia knockoff. The only other light duty electric at the show that looked serious was the Transit Connect, except for its $60k sticker.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I look at this and think of taking big chugs of Prius cool-aid.

  • avatar
    robc123

    Was there a why question asked when they made this?
    answer: No.

    20k+ for this econo box that looks like the 2k tata?

    Best thing about this, (if you were under a court order to only drive this) would be the 22 hour charge time.

    • 0 avatar
      vike

      22 hours is for occasional Level 1 charging – if you were driving this regularly and really needed to make use of most of its range, you’d get a Level 2 charger put in your garage, dropping charge time to less than 7 hours.

  • avatar
    outback_ute

    Note that the US spec car is 8″ longer than the original version, as well as wider. As to the sparse interior – this car has clearly had huge amounts of content taken out to get the price down – earlier & international versions of the i-Miev were/are much, much more expensive.

  • avatar
    russty1

    Hi there, I have a general question about electric cars:

    would it be possible to invent low-friction generators, one for each of the rear wheels of a FWD electric car, so the rear wheels continually replenish the battery as the wheels rotate as you drive? I imagine that would greatly increase battery-powered range of these cars. Maybe there is some technical reason this cannot be done, such as the generators creating too much of a ‘load’ or ‘drag’ to be worth their input? Or limits of the current battery technology to be able to absorb charges quickly enough?

    Any excess charges could be grounded away and there would always be a constant source of energy.

    I don’t imagine ‘regenerative braking’ which mfrs use actually adds much power.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Nope, the generators would simply increase the load on the traction motor. That electricity has to come from somewhere. The reason regenerative braking works is that it recaptures (some of) the energy previously used to accelerate the car which would otherwise be lost as waste heat in conventional brakes.

  • avatar
    wmba

    I don’t believe this vehicle is as rigorously engineered as a Leaf, Volt, Prius or Ford. The i-MieV battery is a 16kWh lithium-ion unit. Read this back last winter in C/D, and it’s worth repeating here:

    “Mitsubishi says that the i completely depletes and charges its battery.  In the interest of battery life (deeply discharging and charging a lithium-ion unit has the potential to shorten its life), many manufacturers don’t use every electron of capacity. Chevy, for example, uses only about 50 percent of the Volt’s battery potential. If  battery life is keeping you up at night, the i’s eight-year or 100,000-mile battery  warranty might allow you to get some rest. Less likely to soothe is Mitsubishi’s estimate that the pack will have only 80 percent of  its original capacity after five years, 70 percent after 10 years. This despite the fact that the battery gets better treatment than the driver. A cooling fan blows air onto the pack when charging ­temperatures rise, and a battery heater is available as an option for buyers in colder ­climates since temperature extremes also diminish the battery’s capacity over time.”

    Yup, a rolling horror show.

    • 0 avatar
      vike

      I think “horror show” overstates matters quite a bit, but yes, today’s prospective EV buyers had better read those manufacturer disclosure statements carefully before writing that check. You need to know what you’re getting into, especially the caveats regarding EV battery longevity.

      For any who’ve been paying attention to the Nissan Leaf battery stories coming out of Arizona this summer, the “rolling horror show” is obviously not limited to Mitsubishi. Things are even a bit worse than that C/D story suggests – the 80% after five years, 70% after 10 are ESTIMATES, not guarantees, and usage-related “normal diminishing” of battery capacity is explicitly NOT covered by that 8yr/100kmi warranty. Lead-foots and frequent QuickChargers are likely to see capacity decline more rapidly than those estimates.

      As to being rigorously engineered, that’s actually a reason to favor the Mitsubishi. Feedback from owners is that the range gauge is far more reliable than Nissan’s, at least for the current Leaf (we’ll see how next year’s U.S.-built model fares, given the many planned improvements). As for the i-MiEV, its next generation will feature Toshiba’s SCiB battery technology, which should improve matters.

  • avatar
    iantm

    The local Mitsubishi dealer has a half dozen of them that haven’t been touched in two months. I don’t see the i-MiEV being the car that keeps Mitsubishi from giving up here. I give Mitsubishi motors two years before they ditch the U.S. & Canada. The i-MiEV is going to be a horrible sales embarrassment. I see a fair number of Leafs, Volts, Prii, and even the odd focus electric here in Pittsburgh. The fact that a fair number of parking garages in downtown Pittsburgh, PA have charging stations.

  • avatar
    C P

    As golf carts go, this one’s killer..


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