Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mitsubishi i-MiEVMitsubishi i-MiEV

What is it?

The future apparently, and really we're not about to argue. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a battery-powered version of Mitsubishi's narrow-but-tall city i car. Its small internal combustion engine has been replaced with some batteries and an electric motor. Crucially, it's a production car rather than merely an experiment or limited-run programme. Mitsubishi is planning on bringing around 200 i-MiEVs to the UK next year and interest is such that a few dealers have firm orders from early-adopting customers wanting a proper electric production car. Initially, production in Japan will be slow, but Mitsubishi is promising it will ramp up massively, which will not only increase availability but should also reduce costs.

Does it do the job?

The i-MiEV is a city car, so its maximum potential range of 80-100 miles should be more than enough for most users - those miles costing around 45p in electricity. It looks like a normal car, and aside from an obvious lack of noise it drives like an ordinary car too. There's one gear, selected via a traditional Drive, Park and Neutral automatic transmission selector. On the i-MiEV there are two more modes though, an Eco selector which reduces power from 47kw to 18kw for trickling through town traffic, and B which increases the regenerative braking effect when driving the i-MiEV in hillier areas.

The acceleration is brisk - faster than the petrol i - Mitsubishi's engineers managing to limit the torque output from standstill to prevent it from taking off too sharply. That makes it the perfect town companion, and when it's moving it takes very little extra input on the accelerator to increase the i-MiEV's pace. Its natural habitat might be the town, but it's actually rather effective out of the city limits too, its performance respectable enough to allow country road overtakes with little fear. Naturally, driving it briskly does rather hammer the battery life, but the reality around town is that the i-MiEV is every bit as competent and user-friendly as conventionally-powered superminis and city cars. Actually, it's better, as there's less noise, no tailpipe emissions and its performance and easy two-pedal layout makes driving it a cinch.

Like its regular i car relative all-round visibility impresses, while its dimensions make it a very easy to manoeuvre into spaces where fat superminis wouldn't dare. There's space inside for four adults, so long as they're not prop-forwards for the local rugby team - the i rather narrow for the wider-shouldered among us.

Like all electric cars charging is an issue. It can be fuelled from a standard three-pin domestic outlet. Do so and a full top-up of those batteries will take around 7 hours - so plug it in before you go to bed. Quick charges are possible via a specific charging station - a sort of Coke vending machine-sized outlet that's able to give the i-MiEV an 80% charge in just 20 mins. There are a few on the streets, however they're only in Japan presently which isn't too handy for UK users. Drive it to work in the morning and chuck an extension cable out of the office window and top it up for your journey home if you need to.

Should I give it garage space?

Although Mitsubishi is claiming that the i-MiEV will be available to you in dealerships the reality is that the first batch of cars will be snapped up by companies and wealthy early adopters. Why? It's not going to be cheap, particularly with the volatile currency markets at the moment making it pricey to import. So don't expect to be able to go to your Mitsubishi dealer and get one easily as you'll need a fairly large pile of cash. Think leasing then. Rates have yet to be fixed but expect a number of around £750 a month. Forget the costs for now though, all new technology is expensive and prices will inevitably tumble as production increases and technological and infrastructural hurdles are overcome.

The i-MiEV demonstrates that production electrically powered cars is no longer the stuff of dreams, and while there remain charging and range issues neither is insurmountable with a bit of planning. You don't have to change your driving style, but with a big rev-counter-style display in front of you highlighting whether you're losing or gaining electricity it's impossible to resist trying to maximise your miles from the powertrain. So yes, we'd have one in the garage for our daily commute, alongside something bigger and conventionally powered for longer journeys.


4 stars

The biggest compliment that can be levelled at the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is that it's a great little city car in its own right rather than just an impressive electric vehicle. Sure, it's not cheap and while costs will drop it'll remain an expensive environmental conscious-salving machine for those who can afford it. However, they'll not be making huge sacrifices to do so.

Its range and performance is realistic for its intended use, and with a bit of planning charging shouldn't be an issue either. It drives just like a conventional car, which is crucial if electric cars are going to succeed and it also looks normal (as much as the i car can be described as normal). Add too that it's fully crash tested and comes from an established car firm and hence can be serviced by any Mitsubishi dealer and it's clear that Mitsubishi has just significantly raised the bar among its few battery-powered rivals.


Model: Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Price: see text
Engine: Permanent magnet synchronous
Power: 63bhp
Torque: 133lbft
Performance: 0-62mph 13 seconds, 87mph
Fuel economy: n/a
CO2 emissions: 0g/km tailpipe
On sale: 2009

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