LOW PRICE, SHORT RANGE
If you are looking for the lowest priced plug-in electric car, look no further, it’s the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The sticker price is a modest $23, 845, and there’s a federal tax write-off of $7500. Furthermore, if you live in a state like California, there’s another $2500 off your taxes. So your net cost is just $13,845.
You would think that at this price, the i-MiEVs would be flying out of the showrooms, but that is not the case. In fact, Mitsubishi hasn’t been able to deliver more than a few hundred of these little electrics per year in recent times.
What’s the problem? Well, there are a couple big ones. The styling is controversial. Some people think it looks cute, but others think it’s ugly, and still others think it is just plain weird. For most buyers it would be an acquired taste. However, the biggest drawback is its limited driving range. The i-MiEV has a maximum range of only 62 miles, and that will be much reduced if you are driving on the freeway, or using accessories, like air conditioning.
Yet for some, who travel short distances, and like its looks, this car might be the right choice. It will carry four passengers and up to 50 cubic feet of cargo (with the backseat down.) However, the cabin looks decidedly bargain basement. A very small instrument cluster, featuring a power gauge and digital speedometer, is positioned in front of the driver. A center dash display with audio controls sits above an odd vertical arrangement of air conditioning knobs. All of these items reside in a background of hard gray vinyl. However, what’s really bothersome is the steering wheel, which protrudes way out toward the driver, and is not adjustable.
Yet, on the plus side, the cloth seats are attractively styled, and are high mounted to provide an excellent view of the road. Legroom is a bit tight for tall drivers, but the headroom is more than sufficient. The backseat is cramped, however, it would be okay for young kids. Behind the rear seat the cargo area is a modest 13.2 cubic-feet, but that more than triples in capacity when the seats folded down.
The i-MiEV comes with standard features like power locks/windows/mirrors, air conditioning and a six-speaker sound system, but also some unexpected items, such as automatic headlights and heated front seats. New for 2016, is an optional, $2000 navigation package, which adds a 7-inch touchscreen, navigation, a rearview camera, Bluetooth and satellite audio controls.
Mitsubishi powers the i-MiEV with a 49-kilowatt electric motor that feeds off a 16-kWh lithium–ion battery pack. Total output is a modest 66 horsepower. It will take you nearly 15 seconds to reach 60 mph. Top speed, if you have enough patience to get there, is 81 miles per hour. Drivers can choose from three selectable driving modes, Drive (D), which is the standard position, Eco (E), which limits throttle response for better mileage, and B for Battery that puts charge back into the battery through regenerative braking.
On the road, the i-MiEV performed better than expected. Response was good from stop signs and traffic lights, and merging on to the freeway didn’t cause sweaty palms. It had no problem keeping up with traffic, however, passing maneuvers would need to be planned very carefully.
The i-MiEV responds best to gentle inputs from the driver. It will lean over and run wide if pressed, even moderately, in a turn. The ride is bouncy, as to be expected on a car with a short wheelbase, but the cabin is quiet, even at freeway speeds.
The i-MiEV seems made to order for government agencies and businesses that make short trips on local streets in a city or suburban environment. It can carry a large amount of supplies (for a sub-compact), yet is small enough to fit in tight parking spaces. Maybe at some point, Mitsubishi will be able to reach this audience.