Strengths and weaknesses:
- zero emissions
- quick off-the-line
- good steering/handling
- low vibration
- good headroom.
- short range
- lack of recharging infrastructure
- long recharge times with conventional charger
Getting a charge out of city driving
PORTLAND, Ore. - Boasting a raft of environmentally friendly features and an extremely distinctive appearance, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV subcompact is bound to make an impression in a lot of different ways.
By the way, the pronunciation of the name is “eye-meeve”, and the word is an acronym for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle (MiEV), with the actual car model being the “i.”
The i-MiEV is a plug-in, all-electric vehicle (and not the first of its kind from Mitsubishi, which has a history of EVs going back to the ’70s) that employs an electric motor and rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack as its sole means of propulsion. Recharged by plugging it into a variety of power sources, and its own regenerative capture ability, the car is capable (under ideal conditions) of 155 km on a single charge.
Portland is perhaps the best city in the US for a vehicle of this type (the city boasts a genuine commitment to green power, and has enough of an electric-car infrastructure that owners have a number of options for places to plug in), and the i-MiEV is definitely a city vehicle, making the best use of its regenerative abilities when there is a lot of braking and downhill coasting.
Putting around town in stop-and-go traffic, and moving the transmission mode selector between the normal drive mode and the higher-efficiency Eco and Brake settings, the small hatchback does everything a straight-up gasoline powered car can do. Better, maybe, as the i-MiEV has the benefit of being able to output its maximum torque (145 lb.-ft.) from the moment the throttle is pressed, making it very quick off the line.
The weight distribution within the car keeps the center of gravity low and the ride tight and responsive, with the lithium-ion battery pack installed under the floor and the motor over the rear wheels. It’s a rear-wheel drive vehicle, which makes for a very small turning circle, and the overall small size results in a highly manoeuvrable car.
There are three options when it comes to recharging the car - either a direct current quick charger (the most desirable, as it is by far the fastest), or charging with 240 or 120-volt power. Unless you live in a city with access to the first two modes, however, the car will be charged with the 120v plug-in, which requires 22 hours to resupply a full charge. The 120-volt rig is included with the i-MiEV; the other options must be purchased at owners’ expense.
The interior is what you typically find in a subcompact economy car - a fairly minimalist array of plastic components and switchgear, livened up by an instrument cluster that displays the battery recharge/digital speedometer/remaining battery life. It will look familiar to anyone who has driven hybrids.
And while the charge is still pretty decent after about 80 km of city driving, the situation changes dramatically when I take the i-MiEV for an extended highway spin, where the real-world limitations of the car show up.
The i-MiEV is readily capable of highway motoring, getting up to speed quickly and silently (Mitsubishi has given the car a top speed of 130 km/h), but with no opportunity to regenerate through braking, my 80% charge quickly depletes. After about 40 km of uninterrupted highway driving, my car is flashing a pretty dire warning about low power, causing it to limp back into Portland near the end of the battery life.
Still, for a technology still in its introductory phase, the i-MiEV is offering an interesting, green option for early adopters of the technology, at a price that stands up well against the still-small field of competition.