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In 2012, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV remains an enormously expensive city car at $48,800, though it's also still unique in the light car segment as an all-electric vehicle.
The tiny Mitsubishi was the first proper electric car of the modern era to reach Australia, though it has since been joined by the Nissan Leaf and Holden Volt that, while more expensive, are larger and designed from the ground-up as electric cars.
The i-MiEV is based on the company's i-Car.
As one of the first mass-produced fully electric vehicles, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV certainly looks the part, featuring a futuristic design, which looks exactly like I had imagined an electric car would look when I was young.
I’ll be the first to admit that it looks different (in both a good and bad way) and I was ultimately very sceptical about the whole electric vehicle thing.
I opted to take the car off Mitsubishi’s hands for a week to trial the car in ‘real-life’ conditions. I wanted to see what it was like to take shopping, how it performed as a ‘designated driver’ taxi and how realistic it was for range.
From the outside the i-MiEV becomes strangely attractive the longer you spend gazing at it in person.
The passenger cabin shape is encapsulated by tiny front and rear overhangs, which are essentially devoid due to the car missing an internal combustion engine. The battery pack is concealed under the vehicle and the electric motor is tucked away under the boot floor.
Keeping with the norm (so to speak), the i-MiEV’s charging port is hidden behind a fuel cap, lending to the car’s transitional shape. A proximity sensing key is used to lock, unlock and start the car.
The only real disappointment from a design perspective is the I-MiEV’s interior. It’s loaded with cheap-feeling plastic and is bereft of any futuristic feel, which is what you would expect from such a revolutionary vehicle. It’s more reminiscent of dialup than it is of fibre internet (and no, this review isn’t being funded by the Australian Government).
The quality of the interior aside, it’s not a bad place to be. There’s enough room to comfortably sit four adults, in addition to a nicely sized boot for odds and ends.
I was given strict instructions by Mitsubishi to not attempt any distance records and to keep the car’s intended use in mind. It took all of one hour to break that promise.
Mitsubishi claims the car’s range is 120km. Leaving the dealership, I knew I had to get 90km, so I thought I’d be set.
Typically, Mother Nature served up a plate of Melbourne’s finest weather with tremendous winds and sheering rain. It wasn’t helped by massive traffic congestion.
The i-MiEV performs best in city conditions, due to the fact it regenerates power during braking and deceleration. The problem was that I had to contend with a lot of stop/start, slow moving traffic, in addition to around 80 percent of highway driving thereafter.
During highway driving, the car can’t reclaim any energy from the system, so it’s essentially going flat out, reducing range in the quickest way possible.
As I approached home, I realised I wasn’t going to make it. I had around 5km distance left and around 1km of range. I was facing the thought of being stranded and having to make that dreaded call to Mitsubishi.
Lady Luck was working on my side that day, considering a friend’s place was just a stone’s throw from where I was going to run out of juice. I was able to plug up for around an hour to get enough charge to make it home.
At this point, I was a bit miffed by the whole concept and didn’t really see the logic.
It wasn’t until I drove the car around the city and did the menial tasks one would do with such a car that it began making sense. Trips to/from work, down to the shops, around the corner, to the gym... are all perfect for a car like the i-MiEV.
It was never designed to be driven between cities or long distances between charges.
The i-MiEV requires a 15A plug to charge. It’s as easy as plugging the universal car port into the car and the other end into a 15A power source. Once connected to a house power supply, it is capable of charging from empty to completely full in around seven hours.
Most houses that have had a modern air-conditioner installed will already have a 16A circuit breaker in place and will require a 15A plug in addition. Depending on distances between the power box and the power point, this could cost up to around $200 to install.
According to my power meter, the car was drawing 12A and 2800W during the initial part of charging (with the last and longest part of the charge reserved for trickle charging). If you crunch the numbers, the 88 cells that store 16kWh of energy cost around $3.20 to charge. Our home electricity provider supplies us with 50 percent natural energy (wind and solar), meaning the car will emit around two-thirds the carbon emissions of a Toyota Prius.
If you produce your own electricity from home or opt to receive 100 percent wind and solar energy from your provider, that figure will be reduced to zero carbon emissions due to electricity generation being entirely natural.
Mitsubishi’s plan to have i-MiEV’s charged via ‘quick-charge’ stations around the country has begun in earnest with a quick-charge station located at their headquarters in South Australia. This is set to follow with roadside support agencies carrying portable quick chargers to help stranded motorists make it to the nearest power point.
Driving the i-MiEV is completely surreal and unlike a conventional car in the sense that it emits next to no noise. The only noise you will hear is an electric train-like noise, or tram-like noise, which is an increasing pitch whine as the car gains speed.
The throttle response is absolutely staggering. Stand on the throttle and the i-MiEV takes off with great haste. The power output is 47kW and 180Nm of torque. An in-house test found a 0-100km/h time of around 12.1 seconds.
The instant throttle response is thanks to the electric motor’s maximum torque availability from 0rpm, unlike a conventional petrol vehicle, which generates maximum torque at much higher revs.
Conventional braking is almost entirely superseded by energy regeneration. Instead of braking, the driver simply lifts off the throttle and allows the electric motor to go into reverse and begin regenerating energy, which would have otherwise been lost to heat during conventional braking.
The driver is able to select three driving modes. D is for regular driving and limited efficiency. In this mode, the car will only mildly regenerate during throttle lift. E (Eco) is for economy driving. In this mode, the car’s throttle response is weakened and the car reclaims energy more vigorously. The final B (Braking) mode is for maximum reclaim of energy. In this mode, the car will resist much harder when the driver lifts off the throttle and will recharge the battery in the quickest timeframe.
The i-MiEV’s brake pedal feel is great, as is the steering feel. It’s not about to set Le Mans on fire, partly due to the miniscule 145mm-wide front tyres (175mm rear tyres), but handles corners and tight turns well when taken at sensible speeds.
So, I hear you wondering. If I only just made it home when I collected the car, how did I make it back to the dealership?
In preparation for the trip, I charged the car overnight and left directly from home making no stops. After some conservative driving, I managed to make it back to the dealership with over one quarter of a ‘tank’ left. It goes to show that Mitsubishi’s distance estimates are correct, but adverse conditions can easily affect the car’s range.
I had an absolute hoot driving the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and can’t wait to see what the future of cars has to bring. Mitsubishi is set to release the i-MiEV for public sale in the third quarter of this year, meaning that families can buy one outright to own, instead of the current leasing arrangement.
With petrol prices set to continually rise in the foreseeable future, cars of the future like the i-MiEV are paving the way for things to come, and personally, I cannot wait.