2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV first drive
Mitsubishi bets big on plug-ins with ambitious, fully electric four-seater
Portland, Ore. — "Electric Avenue" is not just an old Eddy Grant song, but as of August this year, an actual street showcasing the latest in electric vehicle charging technology. Located near the heart of Portland State University campus, it's why Mitsubishi has brought us to this charmingly bohemian West Coast city — that, plus it offered a helpful electron top-up spot for a day's worth of driving in its upcoming all-electric i-MiEV hatchback.
All these electrons, including those of another top-up later that afternoon, seemed overkill to us, as we arrived easily back at our hotel at between half and a quarter "tank" of juice. But those top-ups proved critical to some colleagues who left our afternoon stop just after us, as traffic tie-ups meant an up-close brush with the dreaded range anxiety that's part and parcel of any pure electric vehicle right now.
Is this phenomenon simply growing pains at the birth of a new, cleaner electric vehicle age? Or will this anxiety and the stubbornly high cost of batteries mean another false start on the sustainable paths away from gasoline that everyone concedes must eventually be found?
Mitsubishi and Nissan strongly hope it's the former, as they may have literally staked their futures on the value of becoming leaders in the expensive field of vehicle electrification. Despite a variety of electric research vehicles, Mitsubishi's first stab at any form of production vehicle electrification is the i-MiEV, set to arrive in Canadian dealers in December, with initial customer deliveries planned the following month.
Serious tax rebates and high fun part of Mitsu's i-MiEV pitch
Mitsubishi stresses that the i-MiEV will be the least expensive fully electric vehicle on the market, at about $25 grand thanks to provincial rebates in Ontario and Quebec (of $8,230 and $7,850 respectively) where the bulk of initial Canadian EV sales are expected.
Buyers elsewhere in Canada are looking at a starting price of $32,998 for the (extremely) base car, or $35,998 once you include the highly desirable Premium package.
Then there's that looming range caveat: the i-MiEV will realistically give you only about 100 km worth of driving before it needs a long swig of electricity, though Mitsu insists on quoting its 155 km best-case scenario. We stuck to the carefully planned route here, which involved zero-ing the tripmeter a few times, so I'm not sure precisely how far we travelled, but definitely closer to 100 km than 155.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV has Japanese 'kei car' roots
The "fun" part of Mitsu's "good clean fun" pitch lays largely at the feet of the i-MiEV's futuristic styling. Introduced in Japan in 2006 as the Mitsubishi i, this tiny subcompact kei car originally offered a 659-cc three-cylinder gasoline engine. The tall and bubbly design is not a paragon of toughness, but has aged remarkably well, the North American version's adding an indiscernible 110 mm to a now-wider body.
This visual staying power is especially impressive considering it first appeared as a concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2003, in largely the same one-box, iPod-on-wheels form.
Unfortunately, stepping inside the cabin shows its rapidly aging engineering wrinkles. This is a dated, obviously low-rent interior that is perked up in the base model by a heated driver's seat and air conditioning, but that's about it for niceties. The Premium package adds Bluetooth, USB, steering wheel controls, nicer trim material and a GPS system for a pricy $3,000, but it's still worth it if you don't want to be reminded of your cheapness every time you step inside it.
Plus, its large, colour touch-screen adds a much-needed high-tech touch, as there is no electronic dash display unique to the i-MiEV. Instead, there's a gauge where a needle goes back and forth to let you know how kind your driving is being to the battery — and your range.