Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi I-MiEV

Mitsubishi i EV
© Eric Rogell

When the Mitsubishi I-MiEV SE arrived at my house on a flatbed (normal for any EV test driver—gotta conserve every drop of battery juice), my first thought was, "Hmm, looks like a giant purple bug. This oughtta turn some heads." And it did just that. With a lot of them being double takes. I guess the rounded, bubbly styling draws a lot of attention… either that or I don't look like the kind of guy who'd be rolling around in a tiny, raspberry colored car.

Either way, I only had 3 days to test the I-MiEV, so I wanted to get as much wheel time as possible, no matter how many open-mouthed looks I got.

Styling

Even though the I-MiEV looks like someone washed a bus in hot water then put it in the dryer, the soft, rounded shape and smiling insect facia do grow on you after a while. And there's just enough "futuristic" in the design to signal this is not your typical vehicle. And like i mentioned earlier, it does attract attention.

© Mitsubishi

Inside, the I-MiEV is about as bare bones as vehicles come these days. There's nothing fancy in the interior at all—this is a car built to get you there and back efficiently, without a lot of fanfare and embellishment. It makes the C-MAX and Prius look downright luxurious by comparison.

The SE model I tested is at the upper end of the trims, and it comes with a basic AM/FM radio (no satellite available) with CD and MP3 player, manual seats, and a leather wrapped steering wheel. My tester also came with the Premium Package, adding on a navi system with back up cam, steering wheel controls, heated side view mirrors and a quick-charge port (more on that in a minute).

© Eric Rogell

Looking at the dash, you understand the definition of "simple." There are no fancy eco trainers, no blossoming leaves like on other EVs and hybrids. The I-MiEV just gives you MPH, a battery charge gauge, and the miles until "empty." And an indicator that lets you know if you're using energy, or capturing it. That's all, in three compact circles.

The interior seating is comfortable enough, but you do get the idea Mitsubishi intends for you to drive the I-MiEV a few miles and get out. With a range of just over 60 miles, you're not expected to be in the seats long. There was something interesting I noticed in the rear seats: There's some sort of strange plastic piece running down the center. My guess is, since the I-MiEV is rated as a 4-passenger car, it's to keep you from squeezing a 5th passenger in there.

© Eric Rogell

Ride and Economy

The I-MiEV is rated at an EPA estimated 112-MPGe, with a range of 62 miles before you need to plug it in. I only had 3 days in the vehicle, and I did just over 50 miles, with the "fuel" gauge showing I had a little less than a quarter tank left. So I'm guessing I could have gotten close to the suggested 62 miles before running out of juice.

And even though those miles were done in a vehicle designed for shorter trips, I was never uncomfortable in the I-MiEV. Would I have like a little more pampering? Sure. But it wasn't like I was rolling in a medieval torture device either. And the acceleration isn't what you'd call "peppy," but then this car wasn't built for speed.

© Eric Rogell

One thing I really do like about the I-MiEV is the charging. Had I run dangerously low on juice, there were two ports for me to choose from to recharge the vehicle: the standard portable charging cable that runs off your home outlets and takes 22 1/2 hours to bring the batteries back to full charge, or I could use the optional DC Quick-Charge that's included with the Premium Package. This allows you to pull into a public charging station and charge up to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes. Not bad when you're running low and can't make it back home or to the office. (Providing there are charging stations near you… but the industry is working on that.) You can also opt to have an EVSE Home Charging Dock installed in your garage, allowing you to fully charge your I-MiEV overnight, in 7 hours.

Overall

The 2012 Mitsubishi I-MiEV is a capable vehicle that delivers what it promises, enough electric range to get you to work and home, without ever visiting a gas station again. The interior is a little spartan for my personal tastes—and given that the I-MiEV comes with a relatively steep price tag: the one I tested had a sticker of $34,765, including $2,790 for the Premium Package—it may a little out of range for some people, and a lot less bang for your buck than other EVs on the road.

But not everyone will see it that way. Take my girlfriend's reaction. After riding around in it for a day with me, she said she would love to get one just to get back and forth from work so she wouldn't have to worry about gas anymore. And that's the attraction of the I-MiEV—it doesn't need to be fancy, just frugal.

See also: 2014 BMW i3 electric car makes its worldwide debut!

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles

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