2012 Mitsubishi i SE
2012 Mitsubishi i SE Review:
Be careful out there.
That caution from an old cop drama on television is all you need to know about the 2012 Mitsubishi i—or, for that matter, any purely electric car.
The i is the latest and least expensive electric vehicle marketed by a major manufacturer. Called the i MiEV (for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) in its native Japan, it is a four-door hatchback just a dozen feet long, with room for four adults and modest cargo space.On sale in the United States since November of 2011, the i hasn’t exactly taken the country by storm. In its first six months on the market, fewer than 300 customers had bought one, although Automotive News reported that 16,000 had been sold in Europe and Japan since its introduction in 2009.
The new electric, as with others of its ilk, seeks to comport with the old adage, first uttered in the 1960s by an American Motors executive, that Americans want fuel economy—and will pay anything to get it.
There are two versions: the ES at $29,975 and the tested SE at $31,975. With a few options, the test car had a bottom-line sticker of $35,065. Given its lightweight construction, looks and general ambience of basic transportation—tinny sounding doors, for example—the i is expensive compared to fossil fuel economy cars, although a federal government rebate of $7,500 is available.
But it certainly delivers fuel economy. The EPA rates its gasoline-equivalent fuel consumption at 126 miles to the gallon in the city, 99 on the highway and 112 in combined city/highway driving. Owners will never burn a drop of gasoline. Of course, the electricity to keep it charged comes from power plants that burn coal, natural gas or nuclear fuel.This is where being careful comes in. If you own an i, you must continuously and actively be aware of your comings and goings. The EPA rates its range at 62 miles, but that’s under controlled test conditions. Anyone who has spent time in an electric vehicle knows the range will be considerably less in ordinary urban and freeway driving.
If your daily driving covers, say, less than 50 miles, you should be OK. But even that requires some planning because it takes 22 hours to do a full charge of the i’s lithium ion battery pack from a standard 110-volt household outlet. If you have 220-volt service, the time drops to seven hours.
As a result, the i works best in situations where the owner takes short trips, returns home in between and plugs in the charger before going out again. Long commutes require charging at the workplace during the day.
All of that aside, the Mitsubishi i is a pleasant, even endearing small runabout. Though more at home chasing around the city and suburbs, it cruises effortlessly at freeway speeds, with the only sounds coming from the tires and the whoosh around its wind-cheating body. Around town, the sound is a muted whine.
The driving position is high, almost like that of a small SUV or crossover, and the thin front seats have decent comfort though little lateral support. In back, there’s generous headroom but limited space for knees.Driving the i a simple matter of inserting the key, twisting it and waiting for the green “ready” light to go on. Shift the clumsy, gated lever into “drive” and step on the accelerator pedal. The electric power steering delivers a connected feel and solid straight-line tracking. Regenerative braking helps re-charge the batteries.
Acceleration with the 66-horsepower motor is modest—Car and Driver Magazine timed its zero to 60 sprint at 13 seconds—but it feels quicker because of the electric motor’s characteristic of producing its full torque, or twisting force, from rest. Because of that, there’s a single speed transmission and no shift points. The torque goes directly to the wheels.
The i’s motor is mounted under the back seat and drives the rear wheels, which could give pause to some potential buyers in areas of winter snow and other intractable weather. It also results in curtailed cargo space of 13 cubic feet, which can be expanded to 50 cubic feet by folding the rear seatback. One plus from the rear drive is a tight turning circle of less than 31 feet.The base i includes full safety and most of the convenience equipment of any modern car, including power windows, air conditioning and remote locking. One nifty standard item is a small transmitter that enables the owner to remotely turn on the air conditioner or heater while the car is plugged in. When the i is unplugged for travel, it is temperate inside and fully charged. The remote also can be used to automatically start and stop the charging process.
The tested SE model had an upgraded audio system, alloy wheels and higher quality cloth upholstery, along with fog lights and automatic on/off headlights. It also had a $2,790 premium package that included a navigation system, rearview camera and a 220-volt quick charging port.
Reflecting its urban orientation, the i does not offer cruise control.