Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev. Click image to enlarge
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Mitsubishi Motors Canada

Review and photos by Michael Schlee

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2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev

The gap is shrinking. That cavernous divide that used to separate conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from their all-electric counterparts is no longer the width of the Agawa canyon. With every new introduction, electric vehicles (EVs) get closer and closer to being ‘normal’ cars. Gone are the days of funky GM EV1 or the neighbourhood-only ZENN vehicles — we now have range-extended electric vehicles that drive like normal ICE cars and all-electric vehicles that give up very little to their ICE counterparts (minus price). And now, there is a new player in town: Mitsubishi.

New for 2012 is the all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The ‘i’ is the vehicle’s name, and MiEV stands Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle. Based on the i kei car (a special class of small cars in Japan), the i-MiEV does away with that car’s conventional gasoline engine and replaces it with a 49-kW AC synchronous motor that produces 66 hp from 3,000–6,000 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque right from 0 rpm. The i-MiEV is a mid-engined vehicle that sends electric thrust, up to 9900 rpm, through a single-speed, fixed reduction gear to the rear wheels. Electric juice for this drivetrain is stored in a 16-kWh lithium-ion, 330V, 88-cell battery. This leads to an official range of up to 155 kilometers in ideal conditions and a top speed of 130 km/h.

Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev. Click image to enlarge

The chassis of the i-Miev is comprised of a three-link de dion suspension in the rear and an independent front strut suspension. The car comes with low-rolling-resistance Dunlop Enasave 01A/S all-season tires, sized 145/65R15 up front and 175/60R15 out back. There is no spare tire on this vehicle, just a flat tire repair kit.

Being an all-electric vehicle with a sizable battery, recharge times can be just as important as driving range. The i-MiEV comes with three levels of charging apparatuses depending on the voltage available to you. Level one charging is your standard 110V outlet and requires 22 hours to fully charge the battery from a depleted state. Level two charging uses a 240V charge unit that can be installed in your garage and requires seven hours to charge the i’s battery from dead. Level two chargers are also popping up in condos, businesses and some public parking lots. The final charging option, level three, is a DC quick charge that plugs into a separate port on the left-hand side of the vehicle (levels one and two plug in to the right-side port). Level three charging can recoup a dead battery back to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes. The i-MiEV is the only EV currently sold in Canada with a level three charging port built in as standard equipment. Although level three charging stations are few and far between in Canada, it is rumored some companies and utility organizations are going to invest in these charging stations in the future.

Standard* on the i-MiEV, and included with my test vehicle, is a two-way remote that allows you to select when you would like the vehicle to charge, to take advantage of off-peak power rates. As well, up to 30 minutes prior to your departure, it is possible to either heat up or cool down the i-MiEV while plugged in so it is ready for you when you leave. It draws the HVAC power off the grid instead of the battery to save maximum range once unplugged. I tried to use this feature twice: once at my in-laws’ house, where we blew a fuse in the house by opening the garage while the car was being heated, and once at my house, where we blew a fuse by turning on a closet light while the vehicle was heating. Needless to say, with this nuance and a 22-hour charge time, this vehicle would not be practical without the stage two charger, but what customer who ponies up the $32,998 base price wouldn’t get one?

Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV car test drives reviews mitsubishi green scene
2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev. Click image to enlarge

Yes, you read that right: this vehicle has a starting price of $32,998, which makes it cheaper than either the Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt. However, for that price you do not get much on top of the impressive cutting-edge EV technology. Rewind your interior look-and-feel standards to the mid-1990s, and you will not be disappointed. Features like tilt steering and cruise control are missing, and cheap, hard plastic dominates everything. Being that this is an EV, it can get away with a spartan interior to a degree, but this seems to push the envelope a bit too far for my liking. There is an easy fix, though. For an extra $3,000 though, the premium package adds items like 15-inch alloy wheels, upgraded black, silver, or brown interior accents, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, door trim cloth inserts, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, dual vanity mirrors, 360-watt eight-speaker digital audio system, 40-GB hard-drive-based navigation, seven-inch touchscreen display, maintenance recorder, rearview monitor, steering wheel–mounted audio control switches, Bluetooth and premium cloth seating. To me, it is a no-brainer to spend the extra three grand if you are already investing $32,998 in this vehicle. Why have an electric vehicle for $32,998 that is missing so many modern conveniences, when for $35,998 you can have your cake and eat it to?

The base model I was in made do with a 100-watt, four-speaker stereo that still produced decent sound when not competing with wind and suspension noise. The front seats were flimsy and thin, to save weight, most likely, but were not uncomfortable. The seating position is high and you almost look eye-to-eye with compact CUVs. Speaking of which, the i-MiEV’s cargo figures are 377 L behind the rear seats and 1,430 L with them folded down — not bad for a vehicle that is only 3,675 mm in length.

As mentioned earlier, the i-MiEV has been on sale in other parts of the world for years. However, North American versions of this car differ from their European and Asian counterparts as they are longer, wider, have different windshields and different bumpers. One question this raises, for me at least, is why didn’t they alter the styling? If they were adjusting the vehicle’s shape for North American consumption, why not style it a little more towards North American tastes? As it stands, it may be a bit too funky and cute for prospective buyers.

The i-MiEV has three driving modes to choose from: D, Eco and B. D is the normal drive mode; ECO limits throttle response and increases regenerative braking, and in B, the car drives as normal but applies maximum regenerative braking for steep hills. With a tall, skinny body and narrow 145 series low-rolling resistance front tires, it is obvious this car was never meant to be a corner-carver. Take an off-ramp at excessive speed and you quickly learn how bad an idea that is. The tires push, push, push, then suddenly grip and try to fire you back into the apex of the corner. However, take a high-speed corner at a cautious (i.e. more reasonable) speed and you will barely notice a difference. On straighter bits of road around town, the i-MiEV makes you forget you are even driving an electric vehicle. Even with a 1,171-kg curb weight motivated by a paltry 66 hp, the instantaneous torque from the electric motor keeps the car from turning into a slow-speed obstacle for other motorists to dodge.

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