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  • 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV SE

    Posted on December 22nd, 2012 ninarussin

    Four-passenger, five-door pure electric car

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV

    The Mitsubishi MiEV, which shares the same platform as the subcompact i, is one of a handful of pure electric cars available in the United States. Power comes from a 66-horsepower synchronous motor and a single, fixed gear transmission. The motor and lithium-ion battery pack are packaged in a watertight, stainless steel safety cell under the floor of the passenger compartment, where there is minimal intrusion to both car occupants and the rear cargo area.

    After testing the car in fleets, Mitsubishi began rolling out the MiEV last year at dealerships in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. This year, the i MiEV is available in all fifty states.

    There are two grades: the base model which starts at $29,125, and the upscale SE, priced from $31,125. Buyers qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $7500.

    The test car comes with a premium package that adds navigation, steering wheel mounted audio controls, rearview camera, a battery warning system and quick charge port. Adding in the $850 delivery charge, final MSRP for the test car is $34,765.

    Lightweight electric motor

    2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV

    Heavy battery packs and electric motors can be the bane of electric cars and hybrids. Not only do they add weight; they can also make the car feel unbalanced. The MiEV motor weighs 108 pounds, and the lithium-ion battery is as light and compact as current technology permits.

    By locating the motor, transmission and battery pack under the passenger compartment, engineers lowered the center of gravity, making the 2600-pound chassis surprisingly stable at speed. The fact that the MiEV is rear-wheel drive also enhances its handling.

    Engineers increased the car’s footprint, making it eight inches longer and 4-1/2 inches wider than gasoline-powered versions sold in Europe. The North American spec car has larger bumpers than the European spec and a wider passenger compartment for better hip room.

    The MacPherson front suspension is also unique to the American spec model, while it shares the three-link rear suspension with its European counterparts.

    Sixty-two mile driving range

    i MiEV Charging Port

    The advertised driving range for the MiEV is 62 miles, which is enough to get most commuters to and from work. While many electric cars purport to have much longer driving ranges than they actually do, this seems to be fairly accurate. My test drive, which was just short of 30 miles, left me with 35 more according to the energy meter.

    Granted, this was on a mild day when I didn’t have to use the air conditioner. But I drove the MiEV as I would an ordinary, gas-powered vehicle, without using the Eco setting, or doing any number of other fuel-economizing measures such as drafting and coasting.

    There are three driving modes: D, Eco and B. D mode gives the driver maximum torque for good acceleration off the line, Eco extends battery life, and B increases regenerative braking to act as a low gear for steep declines.

    Once the driver gets used to the lack of engine noise, driving the MiEV is very similar to a gasoline-powered car. It has a similar ignition slot, gated shift panel on the center console, speedometer and combination trip/range meter. Braking is firm but not dicey, and the electric power steering system has decent on-center response.

    Visibility around the perimeter is quite good, which is especially important for an electric car. The lack of engine noise makes drivers in surrounding vehicles less aware of the MiEV’s presence. The MiEV’s demure footprint compared to full-sized SUVs and trucks doesn’t help.

    In order to minimize its curb weight, engineers added very little in the way of sound insulation to the chassis. As a result, there is a fair amount of road and wind noise. This didn’t particularly bother me, given the engineering team’s goal.

    Because electric motors develop peak torque at very low speeds, the MiEV does surprisingly well off the line. Peak torque, 145 foot-pounds, gives the MiEV better initial acceleration than many passenger cars.

    Fifteen-inch alloy wheels on the test car are big enough to keep the chassis stable on the highway, and when powering through cloverleaf exit ramps. I didn’t have the chance to test the low-rolling resistance tires on wet roads, but on dry pavement, they worked just fine.

    Remote device controls charging, air conditioning and heating

    A remote device on the key fob enables the owner to remotely control both the charging and HVAC functions. The remote control works at distances up to about 100 meters from the car.

    Charging time using a home 240-volt outlet is about seven hours. Buyers who opt for the quick charge port and have access to level-3 public quick charge stations can recharge in about 30 minutes.

    Spacious interior

    I was surprised by the amount of interior space inside the MiEV, considering its subcompact size. The car is capable of carrying up to four averaged sized adults.

    Rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The i MiEV is too small to put a bicycle inside, but folding the rear seats flat does make room for a substantial amount of luggage, groceries, golf clubs, coolers and small camping equipment.

    Interior design is on the Spartan side. This is partly by necessity, since amenities such as leather and heavily padded seats add vehicle weight. But in this writer’s opinion, designers could have done a better job. The brown and black color scheme doesn’t look upscale enough for a car costing over $30,000.

    The interior also lacks some basic amenities such as bottle holders and storage compartments. If done properly, with a more attractive color scheme, the MiEV would have a lot more eye appeal without adding significant expense or weight.

    Standard safety

    The i MiEV comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock braking, traction and stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and an acoustic alert system for pedestrians.

    Mitsubishi builds the I MiEV at its assembly plant in Mizushima, Japan.

    Like: The i MiEV is eco-friendly and fun to drive, with a peppy electric motor, good stability at speed and firm, linear braking. The rearview camera and good visibility make it easy to monitor surrounding vehicles.

    Dislike: The high MSRP will make the MiEV unaffordable to some potential buyers, despite the federal tax rebate.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Mitsubishi
    Model: i MiEV SE
    Year: 2012
    Base price: $31,125
    As tested: $34,765
    Horsepower: 66 Hp
    Torque: 145 lbs.-ft.
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 126/99 MPGe
    Comment: Driving range between charges is 62 miles.

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