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Mitsubishi i-MIEV: Not-so-electric car best run with cold pizza
Consumer Reports is weary of the Mitsubishhi i-MIEV. Image © James Raia

Mitsubishi i-MIEV: Not-so-electric car best run with cold pizza

The Mitsubishi i-MIEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) arrived in the United States around the same time as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. The latter two were marketed with huge television campaigns and touted by celebrity spokesmen.

The Mitsubishi debuted as if the carmaker for some reason didn’t want anyone to know about it. Nonetheless, it immediately generated curiosity. The i-MIEV exterior design is futuristic and it attracts on-lookers. Its entry-level price (about $22,000) is the lowest among major carmakers offering electric vehicles.

And for anyone with even a passing interest in alternative vehicles, there’s the obvious: Just how does the odd little machine actually work?

The Mitsubishi i-MIEV

Recharging the Mitsubishi i-MIEV in Concord, California. All images © James Raia

As I found out recently during a full night’s trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento, the i-MIEV is not the answer to environmentally savvy driving for any situation except as a city car.

The Mitsubishi i-MIEV is small in some ways even among small cars. It has 66 horsepower and a top speed of 81 mph. Its 0-60 time isn’t listed, but the prevailing estimate is 13 seconds. But there’s a dichotomy: There are four doors and four well-cushioned seats and spacious legroom and headroom. The rear seats fold down individually, expanding the trunk’s compact 13.2 cubic feet of storage to 50.4 cubic feet.

Mitsubishi quotes an EPA MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) of 126 for city driving, 99 for highway driving, and 112 combined. The total EPA range is 62 miles.

Mitsubishi i-MIEV: Numbers Tell The Story

I knew all the parameters before the usual 90-minute journey I make a few times a month. I thought I might be able to do better than the numbers Mitsubishi advertised. I was wrong.

The drive from Moraga to Sacramento is about 90 miles. I made a list of re-charge stations in Concord, Fairfield, Vacaville and Davis and had some leftover pizza from lunch with my mother as my companion. As it turned out, cold pizza at midnight while waiting for an electric car to recharge in a cold, closed car dealership parking lot tastes pretty good.

I left the Bay Area around dinnertime, the prime commuting hour. With freeway traffic progressing at about 15 mph, the charge range changed less than I expected.  I drove 18 miles and the charge only lowered from 62 to 48 miles.

Regardless, I stopped in Concord to recharge. The new facility at the Concord Hilton is ideally situated at the far end of the parking lot and tucked into a tree-lined area. There are several level 1 chargers (8 hours) for overnight guests, a few level 2 chargers (3 hours) and one level 3 (30-minute) charger provided by Blink.

I used a pre-paid electric charge card provided by the manufacturer and recharged in a Level 2 charger. It cost about $2.50. And that’s when my “adventure” began.

The freeway commuter traffic had subsided leaving Concord, and as I accelerated to about 60 mph, the i-MIEV charge rapidly decreased. For each mile I drove, the remaining charge was reduced by to two-to-three miles.

Several car manufacturers along the auto row in Fairfield have electric charges, but my first experience with “range anxiety” quickly came to the forefront. It was unlikely I was going make the next EV location I planned.

I took the next frontage road and followed a FedEx truck driver into an industrial park. My thought was FedEx might have an EV charge station or at least one of the drivers might know of one within a few miles.

And they did. A group of guys checked on their smart phones for a location in the area. The closest was 1.5 miles away at a Nissan dealership. I thanked the guys, and drove to the dealership. It had a few level two chargers. I stopped, asked for permission, and then charged away.

One salesman at the dealership told me a Valero station about a mile away had a level 3 charger. I ended my level 2 charge quickly and drove to the Valero station. The station’s chargers had just been installed and I was the first customer. The chargers were level 2, not level 3. After trying both units and waiting more than 45 minutes, the store’s attendant and I agreed the chargers weren’t working.

Mitsubishi i-MIEV: Ford Salesman To The Rescue

While considering what to do next, I noticed a young man wearing a white shirt with a Ford logo refilling his pick-up truck. I approached him and asked if he knew of any chargers in the area open late. He offered to drive me to the dealership to see if the charger in his employer’s lot would be available after the dealership closed.

Matt Swoyer, a sales associate at the Ford/Lincoln dealership (he gave me his business card), then drove me back to the i-MIEV and I drove it to the dealership. I plugged in and ate four slices of cold pizza. I watched the night watchman patrol and I watched the janitor and his son clean the service bays. I waited more than two hours for recharging.

I left the dealership and drove to Davis and found the city parking lot charger I had marked as a destination prior to my trip. I took a nap while recharging again for about an hour. My home in Sacramento is 13 miles from Davis, so I recharged to 35 miles and left Davis at 1:30 a.m. I arrived home 45 minutes later with 13 miles of charge remaining. The odometer read I had traveled 88 miles and it took 8 hours and 15 minutes.

Good for Mitsubishi for its innovation in the electric vehicle market. Despite my ordeal, the i-MIEV is a fun, spacious and futuristic car to drive.

But it’s a city car at best. Drive it on the freeway for any length of time and beware. It will likely test your patience. It will take hours of your time. You could read a book or two. Then again, you might be able to defuse the frustration like I did — with the joys of eating cold pizza.

6 comments

  1. Heading out with only vague ideas where to find charging stations is the first rookie mistake you made. EV Charging stations are few and far between when compared to say gas stations, so good planning pays big rewards.

    The second mistake you made was not carrying a smart phone and application you could use to establish both the location and working status of chargers. The working status would have saved you following dubious car salesman advice.

    Why you charged at Level2 rather than Level3 at Concord isn’t clear. That added an hour or so of time you didn’t need to.

    There is a level3 station at Vacaville, although you mentioned Vacaville as a potential stopping off point you didn’t stop or use the level3 there.

    Going via Vallejo added 7 or 8 miles to your journey. Going the shortest route whenever possible is key to making longer journeys.

    I’m sure a more seasoned i-MIEV owner could recreate your journey, do it less time and not suffer from range anxiety.

    • Thank you for reading my article. After correcting several typographical errors, I posted your comments, and I appreciate your opinions. However, apparently you didn’t read the article completely or understand it. I didn’t drive to Vallejo, and I did attempt to find to find a level 3 charger in Vacaville and couldn’t. And the new level 2 chargers in the Valero station didn’t work. The article was to inform the public about the Mitsubishi i-MIEV and my experience. If you’d like to write about your experience with an electric vehicle, I would be please to post it.

  2. Nice story and it’s exactly the story I hear often from the people who get their 1st EV.

    The limitations of these commercial ‘prototypes’ are thing to be aware of. They are advertised as products but by all means they are not as ready to be used as their tail piped cousins.

    Only thing that can keep the business afloat with these prototypes is extraordinary customer support. You should have 24/7 hotline to call as you get in trouble.

    The growth of the battery capacity is accelerating on these electric cars. Cell phone battery tech has been let behind and technologies for larger battery packs are developed separately.

    So what’s coming?

    All OEM manufacturers have already access to tech which allows +200 mile range. It is even cost effective but implementation will take still some time. They need track record so they can avoid huge recalls which are expensive. In cost and in reputation.

  3. This is one more review where the electric car is driven far beyond its range and then criticized for range, charge time and range anxiety. (oh dear!).

    My wife has had her i-MiEV for over a year now and has never had the problems you promote to scare the public and degrade the vehicle. Her longest trip is 59 miles each way and she has 12 miles left over which allows her to shop when she gets there with no worries. I set up a level 2 charger there so she can recharge overnight. She plugs in when she is done driving and has a full charge in the morning without waiting. Effectively, her charge time is the seconds it takes to connect/disconnect the charger. This is much faster, more convenient, cleaner and cheaper than gas! During her work week she only has to recharge once or twice.

    The bottom line is she loves her “Mitsu” and drives it every day. Cost of electricity to charge? We don’t know, our electric bill seems about the same so she feels like she is driving for free. She has NO RANGE ANXIETY. Anyone whose driving pattern fits the car’s profile should go out and buy one.

  4. I’m afraid you did a disservice to EVs. Since 95 percent of all daily driving in the USA is less than the Mitsubishi i-MiEV’s 62-mile EPA range the car is eminently suited for use as a daily-driving vehicle. Indeed, my wife and I have put more that 16,000 miles on our i-MiEV and it has become our primary car, the Honda Gen1 Insight hybrid relegated for the occasional longer trip. Without even resorting to L3, the car easily delivers 150-200 mile daily drives using L2 (240v) opportunity-charging. Ignoring the fact that your long-distance trip could have been better-planned, perhaps it would have been nice if you had emphasized the car’s other advantages such as super-tight turning radius, cavernous flat-floor storage with the back seats down (much more than the Leaf), excellent visibility (with aft headrests removed), super-easy ingress and egress with excellent headroom, decent handling, and the added bonus that its overall small size makes it wonderful for urban shopping-center parking. A top speed of 80 mph and decent acceleration means it’s no slouch on the Interstate, either. We are hopefully at the dawn of the resurgence of electric vehicles, and underscoring their positives in addition to identifying their weaknesses will help keep the often-clueless and more-often-innumerate public properly informed.

  5. There are several free smart phone apps available that will show you where the Level 3 charge stations are.
    You could have stopped at one of the two Level 3 chargers in Concord, and the Level 3 charger in Vacaville for 15 or 20 minutes each and had enough charge to get to Sacramento.
    If you don’t have a smart phone, you can check EV charge station websites on the internet before you leave. They will show you where the Level 3 charge stations are and if they are working.
    Unfortunately, with a new technology like electric vehicles, understanding your charging options can be confusing.
    I invite you to take the same trip again, stopping at the Level 3 charge stations, and see if your opinion changes.

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