The oddly named Mitsubishi i—also known as the i-MiEV—is probably unknown to most Americans. Even regular gas-engine models from this automaker aren’t given much promotion.
The i four-door hatchback was introduced as a 2012 model and was offered only in a few U.S. markets—Hawaii and on the West Coast. The U.S. version is wider to better suit American occupants, and is the lowest-cost all-electric car sold in the country.
The i has served tens of thousands of drivers throughout the world, including many motorists in Japan. Mitsubishi says it has had four decades of experience designing and developing 100 percent battery powered vehicles.
The 2013 i is a carryover model from 2012. I expected it to be essentially an in-town car with marginal highway performance, but that wasn’t the case. While lively in town, it easily cruised at 65 mph and had decent 65-75 passing times on freeways and highways.
There are three drive modes: Performance, Efficiency and Regenerative Braking. Top speed is 81 mph.
The small i uses a lithium-ion battery, guaranteed for eight years or 100,000 miles. The i has a rear-mounted motor and rear-drive, which accounts for its 45/55 front/rear weight distribution.
This Mitsubishi has 66 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, but only weighs 2,579 pounds. It’s just 144.7 inches long, but is tall. Wheels are yanked to the far corners of its body. Several women immediately called my rather bulky looking all-black test car “cute.”
The single-speed automatic transmission worked smoothly.
As with all electrics, range depends on such things as driving habits and accessory use. One problem for some with the i might be range, which is rated at 62 miles, presumably under ideal conditions.
However, Road & Track magazine found during extended 3,818-mile use of a 2012 i that it “didn’t let us down. It under-promised and over-delivered. Nor did it give us any mechanical problems.” The magazine only mentioned one “range anxiety” worry during an essential 71-mile round trip, but said the car got home safely, while often cruising at 55 mph—extending its official range rating.
The EPA rates the i as delivering 126 miles per gallon in the city and 99 on highways for a combined city/highway figure of 112. No wonder the 2012 model was named one of the Ten Best Green Cars by Kelley Blue Book.
Gas station stops will be a thing of the past for i owners.
The i takes about 7 hours to charge on a 240-volt Level 2 charger and 22.5 hours on a standard 110-volt charger. However, a Level 3 quick charger is offered for the fastest battery charging time. A quick-charge port is offered. It’s said to recharge the battery to 80 percent in 30 minutes.
Before deducting thousands of dollars of tax credits, the base i “E” version lists at $29,125, although the higher-line $31,125 SE version I tested had a list price of $33,915 because it had a $2,790 Premium Package.
That package contains such items as steering wheel audio controls, navigation system, rearview camera, battery warning system and a quick-charge port.
The base i has a fair amount of equipment, especially for an all-electric car. It includes air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo, CD player, remote keyless entry and power mirrors and windows, besides 50/50 split folding rear seatbacks.
The SE adds an upscale audio system, heated driver seat, fog lights, automatic headlights, leather-covered wheel, low-battery warning system, aluminum wheels and color-keyed outer door handles and sideview mirrors.
Safety items include dual front air bags, side front air bags and side curtain air bags, besides a high-voltage cut-off system.
You drive the Mitsubishi i as you would a regular car, but must keep in mind accessories drain battery power—and thus lower the driving range before recharging.
Steering is quick, and the turning radius is commendably tight. Handling is good. My test car’s active stability control helped keep the car level during quick, fast moves. Although tall, the i has a nicely designed suspension and a low center of gravity.
The ride is supple for a short-wheelbase auto. The brakes have good pedal action and work well, helped by electronic brake force distribution and a brake assist feature.
The quiet, no-frills interior has a steering wheel very close to a tall driver unless he adjusts his seatback rearward. There’s decent room for four tall adults, but those in back—especially the one behind the driver—don’t have a surplus of room.
The seats need more side support and are quite firm. A driver can’t see where the very short front of the i ends. The climate control system has large controls and is easy to work. Other dashboard controls are small, but clearly marked. My test car’s information screen could be read at a glance.
The modest-sized cargo area has a wide, but rather high, opening. However, the flip-forward rear seatbacks sit flat when folded and greatly increase cargo space.
Just think of all the extra cargo you can buy without continually laying out money for gasoline.
Pros: All-electric. Sparkling economy. Lively. Nimble. Smooth. Fairly roomy. Lowest-cost electric car.
Cons: Very firm seats. No rear adult room to spare. Steering wheel close to tall drivers.
Bottom Line: All-electric Mitsubishi i performs well, but forget long-distance drives.