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?
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.
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Mitsubishi i-MIEV: Numbers Tell The Story
I knew all the parameters before the usual 90-minute journey I make it 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.
Article Last Updated: August 7, 2017.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.