• Mar 21st 2008 at 8:03PM
  • 25
Click above for a high-res gallery of the Mitsuibshi i MiEV (22 photos)

I drive a Ford Mustang GT; I'm Autoblog's resident HUMMER aficionado; and I think my favorite car in New York this year is a Japanese-market all-electric kei car. What is going on?

My dirty little secret (if you could even call it that) is that I'm also very much into kei cars. Often endearingly wacky-looking, the little city cars are packaging marvels, boasting roomy interiors despite their compact footprints -- and I love them. This year, the New York Auto Show is home to keis (the Mitsubishi i and Subaru R1e) as well as another JDM favorite, the Nissan Cube. What's interesting is that each one is on display as an all-electric vehicle. What was especially interesting to me is that Mitsubishi's electric i MiEV (it's pronounced "eye-meev", incidentally) was actually available for journalists to drive. So I drove it. Read on and watch video after the jump.

All "live" photos Copyright © 2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

The Mitsubishi i is not a big car, but size can be deceiving. Looking somewhat like a jellybean on wheels, it's a smidge over 133 inches from end to end. The overhangs are nil, however, as the car's 15-inch wheels are pushed all the way out to the corners. As a result, it has a 100-inch wheelbase. For the sake of comparison, the 5-door VW Rabbit's wheelbase is 101.5 inches. This translates into a surprising amount of interior passenger room -- much more than you'd expect from such a small car.

Mitsubishi i MiEV

The i MiEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) takes full advantage of the i's rear-midship powertrain setup. The 330-volt Li-Ion battery pack is situated under the floor, and the charger, inverter, and 47 kW electric motor all reside in the space under the rear cargo area and ahead of the rear wheels. In the standard i, that's where you'd find a 660cc 3-cylinder gasoline engine. What's good about this is that Mitsubishi doesn't need to change much about the i to accommodate the electric drivetrain. Strip the prototypes of their fancy liveries and they're basically indistinguishable from the gasoline-powered cars.

i MiEV household charging portThe one real visual giveaway on the i MiEV is the plug-in port for household power on its right side. Connect it to a standard electrical outlet and the car's battery will recharge in either 7 hours (200v) or 14 hours (100v). If you're wondering why Mitsubishi doesn't just hide the plug behind the now-obviated fuel-filler door, it's because that's where the jack for the quick-charger lives. Plug the i MiEV into the quick-charger that's being developed with the help of the Japanese power companies and an 80-percent charge can be achieved in just 30 minutes. Quick-charge stations like this will need to be part of the future EV-ready infrastructure, as they'll allow people to recharge rapidly when on the road away from home.

After climbing into the driver's seat on the right side of the car -- remember, this is a JDM vehicle -- you're greeted by a simple, straightforward cabin. Material quality is good, and the layout is logical. The instrument cluster features a digital speedometer (the values shown are in km/h), a digital fuel gauge that shows the state of the battery, and a digital odometer. The needle that sweeps around the center analog gauge indicates your power usage. During acceleration, it arcs up and to the right. Lift off the throttle and it retreats. Coast a bit and the needle will dip down to the area indicating that the battery is charging via to the car's regenerative braking system.

Mitsuishi i MiEV interior

Operation is completely straightforward. Twist the starter and it powers right up, illuminating the instrument cluster and navigation screen (which displayed a map of Tokyo). It was a fairly miserable, rainy day in Manhattan on Wednesday, and I quickly learned that the stalks assigned to the wiper controls and the turn signals are reversed on RHD vehicles. (I would later proceed to either speed up or shut off the windshield wipers instead of activating the turn signals several times during the drive.) After easing into the traffic on 11th Avenue in front of the Javits Center, I gave the i MiEV some juice, and away we went.

Mitsubishi i MiEV fuel gaugeAutoblog's Chris Shunk and I were joined by a pair of Mitsubishi reps during the test drive, so the i MiEV was operating with a full passenger complement. The car accelerates leisurely, silently and doesn't struggle. Thank the car's 132 lb-ft (180 Nm) of torque for that -- it's more than double the rating of the 3-cylinder turbocharged i. Make no mistake: the i MiEV is not fast in any sense, but the power on tap is perfectly suited to city driving. If called upon, it can top out at a respectable 80 mph. During my brief jaunt through the city, I don't think I ever went much faster than around 35 mph or so; that's all the level of traffic at the time allowed. My impression is that the i MiEV is more than powerful enough to excel in an urban environment, and that with an 80 mile range on a full charge, it would make one hell of a replacement suburban commuter for a good number of people, too.

Ride comfort is surprisingly good, thanks no doubt to the i MiEV's compact-car-sized wheelbase. It handles well, too, with responsive steering and a tight little turning circle. Deep potholes cause a commotion, however. We hit one particularly epic example and it sounded cataclysmic from the inside. The plucky i MiEV soldiered on though, and we joked that at least we didn't need to worry about losing the oil pan.

The i MiEV joins its conventionally-powered brother on the market in Japan next year, and during its Thursday press conference, Mitsubishi announced that it will send the i MiEV to North America for testing this Fall. Still, there are no plans to sell either the i or i MiEV here at this time. Mitsubishi will gauge consumer reaction to the cars this week in New York and evaluate what kind of demand, if any, there is for it.

Foreground: Mitsubishi i MiEV, Background: Mitsubishi i Turbo

Before our test drive came to an end, the driver of a first-gen Jeep Grand Cherokee motioned for me to roll down my window (we were next to each other, since I was on the right side of the car). I obliged. "What's its range?" he asked. I told him it was eighty miles, and he put on an approving face and nodded. "That's not bad," he said.

Nope. It's not bad at all. The Mitsubishi i MiEV is one jellybean I'd be happy to find in my Easter basket someday.

All "live" photos Copyright © 2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

New York 2008: Autoblog drives Mitsubishi i MiEV

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      It would be a good idea to get a fleet of electric cars on the road to learn how to deal with logistic problems that will exist but are rarely discussed, problems such as:

      -- running out of "fuel" during rush hour, leaving a vehicle stranded, blocking traffic, with no easy way to refuel the battery pack;

      -- reduced performance and range during winter in cold-climate locations;

      -- range reduction due to high heating and cooling loads;

      -- handling of a 330 volt battery pack by emergency crews during an emergency rescue;

      -- need for additional range for a vehicle after daily commute but before recharge for those times when unscheduled trips become a necessity.

      A 5 kw air-cooled diesel genset with 2 to 4 gallons of fuel on board would relieve some of these problems. This set up would provide limp-home ability. (The original Citroen 2CV only had a 5 kw engine.)

      The estimated $25,000 cost of the iMiev is an indicator that electric powered cars won't come cheap. The iMiev is a $13,000 car with a $12,000 battery pack.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "At the moment, there are no clear plans."

      Can you say, asleep at the wheel??

      • 7 Years Ago
      Looks like a decent 2nd car. 80 miles is plenty for daily commuting and errands.
      • 7 Years Ago
      When can I purchase?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Yeah, bring it to Europe and see the smart DIE >:D
      • 7 Years Ago
      I want it.

      I like the way they reps talk about the tipping point between gas prices. Thats typical car company, "until it doesnt get bad, we wont fix it".
      • 7 Years Ago
      I would buy the iMiEV for my wife today. This car is an absolute marvel. Please launch this car in Canada in 2010 (or sooner).
      • 7 Years Ago
      It sounded like the initial price for the industrial fleet buyers would be $25,000. Consumer price should be lower. ^_^
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hey if you need somebody to test your car lend me one. I deliver newspaper and drive about 35 to 40 miles 6 days a week. So I accumulate lots of miles thru mix residential, city and little bit freeway driving. Then I got to work (office) maybe 12 miles round trip. I think your car will be the Model T of EV. And it will be the most practical economic stimulus package ever. Well its a given oil is finite, thats why God buried it so deep so we won't use it to pollute the environment. Bring your car early here in America don't wait.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What I find funny is the Kei class cars, have the optimum positioning of the engine. Mid engine layout gives you optimum weight distribution for acceleration and deceleration.

      Yes, bring it to the USA already.
      If I need a long trip car on the weekend I'll rent once in a while.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Yeah i think that it is a tyad expensive and you may not see your saving in around 7 years.Also the fact that the car does not look all that modern , sexy and sleek i dont think it will sell to well in America. Americans like modern elegant cars . The problem i continuously see is that the car is green yet they look like sh^t (honda fcx clariy)
      • 7 Years Ago
      Awesome car, just what most of America needs for the daily commute.

      $25K sounds reasonable, I wonder what the overall full lifecycle ( 80-100K miles) costs work out at, comparing the cheaper ICE version plus gas costs, and servicing vs the electric with potential battery pack replacement costs, but cheaper per mileage electricity, and much less frequent servicing?

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