• Dec 15th 2009 at 11:56AM
  • 66
Mitsubishi i – Click above for high-res image gallery

We're looking at a long, nearly straight, almost totally traffic-free downhill. We'd climbed up to the base of the Palm Springs to Idyllwild Ariel Tramway. Our goal was to see how fast Mitsubishi's tiny i could go. We're on the gas, and the teensy, turbocharged 660cc three-banger is giving us all its got. The speedometer ticks upwards, now cresting 100. In front of us is nothing but inviting tarmac. Deeper and harder we push and the numbers keep ticking up. 119, 120, 121 and then finally hitting 122. We felt we left a little on the table and could have probably achieved a terminal velocity of around 130. Maybe. 125 for sure.

Before you crime and punishment types climb upon your soapboxes, we should mention that the right-hand drive, JDM-only i reads out in kilometers per hour. Meaning that our top speed was almost 76 mph. And we stand by our assertion that we totally could have hit 80 mph.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

The badly named i (sorry, it's true) is an award winning kei car that's been wildly popular in Japan ever since it was released in 2006. Mitsubishi had a couple on hand – one gas, one electric – during a recent press event and they were kind enough to let us take the gas-powered model 3,000 feet up a mountain. Even better, the i made it all the way up no problem. Obviously, Mitsu didn't bring these cars all the way out to California simply to amuse some journalists. The i is coming to America says Mitsubishi. When we asked when that would be, they could only say "soon."

But do we want it here? Quite simply, yes. There's a lot to be said for a car that's essentially all wheelbase. Plus it looks like it popped out of a Robotech cartoon. While the car is narrow, there's a surprising amount of room inside. If you're six feet tall, you'll have more than a fist's worth of headroom and the rear seat can fit two humans, and three if they're incredibly skinny and/or good friends. There's even space for a bag or two.

More interesting (to us) is the i's "rear-midship" powertrain layout, which is a long winded way of saying it's rear-engined. Shoved in behind the rear seats is the aforementioned turbo/interecooled DOHC MIVEC 0.66-liter three-cylinder motor. All that tightly packaged tech is good for about 65 horsepower and around 70 pound-feet of torque. Not much, until you consider that the i weighs under a ton – 1,980 pounds with the automatic like in our test car.

That's actually plenty of gumption to motivate the i around town. In fact, the diminutive little four-door is quick off the line. It was only when pushing the car up into the 70 mph range that we wished for more power. All in all, we were happy with the engine – it suits the car well. But of course, odds are if/when Mitsubishi brings the i over, a more U.S.-market-friendly (read: bigger) engine will somehow find its way into the engine bay. Smaller than 1.5-liters is all we know, aside from the fact that the 660cc turbo won't pass U.S. emissions standards. But that's not the only change we'll see.

The car's insect-like front fascia will fail the fed's five-mph bumper tests faster than Superman running from kryptonite. The i also has the skinniest front tires we've seen fitted to a car since an MG T. As you can imagine, corner-carving is not this vehicle's forte. In fact, with those anorexic wheels, high speed hoonage proved a bit scary. However, the i is kitted out with MacPherson struts up front, so we think that fatter meat would make a difference. though the De Dion tube out back (i.e. a fussed and fettled over solid beam swing axle) might argue otherwise.

But again, the i is first and last a city car, not a back road barnstormer. Since lots of Americans live in cities, we're thinking this sharp-looking, alien-esque little guy just might find lots of takers. Especially if Mitsubishi makes it about six inches wider, which they're considering.

The catch? The gas mileage would need to be real good. Mitsubishi is mum on exact mileage estimates, but in Japan it's rated at 90 mpg – take that for what it's worth. As such, we're not even going to guess. Maybe more importantly, we'll also get the i MiEV, an all electric version of the i. We drove i MiEV, too and – as suspected with its electric drive train – it felt even punchier than the gas-powered i. However, as the i MiEV was low on juice and there was no way to quickly charge it, we literally drove it around a parking lot.

Regardless of the MPG numbers, the quirky i has proved to be a pretty big cult hit in Japan, selling over 35,000 units – a sizable amount by Japanese standards. We'd love to see the i given the same chance here. But the name really has to go. Maybe Devo? Hey, it rhymes with Evo...

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Excellent!! This car takes us in the right direction. Although it is true that the size descrepancy with most vehicles on the road will make many think twice, there is an answer to that issue as well. Most large vehicles on the road are severely underutilized (empty). We need policies (laws, rules, taxes, etc...) that force people to think about what they drive. There will always be a need for commercial trucks, but they can be restricted to certain roads and lanes (and off peak times in certain locations). Contractors and Tradespeople will need pick-ups, but they really need be no larger than the smallest pick-ups now available (materials can be delivered by commercial trucks). And large families will need vehicles that can carry 6-8 people (sorry Octomom), though not nescessarily in the lap of luxury. We need to get used to driving smaller vehicles, and people need to feel safe in them. It will take creative measures (and maybe a velvet hammer) to persuade the neandrethals that cling to their wasteful oversized vehicles.
      Remember what we all learned in drivers Education "Driving is a privilege, not a Right", You have no "Right" to drive what you want.
        • 5 Years Ago
        This car is allready in the US. From the article make the changes and except for the engine, which could still get moved, you have the Kia Soul...

        Different front Upped Engine, and six inches wider..
        • 5 Years Ago
        > Remember what we all learned in drivers Education "Driving is a privilege,
        > not a Right", You have no "Right" to drive what you want.

        You've got it wrong.

        Driving is a privilege, yes. Once you have that privilege, you have the right to drive whatever you want, provided you meet all legal requirements (motorcycle license, say, or a commercial license).

        Driving, intransitive, is a privilege.
        Driving, transitive, is a right (again, provided the legal requirements are met).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Everybody wants to rule the world
      • 5 Years Ago
      90mpg? Perfect for getting about town. How much does it sell for? The all important question.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Just kinda wonder what the expressions of the drivers of these cars will be with an 18 wheeler barreling down on them would look like?? lol
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well, if the transmission doesn't suck as bad as the Smart, it'll at least take those sales away.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I've got a Daihatsu move custom with a 660 turbo and cruising around 110 kph (69 mph) is easy. on the highway I'm usually doing 120 while averaging 45 mpg.

      heres mine btw

      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow!!!!!!!! In that little car, your bound to get crushed like a tortilla in a collision. I think that little car is far from being safe???

      I think I'll go and buy a VW Beetle instead.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hopefully when they do bring the car here it will have a more powerful engine that I can swap into my smart.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Can you say "DEATH TRAP" ?
      • 5 Years Ago
      As usual, most of the comments here are entertaining and thought provoking. Personally, from what I've seen and read, I LIKE the car. Looks are very subjective. What I like, others may hate. And that's okay.
      But the issues that get to me are two-fold. First, the size. Yes, it is small. It would likely be badly damaged in a collision with your typical SUV. Then again, because of its size and inherent nimblemess, it will surely be able to avoid accidents before they happen. And that same SUV wouldn't fare very well against an 18 wheeler. I remember my grandfather's comments when I drove my wife and child from California to Chicago in a '63 Beetle. "You're gonna get killed in that thing". But that thing went with me to Germany ( Army duty ) and lived three happy years cruising the Autobahn with ease. Not one single accident in my five years or so of ownership.
      Which leads to the next issue: Horsepower. My first Beetle, a '69, had 53 hp. The '63 had only 40. Never won a stoplight grand prix with either one. But I LOVE to drive, and both of those VWs were fun beyond belief. And sue me, but I've also owned two Yugos. Both down on HP, but nimble and fun to drive. There is more to the driving experience than power, though it can pull you out of a scrape at times. The ability to toss a car around and maneuver it into places where an Impala won't fit is great.
      To each his own, but I'll take this 'bishi, preferably with electric power. Bring it!
        • 5 Years Ago
        you sir, are a stellar example of a human being... respect... live long and prosper...
      • 5 Years Ago
      remember the bettle? 40-60hp top, speed of about 73mph and a misley 25mpg? i drive gas guzzleing suv's and performance sports cars and i believe this car could make it big.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Makes no sense to read past the first page of comments because there's rarely anything worth reading.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I've seen potholes bigger than that p.o.s.!!!
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