An affordable, semi-practical, entry-level EV



I've driven a fair number of electrics over the last couple decades, beginning with General Motors' bullet-shaped 1991 Impact concept car and continuing through a progression of Geo Storm-based mules, prototype and production EV1s with both lead-acid and later range-doubling Ni-MH battery packs. And since returning to this side of the business, my list has expanded to include the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, MINI E, BMW ActiveE, Tesla Roadster, Smart ED and a right-drive, Japanese-market Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

All have shared the EV blessings of strong, near-silent, shiftless acceleration, home "refueling" and no more gas station stops with fluctuating fuel prices. All have also shared the EV curses of big, heavy, expensive batteries, the resulting high purchase/lease prices and (excluding the Volt) limited range, long recharge times and occasional range anxiety.

Most recent EV encounters have been brief – a few miles around town or a parking lot. But last year I was fortunate to enjoy a working week with a Volt and a couple days with a Leaf (see past columns). And I was recently offered a three-day loan of a U.S.-spec Mitsubishi i.
mitsubishi i front profile


The i is powered by 49-kW (66-hp) AC synchronous motor mounted low in its sawed-off hatchback tail and driving its rear wheels, making it kind of like an early Volkswagen Beetle in layout and concept. Its 16-kWh li-ion battery pack (the same size as the Volt's) resides under the rear seats.

The i may be a great, no-gas, green car for urban use and common commutes, but it will be a second or third vehicle in most owners' households.

The $21,625 base ES version rolls on 15-inch alloy wheels with a two-tone interior, eight-speaker audio system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps and auto on/off headlamps. Two grand more buys the SE model with navigation, a rear camera, steering wheel audio controls, a FUSE Handsfree Link System with a USB port and a DC quick-charge port (a $700 option on the ES). A $150 Cold Zone Package adds battery warming and heated outside mirrors, and a $2,790 Premium Package piles on a bunch more. The EPA rates it at 112 MPGe (gasoline equivalent), the best, so far, of any U.S.-market production vehicle, and says the i has a real-life estimated range of 62 miles and an LA4 city-cycle range of 98 miles.

Like the Leaf, the i was trucked out to my house (some 90 miles from its base) and delivered fully charged. Also like the Leaf, it wouldn't get me to a Detroit-area meeting the next day (and back), so I had to drive a conventional car, just as owners will need to do for non-local trips and vacations. The i may be a great, no-gas, green car for urban use and common commutes, but (as GM said about EV1) it will be a second or third vehicle in most owners' households.

mitsubishi i side profile

When I did drive it, I pulled out with full batteries and 52 miles of indicated range (based on the previous driver's rate of usage). I ran some local errands, then took my wife out to dinner, driving normally and mostly in range-optimizing "Eco" mode. The two other shifter-selectable modes are "D" for best performance and "B," which further maximizes range with aggressive regenerative braking. We found its performance respectable in D but the regen was a bit much in B mode.

We drove 23 miles and returned home with 43 miles on the range gauge, indicating a total around-town potential of 66 miles. Later that night, a test run on my local test loop used 30 miles of indicated range over just 12.5 miles of actual pavement. I drove the i fairly hard, mostly in D with some use of B mode, at 50F ambient temperature, leaving me an indicated 13 miles remaining.

I found the 120V cord typically thick and heavy and surprisingly short. It barely stretched from a garage wall socket over a (small) adjacent car to the i's charge port, and a big, heavy box on its wall end had to be supported to keep it from pulling the plug out of the socket. (As I recall, the Volt and Leaf 120V charge cords also had this unfortunate appendage.)

2012 Mitsubishi i key fob

I didn't use the fob's programming capability to set start/stop times or check SOC, just let it charge from midnight to 9:00 am. That resulted in about an 80 percent SOC and an indicated range of 33 miles (anticipating more hard driving). Mitsubishi says a full charge from zero to 100 percent will require 22.5 hours on 120V and seven on 240V. If the car is so equipped (and a station can be found), a Level 3 DC quick charge to 80 percent will take 30 minutes.

Evaluated as a car, the i falls short in several areas. Styling is subjective, but we thought it an odd-looking little duck. We liked the larger and more practical Leaf's exterior better (despite its frightened-fish face) and its comfy, quiet, nicely-done interior much better. The i's rear seats are livable for two adults, but at the expense of front-seat travel. At six feet with long legs, I was cramped and uncomfortable in the driver's seat.

As the most affordable EV available in the U.S. from a volume automaker, its doors were light and thin and sounded tinny when closed, and its interior was sparse and cheap even by today's entry-level small-car standards. On the road, its steering felt stiff and artificial, and its handling was tippy, as if its tall, narrow body were suspended by a single central spring over its four tiny wheels.

All things considered, I was not sorry to see the i trucked away.

Given that the i is intended primarily as a low-speed urban EV, much of that might be forgiven. But the final disqualifier (for me, at least) was its cantankerous audio system. It took a full six minutes or more (of dead silence) to "read" my iPod each time I plugged it into the USB port, then was user-unfriendly in other ways. I test drive 100-plus new vehicles each year, and the only others in which I have encountered this problem have been a couple other (otherwise pretty decent) recent Mitsubishi products. It's a major customer dissatisfier.

All things considered, I was not sorry to see the i trucked away. That was not the case with the Volt or the Leaf, both of which I could have happily lived with much longer-term. Mitsubishi deserves kudos for bringing this affordable and otherwise fairly livable little EV to the North American market, but we don't see Americans signing up for very many of them.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 71 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have had the i-Miev for 4 months now, and enjoy it as a basic EV. It's just a simple good around town commuter car, and easy to charge at home nightly. It performs surprisingly well, with great acceleration, torque, and does have surprisingly good power going up hills. On average I drive about 30 miles per day, and the range bars are usually about 'half' when I return home. Freeway driving does drain the battery more than city driving, but it does have the ability to go above 80mph quite nicely. It does have flimsy doors, and there are weird 'springy' noises on bumpy roads. No, it's not the most solid car, but that's ok with me. I got the upgraded package ($31K), and will get $12K back in rebates, so I'm pretty impressed. Plus I can drive in the carpool lane by myself.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have owned an Miev for almost a year now. I think it is a great car for someone who drives less than 60 miles per day. It is basically free to drive since discounts from my electric company basically equal the cost of charging it. There has been no need for any maintenance. The car is not plush but it gets me from here to there reliably and handles well for me. I live in Michigan and it even does ok on snow, if it is not deep. For my money, this car is the least expensive way to get some independence from the oil companies.
      mustsvt
      • 3 Years Ago
      Where to I put the golf bags?
      amtoro
      • 3 Years Ago
      This article is all wrong about the prices and features... it mentions the base ES model at $21,625 but it says it comes with 15-inch alloy wheels with a two-tone interior, eight-speaker audio system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps and auto on/off headlamps; that is standard only on the SE model which is $2,000 more. Also says that the SE comes with navigation, a rear camera, steering wheel audio controls, a FUSE Handsfree Link System with a USB port and a DC quick-charge port which is not true as those are part of the Premium Package available for the SE for $2,790 more. The car as described, is an SE with Premium Package which sits at $26,415 before destination and handling and after the "up to" $7,500 tax credit.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @amtoro
        You are correct on the option packages. The Federal tax credit is $7500. No "up to" . . . a flat $7500. And in many states, you may qualify for additional state incentives.
          amtoro
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          The credit is $7,500, but you can only reduce your tax liability to zero; this is called a non-refundable tax credit. Therefore, depending on each individual's tax liability, the amount you can claim using the credit can be "as high as $7,500". (except in a lease)
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Did the Federal tax credit change? My understanding is that it's $7500 up to the amount of tax that you would have paid. If you only own $1 in tax, you only get $1 in credit.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          My point is that the tax-credit is the full $7500 and not a lesser amount such as the $2500 for the plug-in Prius. If you can't use the $7500 tax-credit, that is your issue not the tax-credit's issue. Consult your tax adviser.
        DaveMart
        • 3 Years Ago
        @amtoro
        Gary has a higher calling than mere accuracy. He aims to push Volts and everything GM.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          "He aims to push Volts and everything GM." No, he simply prefers the $40k Volt over the $30k MIEV. The Volt is very highly refined, more than just a drivetrain in a shell. That refinement costs money, and you pay for it upfront. When you are given a tester, there's no cash involved, so of course the "better" car should be preferable.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Well . . . this mistake actually benefited Mitsubishi. And props to him for giving the after tax-credit price (although he should have made it clear that it was after the tax-credit.)
      Solator the Megatrac
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is an obvious bias interview written by someone who craves throwing his money in the toilet. We the other 99% of the people would like to stop funding the terrorists and stop giving money to the greedy oil corporations. All of this can be accomplished by a worldwide abandonment of the combustion engine vehicle known as the gasoline powered car. I have installed a ton of solar panels on my roof and we're just waiting for the Mitsubishi Miev to become available in the US. I'm throwing the energy companies out the door & i'm heading down the path of low auto maintenance. With the Mitsubishi Miev, I will no longer have to deal with toxic antifreeze, break fluid, transmission fluid and oil. AND NO more rushing to the local auto repair center every month due to a combustion engine problem carburetor etc. I'm loving the thought of saving money! We're already off the electric grid and this is our next step!
      Rotation
      • 3 Years Ago
      The LEAF's charger has that brick near the plug, the Volt charge is worse, the entire cord wrap hangs from the plug. The reason for these short cords ahead of the circuitry is that nothing ahead of the circuitry is circuit break or ground-fault protected. If you were to slice (or fray) the charger cord there, you could be in danger. So regs say minimize the cord into the charging circuitry. But I don't understand why the chargers just don't do like a hair dryer and put the breaker/GFCI right into the plug, then have a longer cord to the main circuitry. Then you wouldn't have this hanging box problem. As to the Mitsubishi i, it's just not for me. I'm not willing to drive such a strange car to go electric. But it's fine for those who will.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        It is more than just the GFCI . . . it also has the EVSE stuff that does the data exchange with the car. But that said, there really isn't much stuff in there and someone should be able to make a tiny one. But that was also a bit of an off-topic bit of the review . . . anyone that buys a pure EV pretty much has to get a 240V charger. So you won't be using that little 120V trickle charger thing except for occasional opportunity charging.
          jkirkebo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          The included EVSE is identical to the Leaf one, and as such can be upgraded to 240V operation by evseupgrade.com for a fraction of what a new 240V one costs. They can also fit a longer cable at the same time, mine has a 5' cable from brick to wall plug.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Imagine like this: 120V "portable" system: 5' "safe" power cord with GFCI in "pistol" grip that plugs into wall outlet, and regular + electronics box that plugs into car, with socket for power cord. The 5' power cord incorporates the GFCI right at the plug, so you cut it while charging and it'd be no problem. 5' makes it long enough that the box can sit on the floor and not be hanging in the air. As the power cord plugs into a socket in the electronics box, it's easily replacable in case of damage. A longer, 20' power cord can be made available as an option for permanent garage installation.
      Ford Future
      • 3 Years Ago
      I don't understand how an Electric can feel tippy, with a rear engine and battery at floor level. Tester, self hypnotized, by the high roof line, came up with the wrong impression.
        SVX pearlie
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        Narrow track, soft springs, soft anti-roll bar will do that.
          GoodCheer
          • 3 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          From my test drive, I agree with the 'not tippy' crowd. I found it, if anything, more tighly sprung and go-cart like than I expected.
          Ford Future
          • 3 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          From amtoro's account, it makes you wonder if the tester actually drove the same car. I spoke with someone who owns one, and he thinks it's a sporty ride, and likes the weight distribution.
          amtoro
          • 3 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          I actually drove one a few weeks ago and I have to admit that it has very little leaning for the type of vehicle it is (the salesman got a bit nervous when I started doing slaloms)
        Ford Future
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        A Subaru has soft springs, I swear 4 inches of soft springs until it firms up in corners, it still can be driven safely at fast speed. As a commuter car you'd probably want soft springing. Does it stay planted on corners, but has body roll or lean? Is it still tracking straight, or in the direction intended?
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ford Future
          Classic Subaru suspension is long travel, for ride quality and grip, but critical damping for motion control. Limited roll, due to lower than typical CG, and moderate anti-roll bars feels planted. But yes, ride quality for a commuter should be softer, rather than jarring. I suspect it's merely an issue of the MIEV not being like whatever sports car he just got out of the previous week.
      SVX pearlie
      • 3 Years Ago
      "It took a full six minutes or more (of dead silence) to "read" my iPod each time I plugged it into the USB port" Sorry, but this seems kinda petty and is not a dealbreaker - simply use the AUX in. Yes, Mitsu screwed the pooch on iPod integration, but iPod isn't the be-all, end-all of portable audio. I think a lot of the issue is that you're looking at it as a $03+k car, when it's really built like a $10k econobox with a $20k EV drivetrain. Given its positioning as the Versa or Nano of EVs, sh!tbox "quality" and "refinement" is to be expected. You get what you pay for.
        Greg
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SVX pearlie
        MyFord Touch has the same phone integration problems. Frankly, my current cheap stereo takes zero time to boot, and if an old system works better & costs less, why should I be okay with spending more to get less? Good consumers don't want to get the least for their money.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Greg
          Yeah, this makes me want to go off on my standard rant against all these high-priced options that I often don't want, don't work well, are something else that can break, and go obsolete fast.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Greg
          "my current cheap stereo takes zero time to boot," Oh? My AVR always takes a few seconds to power up. It's normal. But minutes? LOL, that's not right.
      Ele Truk
      • 3 Years Ago
      I really don't have a problem with anything said in this review, it's mostly a matter of personal taste. And like any car, there will be things you like, and things you don't. I just like the fact that you actually have the option to go out and buy an EV without spending at least $30k.
      goodoldgorr
      • 3 Years Ago
      That car is a commercial flop and it will be taken out of the market.
        Ele Truk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Not likely. It currently is the most affordable freeway capable EV. It's limited availability is what's holding it back. It competes with cars like the Fiat 500 or the Smart car, and those vehicles don't sell in huge numbers in America, although they do very well in Europe. If you are in the market for a micro car, then the MiEV is a great alternative.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ele Truk
          "It competes with cars like the Fiat 500 or the Smart car," Aren't those cars considerably cheaper?
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ele Truk
          "Aren't those cars considerably cheaper?" Not their electric versions.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Ele Truk
          "Not their electric versions." touche'
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Or it could be improved and start selling better. Especially if gas prices go up over the next few years. Here are my suggestions: -Boost the battery pack to 20KWH. 16KWH is too little. -Adopt the SAE Combo charger. :-) -Fix the iPod issue -Redesign the body away from the Jelly Bean. Do those things and this could be a big hit.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          If you go to US census.gov data, it says that mean & median commute time is 25 minutes. The meaty bulk of the people (+/- 1 SD) work 10-45 minutes from home. 80% work at home or within 35 minutes of home. Travel time up to 35 minutes suggests that round trip distance is within 62 miles. And realistically, people on the far edges simply wouldn't get an EV - they'd get a hybrid of some sort.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          How about 18KWH? The 62 mile range is just cutting it a bit too short. These EVs should be 100 mile range. However, due to expensive batteries and pushing the tolerance of early-adopters, the current ~73 mile range EVs is fine. But going down to 62 miles is really cutting it close. I think an EV should have enough for a 30 mile each-way commute plus another 10 miles for a run to a store or padding for heavy heater/AC usage days. 62 miles is just a bit too short.
          SVX pearlie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spec
          For what it is, a short-range commuter car, 16 kWh is fine - 20 kWh would simply increase cost for very little marginal additional utility. SAE combo charger is a given outside Japan. iPod is a software reflash, and trivial workaround via AUX in or BT streaming. Jellybean is fine - it's good for packaging, and better-looking than the Leaf.
      Anderlan
      • 3 Years Ago
      Personally, it takes more than a stupid UI and stiff suspension (not using it on long trips--it's an EV!) to keep me from saving $7000 over the competition.
      • 3 Years Ago
      My European spec i-Miev reads my iPhone in no time. No problem whatsoever. I charge my i-Miev with a standard European 240V 16A outlet. In the rare occasions I charge it from nearly empty, it takes probably 5 hrs. Since I charge every night, the car is rarely completely empty, and charging probably takes 2-3 hours. Charging an EV from a 110V outlet and complaining about the time it takes to charge is somewhat like charging from AAA batteries. Europe must have an advantage over the US when it comes to charging infrastructure, given the abundance of 240V outlets here, which speeds up charging considerably. My advice to new EV owners: Get an electrician to install a new 240V 16A circuit in your garage/carport/whatever, and an integrated home charger. For fire safety reasons, make sure the electrician understands that the circuit will operate at max load for hours.
    • Load More Comments