Test drive: Mitsubishi i-Miev electric car

19 September 2009

Mitsubishi i-MievWe’ve crammed four adults into the interior of the Mitsubishi i-Miev, and the surprising thing is that we didn’t actually need to do any cramming. We just opened the four big doors and got in. As long as you don’t imagine for a moment that you can seat five, this short, narrow, jellybean-shaped automobile provides a surprisingly comfortable ride, with ample room for a pair of six footers behind another pair of fully life-sized people.

This is the first surprise about the i-Miev. Given its Japanese kei-car origin, we had imagined its interior would have a shrink-wrapped feel.

All four pews are also surprisingly comfortable and supportive, and the interior fixtures, while not screaming quality, at least avoid pleading poverty. On a hot day, the tinted, air-conditioned interior is a very nice place to be.

It’s also pin-droppingly quiet. On the move you hear more in the back seats than in the front, as the rear-mounted motor whirs gently somewhere behind your buttocks. The steadily climbing note as you accelerate has a clean, gas-turbine timbre to it. This Mitsubishi sounds like a car from the 21st Century. Which it is.

Mitsubishi i crash testTaking the short walk around the perimeter we wonder where the crumple zones are, given the spacious interior and long wheelbase. But fear not, we are reasonably reassured by Japanese crash tests (which replicate most of the Euro NCAP collisions and speeds) in which the 2007 petrol-powered Mitsubishi i was awarded five out of six stars, and the crash test dummies were removed intact without resort to a tin opener.

The swooping screen pillars are evidently strong. But they do, unfortunately, get in the way at junctions.

Mitsubishi i-Miev dashboardFrom the driver’s seat, you can survey the unusual dashboard, dominated by an analogue dial that swings between maximum discharge and maximum regeneration, giving you an instant measure of how much your driving style is draining the juice.

In the centre of this dial is a digital speedometer, to the upper right is a circle displaying the odometer, and in the upper left the all-important battery capacity together with a gear-selector reminder.

Park, reverse, neutral, drive, eco, and “B” are the options on offer from the zig-zag automatic shifter. Eco gives more aggressive regeneration and more muted response to the throttle, to eke out more distance from the battery around town. B simply enhances the regen for steep descents.

There’s keyless ignition, but you wake the car up by stepping on the brake and twisting a black plastic knob protruding from the column shroud exactly where a key might normally slot. A little green light on the dash announces “Ready”.

Release the brake in drive and the car will creep forward in conventional automatic style, which helps to make a very clean and creamy getaway from a standstill. Of all the electric cars we’ve driven, this one has the most linear and most satisfying throttle feel we’ve sampled to date, with the possible exception of the Nissan EV-02. The i-Miev responds absolutely instantly and supremely accurately to the slightest twitch of your toe.

It’s got some urge too, pulling strongly away from a standstill in a manner that, say, the C1 Evie might only dream about. You quickly find you’re travelling about 20 per cent faster than you intended, the car’s rounded nose cleaving the air like an onrushing raindrop and leaving only the muted tyre roar to warn you of impending licence peril.

We were not able to verify the claimed top speed of 87mph or the quoted range of 80 miles. We have no doubts about the former figure, but remain to be convinced about the latter.

i-Miev cutaway showing rear-mounted motor and floor-mounted batteriesWe found the steering nicely weighted and communicative too, helped no doubt by the 47kW (63bhp) motor being at the other end of the car and doing its duty through the rear rubber. Cornering is confidence-inspiring, particularly for what is a narrow car with high-set seats. Having the lithium-ion batteries stowed in the floor no doubt brings the centre of gravity down much closer to the wheel hubs.

Those batteries, all 16kWh of them, can be fed in two ways. On the offside rear flank, where the air-intake for the petrol-powered i-car lives, there’s the socket for a 240V domestic supply. On the nearside, behind the fuel-filler flap, there’s the chunky socket for a 200V three-phase fast charger.

Charging takes roughly six hours using the right-hand socket, and an 80-percent fill-up takes about half an hour using the left socket. No-one could tell us what happens if you use both at the same time.

We would rave about the i-Miev – it’s that good to drive – but for the drawbacks. One, the boot is laughably tiny. Two, the price may well permanently widen your eyes. When it goes on sale, eventually, it’s tipped to cost £20,000 to £25,000.

Yikes.

All electric cars currently require a commitment to going green that defies financial reason, despite the enthusiastic totting up of vendors who factor in every possible benefit, discount and incentive to show that it all makes sense if you squint. So does this miniature Mitsubishi manage to make some sort of fiscal sense? Um, no.

If the price predictions are on the money, we fear the endearing little i-Miev will carry a price tag too far.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ref the pricing - you are missing the point completely. The object is to cut CO2 not the cost of cars! The cheap option will always be burn oil, burn coal etc. but we have to change to more expensive renewables and we will because it will be forced on us by supply and demand and co2 targets. Get used to it and be positive.

Anonymous said...

No, get used to the idea of cheap cars, they should be cheaper! They are becoming vastly simplified less costs across the board. The price tags are not warranted. So, no don't think you should pay a premium for an electric car. Pretty soon the barrier to entry for new car manufacturers will be so low we should see a lot more price competition.

Anonymous said...

it should be priced at half of what it is now...

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