Electric Car Journal Entry: 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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My knowledge of and experience in electric vehicles has grown exponentially this past weekend as I spent time with the new all-electric entry from Mitsubishi – the 2012 i-MiEV.

Mitsubishi would like the world to simply call the little EV “i” but since even its own paperwork and fender badging utilizes the “MiEV” (Mitsubishi Electric Vehicle) nomenclature I am sticking with it as well.

The automaker has been testing the MiEV for a few years with this 2012 model being its first full production unit. Availability is still a bit limited but consumers nationwide should be able to get one by the end of the year.

Mitsubishi has chosen to go the all-electric route for its EV entry meaning, once the juice is gone, it’s gone – as in “Call-the-auto-club-gone” ‘cause you’re stuck on the side of the road.

This made for interesting discussions with my spouse over where to take the vehicle over the weekend. Saturday we wanted to visit a couple of wineries two cities apart.

Nope, they are separated by about 33 miles of highway and we reside several miles south of the midway point of the two so a round trip would consist of at least 70 miles – not gonna happen. The i-MiEV has a real-world range of approximately 62 miles and with the temps soaring well into the 90s here we would require use of the A/C so our actual operating range would be even more depleted.

OK, no wineries over the weekend but we can go to breakfast at one of our favorite little places – so long as we head right back with no side trips so that we can plug our car back in.

The Mitsubishi can be charged by choice of Level 1 (110v household current), Level 2 (240v charging available for home or commercially) or new Level 3 fast charging of which there are none around here. At work I can use the Level 2 chargers and bring the i-MiEV back to life in about 4 hours.

The car seats four adults in comfort, surprisingly. It appears very tiny on the outside but has amazing headroom when seated. The aforementioned climate control did a great job of keeping us comfortable despite climbing temps and humidity outside.

While the Mitsubishi styling is that of a hatchback there is not that much storage space in back and while the car looks like a “glorified golf cart” good luck on fitting your bags back there should a trip to the links be in your plans.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is powered by a 48kW synchronous AC motor fed by a 15 kWH lithium-ion battery pack. The motor is under the rear cargo area with the tiny underhood space reserved for a small 12-volt DC battery helping feed conventional items such as vehicle lighting and electronics and it is recharged by a feed coming from a splitter box adjacent to the car’s motor.

Top speed for i-MiEV is 80 mph – it takes a little while to get there and won’t go any higher. Low-end performance around town is good as electric excel in this category due to the high torque exhibited by the motors.

There are three driving modes: Normal, Eco, and Braking. Normal used the most energy of the three with Eco robbing some of the foot-feed going to the engine (I only recommend this mode where there is not other traffic). “B” or braking mode allows engine when the accelerator pedal is lifted and returns a lot of energy back to the battery pack. I actually ended up using this mode the most once we got used to just how much drag is created once you “get out of the gas.”

The adjusted EV fuel economy rating for the Mitsubishi is 112 MPGe with an annual average fuel cost of $550 (all electricity of course). Users can pre-program the i-MiEV to only charge during off-peak hours at home thereby saving owners a bit of money and not taxing the electric grid during peak times such as arriving home when most folks are also cranking up the A/C and other appliances as well.

I did find it odd a vehicle this sophisticated still utilizes a traditional ignition key with lock/unlock/vehicle alarm functions on a separate keyfob from the remote Mitsubishi supplies to monitor and control charging functions. On a positive note, owner’s can set their vehicles to run the climate control system while hooked to the “shore line” thereby not taxing the battery as much once you disconnect and drive off.

Pricing begins at just under $30,000 for the base ES model with our SE tester coming in with a sticker of $34,920. The automaker uses the $7,500 tax credit the i-MiEV qualifies for in its pricing of the vehicle but that is nonsense. The car will cost you the full sticker price – the tax credit is not a rebate and is not a guaranteed dollar-for-dollar return.

According to the EV side-by-side comparison chart, the Mitsubishi has the smallest motor and shortest operating range of the current breed of all-electrics yet returns the highest fuel economy equivalent and costs the least to operate with figures based on annual driving range of 15,000 miles.

The current gang of EVs are not perfect but they are pioneers in the segment. Automakers will learn much from feedback from customers and from continuous testing and evaluation. I think of these more as rolling research and development labs than full-use modes of transportation. They will fill the needs of quite a few consumers but still have a way to go to satisfy the needs of the many.

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