The Mitsubishi i-MiEV (pronounced EYE-meev) is an inexpensive electric car that does some things very well indeed.
The i-MiEV is the least expensive electric car sold in the US. The MSRP on the i-MiEV ES (ES is the only trim level available) is $23,845, including destination. That drops to $15,495 with the $7,500 tax credit. That’s about where base versions of gas hatchbacks like the Ford Fiesta and Kia Rio 5 start.
States have their own incentives on top of that – for instance in Calfiornia, new rules will add an additional $4,000 subsidy for buyers whose income is less than 300 percent of the Federal poverty limit. That’s the state’s way of getting more low-income folks into electric cars.
So if the test car were bought in California, its $23,845 base price could shrink to $11,495. That’s less than the base price of Mitsubishi’s gas-powered Mirage hatchback, which checks in at $2,310 above the California-bought i-MiEV.
Being able to plug in for less than $12K is certainly an attractive prospect. So how’s the car behind the price?
It’s not bad at all. Appreciating the i-MiEV means accepting its limitations. In doing so, you let go of needing it to behave like a gas car, because the i-MiEV has some surprising virtues of its own.
I developed a dim view of my first i-MiEV test car, after the quick drop in its lowest charge zone left my co-pilot and me holding our breaths as we crept up the hill to my garage, as the last bar in the charge gauge blinked and blinked.
This time, I was ready for that steep drop as the battery came close to discharge; the i-MiEV reminded me of my smartphone, where battery life falls off a cliff at the 15% point.
And like my power-hungry smartphone, I wanted the i-MiEV to never be far from its charger. I was 50 miles in when the charge gauge dropped to three bars, and that’s the point where I’ve learned to aim the i-MiEV homeward.
Mitsubishi claims 62 miles, but your mileage may vary, particularly if you live in a hilly city.
I spoke to another i-MiEV driver, and he joked about the tow truck that came the first time he was stranded without charge. The i-MiEV required a flatbed, and as the driver loaded it onto the truck, he said, “Oh yeah, I pick up electric cars all the time.”
The short range is unfortunately matched to a long charging period; it’s 14 hours on a standard 120V outlet. Upgrades in the charger and a 240V outlet can bring that down to six hours, if you’re keen to the investment.
By now, you’re probably not thinking of the i-MiEV as a highway cruiser. It does fine in the short distances it covers, but it can get blown around, as you’d expect with a slab-sided car with Frisbee-like 145-section tires.
The i-MiEV is obviously happier in the city, and it’s so confident and nimble there that the i-MiEV’s limitations begin to diminish. All that electric available from a standstill can make the i-MiEV feel zoomy.
An i-MiEV owned by an urban dweller will generally be in a close orbit around its charging station. Once that range anxiety is relieved, the rest of the neat little car Mitsubishi has dreamed up here can be appreciated.
For one thing, visibility is panoramic, and the far-forwardness of the base of the windshield creates a fishbowl effect that gives the tiny i-MiEV an unlikely roomy feeling.
The i-MiEV is uncommonly short; it’s just under 145 inches, which is about two inches shorter than a Mini Cooper. The turning circle is similarly tight, with just 30.8 feet required to loop around.
That means that you can sometimes swing a U-turn even if cars are parked in the opposing lane. It’s very freeing to be as nimble as the i-MiEV is in tight quarters.
And the shortest Mini Cooper doesn’t have the i-MiEV’s four-door practicality. The i-MiEV’s upright interior has four chair-height seats, and both rows have reclining seatbacks. Fold down the rears, and you have a flat platform that transforms the i-MiEV into a delivery truck.
You can easily haul two office chairs for donation…
…along with the metal Christmas tree you inexplicably bought from a friend’s summer garage sale.
The i-MiEV’s single ES trim is well equipped. There’s a leather wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks and mirrors, keyless entry, aluminum wheels, fog lights, air conditioning and front heated seats.
The LED tail lights are a nice touch.
The tested i-MiEV had the $2,000 Navigation Package, which includes a backup camera…
…along with steering-wheel audio controls.
Despite having these handy features, the i-MiEV hasn’t one shred of a premium feel. The thin doors shut with a twang, and the stiff door panels are easily marked up.
One persistent annoyance was the picky shifter, which felt like it was stuck in a slot full of brambles.
Otherwise, the i-MiEV has potential to the be the right kind of car for the right kind of owner. It’s worlds better to drive than a Smart, and it’s a thoroughly practical package. Stay close to its charge point, and chances are you’ll find more than one thing the i-MiEV is good for.
Excellent visibility, tight turning radius
Tinny door slams
Picky shifter gate
2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV ES
Base Price: $22,995
Price As Tested: $24,995
Navigation Package: $2,000
MMCS Navigation With Two Annual MapCare Updates
Fuse Handsfree Link System With USB Port
Steering Wheel Audio And Handsfree Switches
Rearview Camera System