LA Auto Show: Mitsubishi i MiEV Test Drive

by Benjamin Jones on November 21, 2008

Yesterday I had the pleasure of driving Mitsubishi’s new i MiEV electric car, based on a Japanese kei car. The car, while not in its final stages of production yet are currently being field tested around the world for a rollout in Japan in 2009. Next summer Mitsubishi plans to sell 2,000 units of the car at 4 million yen (~$41,000), with production to increase sharply in 2010 and 2011.

Right now the cars are pretty much hand-built. The chassis, of course, is common for Mitsubishi, but the electric drive train and the batteries especially are still handbuilt. As I was told by the Mitsubishi representative that rode shotgun, the costs of production will go down significantly when Mitsubishi’s battery production company gets up to full steam and becomes automated.

i MiEV Test Drive

I’ve been in quite a few small, fuel efficient cars in my time (including other Japanese Kei cars), and I can honestly say this is faster than any of those. In fact, I drove a smart fortwo immediately afterwards and was shocked at the difference in pulling power. Even though the i MiEV is a small electric car, one of the characteristics of electric cars is that they deliver full torque all the way from 0 rpm.

Of course, Mitsubishi has designed the car not to do exactly that to prevent accidental burn outs, but they didn’t cripple the car’s acceleration at all. Even in ECO mode, a range extending mode that tunes down the performance of the car a small amount, the i MiEV was faster than the gasoline-powered fortwo. Besides the normal and ECO modes, there was also a regenerative braking mode that could be easily accessed to provide greater recharge when your foot was off the pedal.

Taking the car around turns was also a pleasure. Mitsubishi obviously beefed up the suspension to hold the extra weight, and because the batteries were towards the bottom of the car the center of gravity is significantly lowered compared to its gasoline-powered cousin. And all of this came without any noticeable compromise to the interior space.

Overall, the test drive was great. The car can go between 80-100 miles on a 2-4 hour charge (depending on what kind of plug you use) and the only problem was that I kept turning on the wipers when I meant to signal.

Will you be buying one when it comes to your market?

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