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All-electric Mitsu fun and satisfying, within limitations

All-electric four-seater is peppy and stable, but best-suited for short trips at non-highway speeds.

So which would you rather do: drive to the gas station and pay a buck-30 for regular-grade, or drive your car home, plug it into the wall, and charge it for pennies?

I?m guessing the latter sounds far more appealing, but don?t expect petrol pumps to disappear anytime soon, if ever. You?ve heard it all before, but it bears repeating: electric cars are very specialized, and they?re only viable if you can work around their limitations.

My first limitation is that the distance between my house and the pickup spot for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV would have depleted the battery, and I would have missed a day?s drive while waiting for it to recharge. So it was delivered to my house on the back of a diesel flatbed. Ah, the irony.

Anyone buying an i-MiEV (say ?eye-meeve?) would likely wire in a 220-volt charger, which brings the charging time down to seven hours, about one-third the time it needed on the regular 120 volts from my wall outlet. If you can find a quick-charge DC outlet, you can bring the battery up to 80 per cent in half an hour.

Mitsubishi?s thinking ahead: the connector port is standard on all i-MiEVs, so if or when quick-charge infrastructure becomes commonplace, owners won?t have to retrofit.

I-MiEV faces competition from the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, which runs on a plug-in charge and then, when that runs out, fires up a small gasoline engine to make more electricity. Also coming to market soon are all-electric models of the Smart Fortwo and Ford Focus, and the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, which runs on a stored charge and then reverts to conventional hybrid operation when that peters out.

Of those available now, i-MiEV is the least expensive at $32,998. On top of that, Ontario hands you back $8,231 as an incentive grant. The Leaf starts at $38,395, while the Volt is $41,545 (both before the grant). My tester included an optional $3,000 Premium Package, which added alloy wheels, deluxe seat material and interior trim, Bluetooth, fancier stereo and navigation system.

Even with the upgrades, i-MiEV?s interior is austere: hard plastics, dated design, a three-pod instrument cluster that resembles Mickey Mouse?s silhouette, and a steering wheel that doesn?t tilt.

Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed driving it. Its electric motor is rated at 66 horsepower, but the more important number is its torque ? 145 lb.-ft. and, because it doesn?t have to rev up like a gasoline engine does, it?s all available right from a dead stop. You learn to be easy on the throttle, though, because jackrabbit starts eat up the battery power much faster.

It?s rear-wheel-drive and, in the city, is fun to take around corners: the weight?s all in the bottom and the wheels are pushed out to the edges, so it feels very stable. However, the skinny tires tend to follow ruts in the road and it?s susceptible to cross-winds, so 105 km/h was about my comfort limit on the 401 (it?s rated at a top speed of 130 km/h).

How far you?ll go depends on several factors, including speed, ambient temperature, how much you use the climate control, and your driving habits. Mitsubishi rates it at a maximum of 155 km per charge, but I found that very optimistic.

Starting on a full charge, I checked my mileage on a trip in chilly weather, with the heater and the heated seat on (there is only one, for the driver). It may seem odd to put such a power-hungry device in an electric car, but if your body?s warm, you?ll turn down the cabin temperature, and it takes more juice to warm up the whole cabin.

I drove 49 km, with 15 of that on the 401, which chews up power pretty fast, and used up half of my power, according to the gauge.

Natural Resources Canada rates electric cars with a system that provides the equivalent of what you?d use in gasoline (Le, for ?litres equivalent?). The i-MiEV comes in at 1.9 Le/100 km in the city, and 2.4 Le/100 km on the highway, bettering the Leaf (2.2/2.6) and Volt (2.5/2.5).

The feds estimate it costs about $449 a year to power up the i-MiEV. Mitsubishi?s next-best, the gasoline-powered Lancer, is tagged at $1,470 per year.

So should you buy one? We?re back to the limitations.

Its target audience is a driver who covers a daily commute within the car?s range, has a place to install a 220-volt charger (the downtown condo dwellers most likely to benefit from electric cars are among the least likely able to charge one, at least until the infrastructure improves), has a second car or a backup plan for longer trips, and is willing to pay what is a very high price for a subcompact car. (The lithium-ion battery is warranted for eight years or 160,000 km).

If you?re willing to take the plunge, though, there?s a very satisfying feeling when you bypass the lineup at the pumps, and ?fill up? your car at home.

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

PRICE: $32,998, as-tested $35,998 (before rebate)

ENGINE: Electric motor with lithium-ion battery

POWER/TORQUE: 66 horsepower, 145 torque

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: City 1.9, hwy. 2.4 (gasoline equivalent)

COMPETITION: Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf

WHAT?S BEST: No gasoline needed, and it?s fun.

WHAT?S WORST: If you run out of battery, you?re walking.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: You can set the charging time and heater via the key fob.

  • All-electric Mitsu fun and satisfying, within limitations
  • All-electric Mitsu fun and satisfying, within limitations
  • All-electric Mitsu fun and satisfying, within limitations