Design and Engineering

Design and Engineering

Good Arriving Down Under in July 2010, the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle, is a rear-wheel-drive full-electric (i.e. plug-in) four-seat Supermini. The i-MiEV shares it’s body with the Japan-only Mitsubishi ‘i’ microcar but replaces the conventional petrol engine with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack (the same technology used in a modern mobile phone battery) positioned under the rear seat.
Not so good Being based on the Mitsubishi ‘i’ means the i-MiEV also complies to the tiny Japanese kei-class rules of an overall vehicle length less than 3.4m and a width less than 1.6m. Complying with these rules ensures the i-MiEV is quite narrow, which could affect vehicle handling and rear passenger interior space. Batteries are heavy, so compared to the Japan-only petrol-powered ‘i’, the i-MiEV weighs approximately 200kg more (however at less than 1,100kg it’s still by no means a heavyweight).
Interior and Styling

Interior and Styling

Good The overall interior might be more basic than competing premium Supermini’s however there’s no mistaking the funky details that have been added as a result of the innovative electric motor. Instead of a speedometer and rev gauge taking pride of place in the driver’s console the prominent display gauge in the i-MiEV is a large ‘power consumption’ readout. Very cool and don’t worry, a small digital speed display and fuel gauge is still on show.

Considering the tiny external footprint, the i-MiEV is surprisingly roomy. Four full size adults can fit inside without a squeeze and at almost 250L the boot space is larger than a MINI Cooper's and so much bigger than a Smart ForTwo’s.
Not so good The overall budget-like feel to the interior is a disappointment. The plastics scream ‘cheap’ (not surprising as the donour car, the Mitsubishi ‘i’, is a budget priced car in Japan), the door skins are covered in the stuff (we’d like a bit more leather, velour or at the very least cloth surfaces) and the driver’s seat doesn’t offer much adjustment and is lacking in support.
Performance

Performance

Good The electric motor produces 47kW of power and 180Nm of torque. Unlike a petrol engine the maximium amount of torque is available instantaneously - the performance on offer is impressive for the vehicle’s intended inner-urban life. With the gear lever in D (for Drive) it feels as brisk as a typical Supermini (the transmission is a single-speed!) and has no problem keeping up with traffic. Maximum speed is electronically limited to 130km/h, so the i-MiEV can also handle highway driving, but be aware that once fully charged the range before the batteries go completely flat is between 140kms to 160kms (according to Mitsubishi).
Not so good To maximise battery life you have to select ‘Eco’ mode, which takes the edge of the i-MiEV’s performance. A good compromise is the setting ‘B’ (which stands for ‘Brake’ mode) delivering the maximum throttle response of ‘Drive’ mode combined with maximum ‘engine’ braking (i.e. regenerative braking).
Ride and Handling

Ride and Handling

Good Ride quality is decent, the steering is light, the turning circle is impressively small and the exterior dimensions are super compact – all real strengths for a life in the city. A unique feature of an electric vehicle is the lack of noise – so apart from wind and tyre noise – the i-MiEV is fantastically quiet. The suspension is on the firm side so despite the relatively high seating position, bodyroll is kept impressively low.
Not so good The short wheelbase, narrow width, super skinny tyres and the basic rear suspension set-up are all negatives for handling prowess. Potholes and broken-up bitumen is more noticeable in the i-MiEV than in larger cars. Driving enthusiasts will bemoan the lifeless steering feel.
Buying and Owning

Buying and Owning

Good Easy to charge – you simply plug the supplied power cord into a power point at one end and into a plug (located behind a typical fuel-filler opening) on the driver’s side of the i-MiEV. This charges the 88-cell battery pack (which supplies the power to the electric motor).

Electric motors require less maintenance than a petrol engine and say good-bye to spending time standing at the petrol bowser.
Not so good Traction Control and Anti-lock brakes are standard but Electronic Stability Control is missing. Fast-charge stations are still a distinct rarity in Australia, so the idea of charging an i-MiEV to 80% full in 30 minutes (as is the case in Japan), won’t be the norm here for a while. A full charge using the standard domestic power supply takes a long seven hours and gives you a range of 140 – 160kms. So if you’re going to be driving over 100kms in a day you'll likely spend excessive amounts of time staring at the charge meter.

The i-MiEV costs $1,740 a month over a 3 year period – that’s $62,640! Limited availability - large corporations rather than households are the initial target market.