Mitsubishi is convinced the electric car has a big future. Steve Walker checks out the i MiEV.
Electric cars are no longer the futuristic pipe dreams they were just a few years ago. Today, if the fancy takes us, we can stride down to a showroom and put down a deposit on a viable vehicle that lacks an internal combustion engine. There might be a bit of a waiting list but before long, we'd be sampling a motoring experience once alien to anyone outside the milk delivery and golfing communities. Mitsubishi has set itself up as one of the pioneers in the electric car field and it's i MiEV city car is one of the few electric vehicles that sensible people might want to own.
Ten Second Review
If the Mitsubishi i car wasn't quirky and futuristic enough for you, try the i MiEV which adds an electric powertrain into the mix. It takes six hours to charge from a household socket but the claimed range is up to 100 miles and there are zero tailpipe emissions which equals big tax advantages. The electric car is here but how close are you to wanting one?
Mitsubishi caused quite a stir when it launched its i car. Many thought there'd been a mix-up and the Japanese marque had pulled the covers from some flight of fancy concept car rather than its new urban runabout. With its front wheels ahead of its headlights and looking narrow enough to park inside your front door, the i is unconventional in the extreme but it also contains some very clever design. In i MiEV form, it's cleverer still because the 660cc petrol engine has been replaced by an electric motor and where the fuel tank was is a very big battery pack.
The performance figures for the i MiEV wouldn't be unusual if they applied to a rather sluggish supermini but that serves as a ringing endorsement of the car's groundbreaking powertrain. The electric motor produces 63bhp and that can get the car from naught to 60mph in 13 seconds before eventually reaching a motorway-friendly 87mph top speed. Less orthodox is the torque of 182Nm which is readily available thanks to the electric motor's on/off operation. That's about what you might expect from a 1.6-litre petrol engine and it means that the i MiEV should be more than capable tackling steep inclines and travelling fully loaded. The gear lever allows the iMiEV to be slotted into Drive or ECO modes. The former gives access to all of the performance on offer and the latter is set-up for economical city driving. It reduces the available power and activates a battery recharging function that replenishes power reserves every time your foot is taken off the accelerator. Get over these little idiosyncrasies and the i will feel much like a conventional car.
Design and Build
The i car makes great use of the available space but there isn't very much of that within the confines of this diminutive vehicle. Four adults can fit in for typical city journeys and there's even a usable boot, although the i isn't really cut out as a family car. The rear seat back splits to allow larger objects to be carried. With the battery occupying the fuel tank's under floor position and the electric motor taking the place of the engine under the back seats, there are no interior space differences between the conventional i car and the electric i MiEV model. The egg-shaped profile and wheel-at-each-corner stance of the i MiEV makes it stand out on the road. That's likely to suit buyers who want to drive an environmentally-friendly vehicle and would also like everyone else to know that they're driving one. General build quality is reasonably tough but the plastics don't feel very expensive and the interior is less attractive in its design and the outside.
Market and Model
Initially, the i MiEV will be available to lease from Mitsubishi dealers and the manufacturer expects that most of the 200-strong allocation will be taken up by businesses and public sector organisations. The cost is rather expensive at around £24,000 (which could get you quite a lot of Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class) but the appeal of the i MiEV will come from its green credentials. Companies wanting to project the right image might see running a fleet of these as a useful promotional tool.
Cost of Ownership
So we come to the nuts and bolts of whether the i MiEV is a viable proposition in the UK market. For a start, it's an emissions free vehicle which comes with all kinds of tax advantages. In fact, Mitsubishi estimates that the car costs just £115 to run for 12,000 miles driving, which really puts the prices we're paying to run our conventional cars into perspective. You also get low servicing costs and downtime - with only approximately 4 working parts compared to over 300 in a typical internal combustion engine. This car is exempt from road tax (saving approx £300 per annum), has zero benefit-in-kind company car tax, benefits from a lower rate of VAT for domestic electricity, is exempt from congestion charges (saving up to £2,000 per annum in London) and benefits from free parking in many London boroughs and cities such as Milton Keynes. Owners can also expect high residual values due to high demand outstripping supply for several years to come. On the downside, it isn't as convenient as a car with an internal combustion engine. The range on a full charge is said to be between 80 and 100 miles but that is reduced by cold weather and unfavourable driving conditions. That's still a decent range but a charge takes six hours to complete from a normal household socket which probably means plugging it in overnight for use the next morning. The alternative is the £3,000 Quick Charger which can be bought with the car. It's the size of a wardrobe and can charge the battery to 80% in 30 minutes. If you don't have a garage, the charging process could involve trailing electric cables out of your letterbox and out to the street which is less than ideal and might have health and safety implications.
Mitsubishi has made a bold move in launching its electric powered i MiEV onto the UK market. It borrows the clever design of the petrol-powered i car and adds an electric drive system which, according to the specification, looks like it will prove viable for lots of city dwellers. The upfront cost of the i MiEV is the only major hurdle but the hassle involved in recharging the battery pack might also deter some interested parties. Electric cars seemed a very long way off just a few years ago but market conditions and a desire to cut emissions have accelerated their arrival. Predicting the future is a dangerous game but with electric cars in showrooms and attitudes changing, it's not too hard to foresee a time when significant numbers of us want to own them.