The electric-vehicle revolution is upon us--or at least, that's what manufacturers such as Mitsubishi would like us to believe.
We've had plenty of exposure to EVs, including several short drives in Mitsubishi's first mass-production zero-emissions car, the i-MiEV. But none of those drives gave us a chance to live with an EV in the real world, to see how it really performs when subjected to the stresses of everyday use.
For our test, we borrowed an i-MiEV in Tokyo, using it day and night for a week as we would any other car in an urban setting. Initial skepticism faded within minutes after we silently rolled out of Mitsubishi's headquarters and onto the streets of Tokyo. There is something quite satisfying about zooming through traffic in a little city car like the i-MiEV. The responsive and eerily quiet 63-hp electric motor puts a smile on your face every time you tap into that instant 133 lb-ft of torque, making it feel far faster than its gasoline-powered equivalent. With 88 lithium-ion batteries tucked away under the floor, the little i-MiEV also offers a confidence-inspiring low center of gravity.
We drove the i-MiEV on the usual errands, such as running to the grocery store, and, like any nervous EV operator, we found ourselves keeping close tabs on the battery's 16-bar state-of-charge gauge. Mitsubishi claims a 100-mile range from full charge, but driving the car normally in stop-and-go city traffic saw the power level drop precipitously, pushing the car into a more realistic 50- to 60-mile range.
Using "eco" mode, which cuts power to the motor, helped increase range, so we typically selected maximum-power "D" mode only when we needed full acceleration, and quickly shifted back to eco mode for most other driving. A third mode, "B," aids in recharging the batteries from engine braking, so we put it to use on even slight inclines and when coasting to stops.
Once the power bars indicate that the batteries are nearly depleted, the onboard navigation system provides locations of the nearest fast-charge points--at least in Tokyo. The Japanese government is working to expand the nation's infrastructure of "eco stations," and the capital city is already equipped with numerous quick-charge stations.
At a quick-charging station, the i-MiEV's batteries recharge to 80 percent capacity in about 20 minutes, via a high-voltage plug behind a conventional filler cap. A 100 percent charge by plugging into a 110-volt home outlet takes about 16 hours (eight hours on a 220-volt outlet).
Approximate cost: $1.
After one week and 200 miles in the seat on Tokyo streets, we think it's clear that the i-MiEV makes sense for those who have short daily commutes or those who need economical transportation for brief urban trips. For those drivers, especially in Japan-where the government is providing subsidies to keep EV sticker prices down and where new charging locations are being added every week--the futuristic i-MiEV is ready today.
2010 Mitsubishi i-MiEV
ON SALE: Now in Japan
PRICE: $42,420 ($30,700 with government subsidies)
POWERTRAIN: Electric motor, 63-hp, 133-lb-ft electric motor, direct drive
CURB WEIGHT: 2,425 lb
0-60 MPH: 13 sec (est)