2012 Mitsubishi i First Drive: EV Unplugged

2012 Mitsubishi i

2012 Mitsubishi i (click to enlarge)

The 2012 Mitsubishi i, to most observers, is as cute as the proverbial bug. Rarely, however, in the annals of car marketing have cute, bug-like automobiles sold for upwards of THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. That, in at least one nutshell, is the challenge facing Mitsubishi Motors as they roll out their new all-electric vehicle to car prospects across the country. Some three years after its launch in Mitsubishi’s home (Japanese) market, the Mitsubishi i arrives on U.S. shores, having allowed Nissan’s Leaf and  Chevrolet’s Volt to establish an electrified beachhead. Although the consumer jury remains out on all-electric transport, we were intrigued by Mitsubishi’s less-than-conventional take on unconventional motoring.

Our first impression was formed by a quick look at a Japanese-spec i-Miev some two years ago. An electrified variant of Mitsubishi’s Kei-class i, the Mitsubishi looked impossibly small and, given its narrow width, almost fragile in a U.S. parking lot. For its official U.S. debut Mitsubishi’s design team put the 2012 i on a high-carb diet, widening the track by over four inches while beefing up the bumpers front and rear. The U.S.-spec proportions retain the Mitsubishi i’s overtly generous greenhouse atop a diminutive – by U.S. standards – footprint, allowing easy interior access in combination with more than a little size-induced paranoia.

Inside, despite mods to its center console employing what we’re told are ‘improved materials’ (note another lower case ‘i’), the overall impression is one of generous space filled with low-budget plastic. It isn’t, thankfully, disarming, but Audi’s design team – in point of fact, Kia’s design team – will never feel threatened. Standard audio is a 4-speaker, 100-watt AM/FM/CD system with MP3; our test SE featured 360 watts distributed through eight speakers, along with HDD navigation and what Mitsubishi terms a FUSE Hands-free Link with USB port.

Sitting on a wheelbase of 100.4 inches, and boasting an overall length of just over twelve feet, the Mitsubishi i feels appropriately nimble and – within the new definition of alternative energy – reasonably responsive. If, as a motorist, you’re empowered by anything at the wheel of the new Mitsubishi  it’s the great visibility. You can see – and be seen – all around you, making your day-in/day-out in-traffic maneuvers more easily managed even if (on some level) you also feel more vulnerable.

Our test, over a long weekend, included some 40 miles of aggressive stop-and-go driving and – in the absence of a recharge – a rather tenuous trip to the airport of some twenty miles. With a claimed (EPA) range of approximately sixty miles there were roughly ten miles of range-induced angst before arriving at our destination. But within the context of errand running or the daily commute, the electric Mitsubishi seemed well configured to meet most (if not all) needs of an urban/suburban lifestyle.

Of course, once you’ve established its suitability you – as a consumer – need to establish its value. The Mitsubishi’s MSRP of about $30K can appear steep, until you take into account the $7500 tax credit available (for now) from our Federal government. At which point it effectively competes with a slew of recently introduced compacts capable of 40 miles per gallon and approximately 400 miles of range. Of course, these conventional powertrains pollute and are, uh, conventional.

The generation of electrical energy also pollutes (in Texas, where this is written, some energy is produced in coal-fired plants – and some is generated by West Texas winds), so environmental decisions are increasingly made within a context shaded by inborn bias and (on some level) political manipulation. We happen to think the development of all-electric alternatives is a good thing, and if the government needs to grease the wheels (as they repeatedly have in aerospace and infotech) it needn’t be a bad thing.

Ultimately, if you’re in the market for an efficient alternative to an increasingly efficient array of conventional drivetrains, the Mitsubishi rates your consideration. We’re more comfortable with a net purchase price in the low $20’s, as anything higher gets you awfully close to the price point of Nissan’s Leaf. And the Nissan is awfully close to being a real car.

2012 Mitsubishi i, price and key specifications as tested
Body style/layout: 4-door hatch, mid-engine/rear-wheel drive

Base price: $31,975 (with transportation)
Price as tested: $34,920

* Rear motor, 49 kW AC synchronous
* 16 kWh lithium-ion, 330V, 88 cells
* Portable charging cable (Level 1) 120V (8A)
* Optional home charging dock (Level 2) 240V (15A)
* DC Quick-charge port (Level 3) 50KW
* Fuel economy, estimated: 112 MPGe (126 City/99 Highway)

Transmission: Single fixed reduction gear transmission

* Suspension, front/rear: Independent strut/3-link De Dion
* Wheels: 15-inch alloy
* Tires: 175/60 R15
* Brakes: Front disc/rear drum
* Steering: Speed-sensitive electric power steering
* Turning radius: 15.4 ft.


* Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
* Length: 144.7 in.
* Height: 63.6 in.
* Width: 62.4 in.
* Curb weight: 2579 lbs
* Trunk volume: 13.2 cu. ft.
* Fuel tank: N/A

* Airbags: Driver and front-passenger seat-mounted side-impact supplemental front air bags and roof-mounted curtain side-impact supplemental airbags
* Anti-lock brakes: Yes  Electronic brake-force distribution: Yes  Brake assist: Yes
* Other: Active Stability Control with Traction Logic Control, RISE body construction with front and rear crumple zones, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, High voltage cut-off sytem and Acoustic Vehicle Alert System

Warranty: Battery: 8 years/100,000 miles. Powertrain Components: 5 years/60,000 miles. New Vehicle: Bumper-to-Bumper, 3 years/36,000 mile limited warranty.