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Mitsubishi i-MiEV is America’s lowest cost electric, for a reason

You get what you pay for.

GOING THE DISTANCE: The 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is an electric subcompact with an EPA tested range of 62 miles, which is usually better in observed driving.

GOING THE DISTANCE: The 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is an electric subcompact with an EPA tested range of 62 miles, which is usually better in observed driving.

On a stand-alone basis, one could tolerate the 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV. With nothing to compare it to, it’s not a bad little car and there is the added appeal that it runs on electricity.

That was the case when it was introduced in 2012. Its only competition was the Nissan Leaf, but so much has changed in the electric vehicle universe since then. Unfortunately, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has stood still and is being outpaced by the competition.

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Mitsubishi points out the i-MiEV is the least expensive electric vehicle on the road with a starting price of $22,995 (before an $850 destination charge). The company also cites the $7,500 federal tax credit. Massachusetts has a $2,500 rebate available. You need to talk to a tax professional, though, to understand how the tax credit and rebate work.

It’s the price of the batteries that turn what is basically a $12,000 vehicle into one with a price tag of $23,000. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV just feels cheap with doors that seem to have the heft of cat food cans and an interior filled with hard plastic surfaces. Mitsubishi might have been smart to not seek the “lowest priced EV’’ title and instead funneled additional upscale materials into this car even if it meant a higher MSRP.

Other sedans like the electric Ford Focus, Volkswagen eGolf, and the Nissan Leaf cost more yet are substantially nicer inside. They also get additional range, which justifies their higher prices.

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For those interested in the numbers, the lithium-ion main drive battery pack consists of 88 individual battery cells. Its total energy storage capacity is 16 kWh. The EPA says it has a range of 62 miles. In my week with the car, the meter consistently showed 72 miles and I observed mile-per-mile equal to the meter.

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My wife drove the Mitsubishi to work and back, a distance of about 46 miles round trip. It went out with a full charge and came back with about 27 miles left. She sacrificed air conditioning only because we weren’t sure if she could use it and make it home. It turned out to be an unjustified concern.

Charging was at first confusing because the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has ports on both sides of the car. One side is for the more traditional charging offered at a home through either your standard household outlet or a more powerful home charging station. The other is for high-speed charging.

The standard outlet will bring the car to full charge in 14 hours, but you would have to be way down in juice to need that long. A Level 2 charging station will get the job done in 7 hours. A high-speed charger can bring the i-MiEV up to 80 percent charge in less than 30 minutes.

Once on the road, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV drives pleasantly enough. It has three drive modes. D provides the highest performance. Eco gets you the most bang for your charge while B helps you recharge your batteries through regenerative braking. B is best used when you are braking frequently. On the highway, you need to be in D to stand any chance of changing lanes. The 0-60 time for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is in the 13-15 second range.

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As mentioned, the interior of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV leaves a lot to be desired but is not without some redeeming touches. The diamond patterned seats are nice looking and the center stack is easy to use. The HVAC vents and door handles are well designed.

INTERIOR DISAPPOINTS: The instrument panel should have more emphasis on miles remaining in the charge, instead of using a fuel gauge that is largely ineffective.

One flaw is the instrument gauges. Too much space is devoted to a faux fuel gauge that shows remaining charge. Because the miles-left gauge is what people are going to rely on, it should be more prominent.

The model we drove had the optional navigation package for $2,000. It includes a seven-inch screen and navigation package, hands-free link system with Bluetooth, USB, redundant steering wheel controls, and rearview camera system.

Without the nav package, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is lacking in technology beyond the heated seats. For conservation reasons, heated seats are a must-have in any electric vehicle. They help reduce the need for energy-draining heating that warms the entire cabin, even when the driver is solo.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV, while loaded with airbags, gets only four stars overall from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Its side crash rating is three stars. Those scores need to be higher in a subcompact car.

2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

THE BASICS

Price, base (with destination): $23,845. Fuel economy (equivalent): 126 city/99 highway/112 combined. Drivetrain: Single-speed transmission electric vehicle. Body: Four-door subcompact.

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THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 66 hp @ 3,000 to 6,000 rpm. Torque: 145 @ 0 to 3,000 rpm. Overall length: 144.7 in. Wheelbase: 100.4 in. Height: 63.6 in. Width: 62.4 in. Curb weight: 2,579 lbs.

THE GOOD

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the lowest priced electric vehicle in the U.S., which makes it a good way to explore an alternative fuel vehicle lifestyle.

THE BAD

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV feels too unsubstantial as a car to be a viable choice as an electric vehicle. It has a cramped interior, an awkward design, and a power deficit not overcome by instant torque.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV suffers from being so far behind the competition in a growing electric vehicle field. About the only compelling reason to buy one would be price alone.

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