The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is an intriguing prospect.
On the one hand, it was one of the first breed of usable electric cars to the market. It's a proper car that doesn't feel like a golf cart to drive, and offers all the safety features we've come to expect from regular cars over the years.
On the other, it's expensive. Seriously expensive. For a car smaller, less well equipped and less powerful than Honda's 2011 Fit, you'll pay double the Fit's $15,000 base price, before government or state incentives, in the countries where it's sold. (The U.S. not yet among them.)
The 2011 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is undoubtably cheaper on a cost-per-mile basis. But it's still a long way from challenging the popular Honda's versatility day to day, if you regularly drive more than the 80 to 100 miles that Mitsubishi quotes as the i-MiEV's range. (And in the U.S. the effective range may be lower still.)
Still, anyone who's still reading by this point is likely prepared to put up with the low-range issue for the other benefits offered by an electric car. And USA Today certainly found plenty to praise in their test drive review of the little electric Mitsubishi.
Space was one such attribute. The 2011 i-MiEV certainly isn't a big car on the road, but space inside is impressive. USA Today managed to squeeze four adults into the car for their test, with room to spare.
The quality of the interior itself didn't go down as well as the space, however, with brittle plastics throughout and lumpy seats.
They didn't find the car wanting for performance either. Though clearly not the quickest car on the road, initial acceleration is more than quick enough for the city situations where the car will be at its best.
A 63-horsepower electric motor and 133 foot-pounds of torque--not to mention relatively light weight at 2,376 pounds--are no doubt beneficial to the initial acceleration. The top speed of 80 mph won't make many headlines, but arguably it's also the least important figure given the average EV's expected use.
Handling? Not bad for a tall, narrow car on skinny tires. Steering, cornering and braking were all described as "pleasant". This echoes our own brief experiences of the i-MiEV early last year.
Of course, the car will sell (or not) on its range, and the numbers here don't look quite as good. USA Today managed a real-world range of only 50 to 60 miles.
That's not bad if you plan to use the car only on short trips, but a fair way off the 100 miles that the 2011 Nissan Leaf is expected to manage, and significantly less than the 300 range-extended miles the 2011 Chevrolet Volt can manage.
In fact, the i-MiEV's range is not much more than the 40 miles the 2011 Volt will get on battery power alone.
Lest we forget, the 2011 Leaf should set you back no more than $32,000 before tax incentives, and the Volt in the region of $40,000, and the Chevy comes with an impressive battery warranty.
Those two cars are both more expensive than the i-MiEV's new, lower price, (and again, remember the i-MiEV is not yet sold in the U.S.). But both arguably offer a lot more car for the money, before range and performance are considered.
The 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is expected to hit U.S. shores in the fall of 2011, about a year after the Volt and Leaf go on sale. With competition that tough, it may have to rely on its price and its quirky appeal to make an impact in the EV sales charts.