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2012 Mitsubishi i: First Drive, U.S.-Spec MiEV

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The Mitsubishi MiEV went on sale in Japan and Europe back in mid-2009, and it’s sold 11,000 of them in those markets combined, since then; and including those rebadged as Peugeot and Citroen models, it adds up to about 15,000 in all. And that’s about, as of last month, the same number of Nissan Leafs sold worldwide.

Among pure electric cars, Mitsubishi’s lead might have slipped away, but it does have one very significant claim: The 2012 Mitsubishi i (what it’s called here) is the most efficient DOT-legal vehicle for sale in the U.S. market, with an official MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) rating of 112.

That’s right; the MiEV is finally officially U.S.-legal, with first deliveries slated for late November. And in Portland, Oregon, we recently got the chance to drive a couple of the first pre-production U.S.-spec cars to be shipped over.

U.S. version bulges outward—for the better

First off, our version does end up looking a bit different. The U.S.-spec i is altogether about eight inches wider, for two reasons—to accommodate side-curtain airbags for front and rear occupants, and in order to increase track significantly, for better highway stability as U.S. cruising speeds, even for those used mainly in urban situations, are higher than those in Europe or Japan.

The U.S. cars also get more prominent, bulging bumpers front and rear, with a fascia around them, adding nearly a foot of length. Another concession to DOT approval is the odd dual-wiper setup, with one of the wipers especially long and bent at an odd angle—partially obscuring a corner of the windshield even when they’re off—which replaces the otherwise elegant single-wiper setup that other markets get.

Underneath, the MiEV has the same chassis layout as elsewhere in the world—and the same layout as the Mitsubishi i on which it’s based: MacPherson struts and a 21-mm stabilizer bar in front, with a three-link DeDion rear configuration. From the outside, it’s a bit novel to see a minicar with staggered tire sizes (145/65R15 in front, 175/60R15 in back).

While the MiEV wasn’t designed, ground-up, as an electric vehicle like the Leaf, you might suspect that it had been; that’s because the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout of the gasoline-powered Mitsubishi i minicar proved to be especially friendly for packaging a battery pack and electric-drive components. The surprisingly small 16 kWh (330V) lithium-ion battery is placed low, beneath the floor of the vehicle, with the engine at the rear.


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Comments (6)
  1. I would definitely consider the Mitsubishi i over the LEAF for the two reasons that you mentioned, 1) lower purchase price, and 2) higher efficiency. It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Mitsu i uses 27kwh/100miles versus the LEAF at 32kwh/100miles. That makes the Mitsu i about 16% more efficient. It is even more efficient that the Tesla roadster (29kwh/100miles) and way better than the Chevy Volt (36kwh/100miles) (that is 33% more electricity per mile for the Volt !)

    How about the relative fit and finish of the LEAF versus the i? Is the i about on par with the LEAF for interior trimmings and feel.

    Thanks for the review. I look forward to seeing the i in person.
     
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  2. i Would. I hate to get rid of my 2006 Honda CRV. It gets 24 mpg and has great utility and reliability, but the days of gas cars are numbered. I would keep it for long trips, rather than having to plan for charging stations and extension cords running from motel windows in the night.
     
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  3. I drove and liked the euro spec iMiEV last year, and was hoping the US version would not loose it’s appeal. I am surprised that after adding weight and frontal area, Mitsubishi did not add battery capacity to maintain range. And what is with the 3.3kW charger. With only 17kWh on board, the i will need to frequent public opportunity charging. A 6.6kW charger would have added 25 miles of range per charge hour. I really like the efficient design, but it’s 100 mile round trip from home to the airport. Can’t do it in the US spec i.
     
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  4. Hello. Do you know the frontal area of 2012 MMC i? I need the spec of aerodynamic drag coefficient and frontal area.
     
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  5. I like the more distinctive styling of the Mitsubishi vs the Leaf. The fact that a "loaded" Mitsubishi "i" would be several thousand dollars less than a Leaf is simply a further plus to me.
     
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  6. My six days a week commute is 31 miles round trip per day. Add another mile or two per day for errands. So an EV is on my new car list for mid 2012. I just have to get out and drive, touch and feel, and investigate the i and the Leaf. My existing car is 16 years old and doesn't owe me anything.

    I enjoy the reviews and am looking forward to new wheels -
     
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