2012 Mitsubishi i Electric Minicar: Driven

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It took a while, but we've finally had a chance to spend time with the smallest plug-in electric car sold in the U.S.

The 2012 Mitsubishi i (also known as the i-MiEV) is a battery electric minicar roughly the size of a Mini Cooper. The little hatchback has four doors, four usable seats, and a lot more space inside than you'd imagine from its egg-shaped exterior.

While most i-MiEVs we've seen were white, our test car was a startling shade of Raspberry Metallic purple that led us to nickname it Professor Plum--and made it almost impossible to photograph in sunlight.

During our four-day test running errands and doing short trips in various boroughs of New York City, our longest journey was from lower Manhattan out to City Island, the nautical community in the Bronx that juts off Pelham Bay Park into Long Island Sound.

Our trip followed the tracks of Jerry Seinfeld, who covered the same route in a gorgeous silver-blue classic 1967 Austin-Healey 3000 sports car--with a frequently terrified Ricky Gervais riding shotgun--in the latest episode of his series, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee."

While many would say the little Mitsu is simply too small for comfortable use, we found it fine for running around town. It was easy to park, and its tiny 31-foot turning circle let us do U-turns in just two lanes.

2012 Mitsubishi i electric car, New York City, August 2012

2012 Mitsubishi i electric car, New York City, August 2012

Enlarge Photo

The real challenge with the electric Mitsubishi is its range.

The EPA rates it at 62 miles, but that number--as we experienced during a spate of steamy 90-plus-degree weather in NYC--falls dramatically if you use the air conditioning and turn up the fan.

An indicated range of 58 miles with the AC off fell to 41 miles when it was turned on, and to 37 miles with the fan on High. We gained about 1 mile of range each time we lowered fan speed by one or two levels.

While we'd hoped to take it to Breezy Point in the Rockaways (25 miles each way), that seemed like pushing it if we needed to use the AC a lot. So we chose City Island instead, at 17 to 20 miles each way.

We settled for a compromise that mixed opening all the windows with closing them back up and using the lowest AC setting and the lowest fan speed. For two passengers in the front, that proved sufficient--barely--and it didn't cut range as much as cooling the entire cabin would have.

2012 Mitsubishi i - First Drive, U.S.-spec MiEV

2012 Mitsubishi i - First Drive, U.S.-spec MiEV

Enlarge Photo

After a full night's recharge, the highest range we saw indicated was 69 miles.

And, to be fair, driving sensibly and letting the car coast down on regenerative braking seemed to stretch the range somewhat beyond the indicated number.

Starting with 58 miles of range, we covered 45.8 miles at a mix of city and freeway speeds, and finished with 16 miles remaining--meaning we'd gained almost 10 percent on the indicated range.

Traveling in the little i wasn't as basic as we'd feared. The two-tone brown and dark grey interior was pleasant, and the hard plastics looked good.

We missed having an armrest, and Mitsubishi could do better on providing space for phones, sunglasses, soda bottles, toll tickets, and all the other stuff you want to store on the console if there's room. The i has one cupholder, behind the parking brake lever, two door bins, and a recess at the front of the console--that's about it.

2012 Mitsubishi i electric car, New York City, August 2012

2012 Mitsubishi i electric car, New York City, August 2012

Enlarge Photo

Vision out the rear window is largely blocked by the rear-seat headrests, which we immediately removed. That made it an easy car to use, with its vertical rear easy to place (the rear-view camera wasn't really needed) and the very short front contributing to ease of parking, even though you can't see it from the driver's seat.

On the freeway, the car showed its two worst traits: First, with the windows open (to save range), it's really, really noisy--more so than most cars.

More worrisome, at speeds above 50 mph, the car's suspension tuning just isn't capable of coping with some types of ripply pavement. With a little more than 1,000 miles on the odometer, New York City pavement surfaces made the car float and wander as if it had worn-out shocks.

That only occurred a few times, but it was the first time we felt unsure of ourselves in the little i. It's more usable even at speeds up to 65 mph than we'd expected--but range will start to dwindle visibly if you take it above 60 mph.

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Comments (48)
  1. @37miles with fan full blasting and A/C on, that is almost Chevy Volt's electric range. My Volt's range only drops about 1-2 miles with Eco and full fan. On Comfort level, the range will drop 3-5 miles. A 38 miles range rated Volt will easily do 40 miles with A/C on in a "normal" driving condition.

  2. While it is small ,there are a few leftover 2011 Think City EVs for sale at a greatly reduced price. The Think ,with its 24kw battery pack has a range between 70 and 100 miles depending on how you drive. I own a 2011 Think and regularly get 70 miles per charge with the a/c on ,slowing down and turning the a/c off increases the range by as much as 20%. You may see the Think City at www.eurostarautos.com . That is where I purchased mine.

  3. $24,495 for the Think... Let me think... No, thank you.

  4. With Think bankrupt, where do you get it serviced? Who has parts? You cannot just take it to your local garage to have the controller software updated.

  5. You left out its most important feature. The i-MiEV battery is lithium-titanate. This battery may be relatively small but it will out live the life of the car even if you fast charge it every day.

  6. Sadly, no, it's not Lithium Titanate yet. This is one of those unfortunate consequences of companies "pre-announcing" things, and it's caused a lot of confusion. I'm getting my i-MiEV next week, and it is definitely still using the Li-ion battery that Mitsu co-developed with GS Yuasa. No bad thing, but obviously not as advanced as the Toshiba SCiB batteries that Mitsu says will be used in the next model.

  7. Thanks for the clarification.

  8. My problems with the i were low-tech on my test drive: glare on the plastic gauge cluster cover made the gauges unreadable and lack of seat and mirror adjustment made forward visibility obstructed.

  9. @Jeff: Fair points, although the little Mitsu is far from the only car in which we've had glare through the back window making instruments unreadable.

    Also a little surprised at your problems with the seat and mirror adjustments. I didn't have any problem there, and found outward visibility decent (once I removed the miserable rear-seat headrests that blocked rear vision). I'm 6'0" and average build, not sure about you?

  10. Seems like the Mitsu i is quite up to par w/ the competition yet. I'll look forward to a refresh soon that will bump up the range to near 100 miles n give it a few more creature comforts up front. Other then that it seems like a fine, little inexpensive EV.

  11. The majority of Mitsus in stock are loaded and retail for $35K, a far cry from "inexpensive". Considering that Mitsubishi sells an average of one i per day, it's unlikely that we'll see a "refresh" of any kind soon if at all. If they can sell the Citroen version for $13.6K in Europe (August promotion in France), this is what the remaining stock should go here for.

  12. Yes, Mitsu made a mistake shoving SE Premiums onto dealer lots (and into reviewers's hands for that matter). They're a lot less car than a Leaf for not a lot less money; a similar set of gadgets, but not as well integrated, and a much lower-rent interior. The sweet spot in the line-up (at least for me) is the ES w/the QuickCharge Package, which run over $7K LESS than the Leaf SL, and a great deal if you want CHAdeMO but don't care about the fixin's.

    I'm not sure why the U.S. SE models have such lame interiors - browner plastic and seating fabric is not the stuff of upgrades. The U.K. version can really look premium if you want; click here and choose "Tamashii":


  13. You're missing something important in that price - the Europeans don't include the cost of batteries, which can be purchased or leased; the U.S. cars all include the batteries.

    I really wanted an EV now for some specific reasons, and got the total deal I needed on an i-MiEV ES to make it worth doing. But if you can wait and you're in the right markets (the coasts mainly), I do expect a lot of those SE Premiums to sell at a steep discount, though probably still more than $20k after tax credit.

  14. Yes Jan inexpensive...compared to its competition. Consumer Guide shows the i starts at 29K msrp n 31 for the SE. Throw in federal, state, and local incentives and the price gets down to the low 20's for most folks in the i markets. That's inexpensive compared to the other EVs in its class and for EVs in general when you stop....and think....of how many thousands you'll save on fuel n maintenance with an EV.

    I still wouldn't buy it nor recommend it to anyone yet...not for at least another year or two so till Mitsu gets the bugs out n range up a little more...for the same price.

  15. dont read too much into the "estimated" range effect of the A/C. i found it to be very misleading in my LEAF as well.

  16. I'm surprised Mitsu didn't give you a better vehicle orientation session before letting you out. The "one" cupholder you mention is for the rear seat; the front has two cupholders that drop down right in front of the side vents (convenient for keeping your soda chilled) - if you don't know they're there, they just look like part of the dash. They're actually pretty handy.

  17. @Ule: Thanks for the tip! Yep, missed 'em entirely (and will look for them next time we drive an 'i'). I still want more bins and pockets and so forth on the console, though. Among cell phone, sunglasses, toll tickets, and so forth, there's just not enough space.

  18. For a little more moolah, you can get a Volt, and forget the range anxiety. Like other plug-ins, it's way, way overpriced and will languish on the showroom floor. Price this car at $22k after tax credit and you'll have a winner.

  19. You have your wish - the i-MiEV ES is less than $22k after the tax credit. The SE trim doesn't have much of interest, really - do we really need a mfr's nav system any more? Or a 360W surround system in an EV? (the ES has a perfectly fine 100W AM/FM/CDMP3). Mitsu keeps screwing up by putting the SE Premium forward as the "main" version of the i-MiEV, but that car just doesn't make a lot of sense price-wise; the ES is the real winner at almost $5k less.

  20. The Leaf is so much better in lots of ways, I just don't see a reason to go for this. A Leaf feels solidly built, has a very tight turning radius, great acceleration, better range, is very comfortable inside, and handles like a little track car.

  21. @Eric: Well, this one is undeniably easier to park in crowded urban settings due to its tiny length ... but, yeah, I'd consider it much better competition for a Leaf if it were a few thousand dollars cheaper.

  22. But John, it is much MORE than a few thousand dollars cheaper. If you want a basic EV w/Level 3 charging, you'll spend over $7K more for the Leaf - that ain't peanuts. I'll go back to an earlier comment - Mitsu has made a terrible mistake in giving reviewers SE Premiums. Those cars are nearly $5K more than the base ES, and provide nothing like $5K more value; were that my only choice, I'd buy the Leaf. I've read reviews that say things like "This is the upgrade interior? What's the base - burlap?" and I can't blame 'em - but the truth is if you want to picture the ES interior, just color everything that's brown the same as everything that's black, then take out the chrome trim and the leather wrap steering wheel. It's perfectly fine.

  23. To clarify about the $7k price difference - Mitsu offers CHAdeMO as a $700 option on the base ES, while Nissan only bundles it in the ~$2k ugprade to the SL trim level. If you don't need the fancy stuff and can live with 15% less range, but think it prudent to have access to Level 3, the i-MiEV is an unbeatable value.

  24. I am owner of iMiEV and I have been driving it since March 2012 in New Jersey. I am disturbed of so many negative reviews by so called experts, who own and operate gasoline cars and just think the way they operate their cars they will operate EVs and kill them because they don't function as conventional cars. Let me state here that my typical range is around 80 miles, which involves mostly local driving with light occasional A/C usage. Why occasional? Because I don't think I need it, because I am the actual EV driver - not just test driver who wants to demonstrate that EV's have limited range. My record range was on my recent trip to Long Island and I was able to reach 93.4 miles on a single charge with 1 mile remaining.

  25. Sure, but you can't expect everyone to be like you. If we want EVs to take off and become mainstream, then the EVs have to function similar to the existing cars. We can't change buyers, we can only change cars to match buyer's need.

  26. I think the "so-called experts" are actually the EPA, who are, well, actually experts at doing this type of testing.

    62 miles is what they say and it is the lowest range of any EV for sale (excluding EREVs).

    Although it is valuable to hear some first-hand anecdotes, I will place my bets with the actual experts (EPA or any large agency consistently testing cars.) and yes, journalists have to go more into the anecdote column of the ledger as doing scientific inquiry is not their strength.

  27. Well, you are giving too much credits to the "EPA" as "car experts".

    Let me give you an example, one that you are familiar with. Prius Plugins. EPA rated it as 6 miles All Electric range when we know in fact that ranges varies from 0 miles to 15 miles depending on how you drive. So, why the 6 miles Rating? B/c in its test cycle, that is where they "press hard" on the "gas pedal".

    So, is that "expert" testing biased without explaining what actual "electric" range is? To pure Prius Fans, their cars can do 15 miles Electric, but in real life, it varies from 0-15 miles...

    EPA doesn't provide those information. The journalists and real time "car magzine" reviewers do...

  28. EPA provides a written procedure and clear results showing the Plug-in Prius travels 11 miles and uses a certain amount of wall electricity and a certain amount of gasoline. The numbers are available on their website.

    No journalist, car reviewer, or car owner even comes close to providing such accurate information. In fact, most journalists don't really understand the Plug-in Prius and the challenges of measuring the efficiency of a blended mode hybrid and to say otherwise is really giving too much credit to journalists that don't understand the difference between KWH and KW.

  29. That gives "false" assumption that Pip can travel as an EV with those ranges when it can't...

    I will ask you again, does any PIP owners dare to leave the house with empty tank and go for a 11 miles drive on daily basis?

  30. Well, also EPA only measures MPG, it doesn't measure anything else like handling, acceleration and other performane or ergo issues. So, knowing MPG doesn't make EPA a car expert.

  31. Regarding the "false assumption", I kind of agree with you.

    However, this is the fault of Journalists not the EPA.
    Please look at the EPA web site.
    It says "11 miles gas/elec" Nowhere does it show EV only range. That is a product of bad reporting (mostly).

    Compare that with how it is reported on GCR and you will see the problem.

    Of course, it would probably be better and cleaner if it worked like an EREV (straight up, no sarcasm implied).

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  33. The EPA rating is probably fair for comparison purposes, but it's a lousy indicator of actual range. Nearly all i-MiEV drivers are besting that 62 mi., probably because they're not barreling down the freeway at 75 mph w/the heater blasting. You can drive the car any way you like if you're only going 30-40 miles a day, but if you want to go 50-60 and keep a couple of bars left on the gauge (just to be cautious), it's best to avoid freeways and use the heater sparingly (heated driver's seat helps).

  34. @Ule: That's ine for early adopters, EV fanatics & other small groups.

    But can you imagine any gasoline car being sold with the advice that it's better not to use it on freeways & not to use the climate control?

    That's a sacrifice mainstream buyers will NOT accept. They may accept limited range if it "seems" to be high enough--120 miles was the consensus among commenters earlier--that they "think" it will be enough for their needs.

    Quite frankly, no matter how rational the reasons for buying a plug-in car may be, retail car buyers do NOT make particularly rational buying decisions. Try as we may to explain, they persist in buying cars based on what they think. That's reality.

  35. Ya, I know - and I cheerfully admit to being an EV fanatic since my first day driving a Prius back in '04 - the sensation of cruising along w/o the clatter of an ICE is a special kind of fun. But for the broader audience, I guess I'm just bemoaning the fact that this tech's better, more affordable, and more widely available than it's ever been, yet it seems every improvement is greeted with increased "requirements". Ed Begley Jr.'s catty rejoinder is truer than ever - it's a pity the limitations of EVs limit their usefulness to only 90% of households. That number's high, but I really believe the Leaf and i-MiEV would be perfectly capable players in most of the multi-car household fleets out there.

  36. @Ule: I don't disagree that the Leaf and the i-MiEV could serve perfectly fine roles as a second or third car in *many* circumstances for many households.

    But getting the car-buying public to understand that is a long haul, and if the widespread availability of affordable plug-ins depends on convincing people to buy a car in which they really shouldn't use the AC much--it won't happen.

    Re/the Mitsubishi 'i': I liked it, and I could live with a real-world range. But in NYC, it gets hot in the summer. The fact that the range decrease from using the AC prevented me from going to a destination (Breezy Point) within my own city (!!) is a significant drawback.

  37. A very valid beef re the trip to Breezy Point. I'd say three things, one unhelpful:

    1) i-MiEV is pessimistic about the effect of A/C on range. But no, I'd still not drive 25 miles to dest w/41 mi. range remaining and no opportunity for charging en route.

    2) Nissan Leaf might be a better fit in that environment, given its marginally greater range. It's not a lot, but if it's the difference between making some trips or not, it would be worth a lot.

    3) (unhelpful) Contrary to the marketing strategy of the manufacturers, I think the Northeast and SoCal megalopoli are ill-suited to EVs. Too much sitting in traffic running HVAC, huge sprawl, etc. Much better fit for isolated towns w/limited sprawl (I'm in Albuquerque).

  38. The EPA factors this in and gives both city and highway numbers. Manipulating their data a little suggest
    69 miles city or
    55 miles hwy

    This is probably not fair off of reality given the feedback from LEAF owners versus EPA ratings.

  39. All I can say is feedback on forums suggests the 62 mi. figure is "very conservative" to the point of misleading for real-world non-winter driving conditions; the heater definitely seems to be a problem, exacerbated by what many note is poor insulation (so not a good bet for Minneapolis, but I'm in Albuquerque). That's just the physics of it, though - heat competes for energy instead of being thrown off as ICE waste (there have been rumblings from Nissan about reduced heating load in the 2013 Leaf, I'm assuming from switch to heat pump and maybe added heat capture from motor). By next week, I should have mine in, and we'll see how things go in September.

  40. I think what bugs a lot of us is that the EPA highway MPG numbers are notoriously optimistic, so a lot of buyers would naturally assume the range numbers are similarly unattainable in "real world" conditions. Just the reverse is true - for whatever reason, the EPA has chosen to be much more conservative in estimating EV ranges. Given the consequences of running out of charge (vs. not quite making the mileage you'd hoped for in your Fiesta), that's probably understandable, but I think it's important that green-minded buyers know that it's pretty easy to beat those numbers when driving your EV in a suitably non-manic way.

  41. How can you do that? Well, at first place, you have to own the car and know it. That does not happen in a couple of days. The measures that I have taken involve proper driving style in B-mode, modest acceleration, max speed 40 MPH and yes, I did not use A/C. If I set the speed limit to 65 MPH, use A/C carefully (still feeling comfort), I am confident to reach 75 miles of range. I just don't understand how someone, who sits in the car for a few days says the range is only 58, 41 or even 37 miles and writes article on respectable site. Early in my ownership, I have done challenge test by flooring my iMiEV in D-mode on a Highway with heater on and the estimated range was around 45 miles, so yes, you can drain the battery quickly.

  42. Have I done it since then? No! Why should I? Why should any other owner/driver? Journalists are not owners, they don't care ...

  43. @Stanislav: Thanks for the comments; they're a valuable contribution.

    If I'm the "so-called expert" who only owns and operates gasoline cars, I can assure you I've driven plug-ins from Nissan, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Fisker, Tesla, Think, Wheego & one or two more I've forgotten.

    Any electric car maker expects to sell high volumes of a car that doesn't provide the features of a conventional car--and a "comfortable" range, whether it's 75 or 120 miles--is likely to find the car won't sell. Case in point: Think.

    I test plug-ins doing the same things I'd do in a gas car because that's how most owners will use them. Your extreme adaptability is not likely to be replicated by most buyers.

  44. John,
    Thank you for your response and sorry for the tone of my previous contribution.
    Further to me being EV driver, I have recognized that the range we are talking about is a daily range. Gas drivers (99.9xx% people) are shopping for fuel just like for groceries, they travel to gas stations and this has been habit for a century. The same drivers don't recognize that their daily commute is typically less then, say 40, 60 or 80 miles (you can assign percentile for each, I don't have these figures) and their cars are doing nothing at night. EVs function on a different scheme - you refuel your car in your home overnight and you don't have to travel for fuel. You know it well but consumers do not.
    Definitely, EVs are not for long trips.

  45. Hi John V and Stanislav,

    It seems to me that you are both right. Mr. Jaracz is frustrated because the GCR team tested the Mitsu i as it does other conventional cars during the drive and testing time...with two people, A/C going, and some probably faster then speed limit driving at times. Consequently, range suffers dramatically.

    However, many of the first owners of the second gen Prius and current owners of new, efficiency oriented EVs(Mitsu i, Leaf, Focus EV) tend to drive the vehicles at lower speeds and with efficiency more part of our driving experience then the "average American" vehicle driver. Consequently, these drivers usually attain or often surpass EPA estimates.

  46. ... and btw, I don't think my adaptability is extreme. I used to be gas car driver, I used to make hard acceleration and then breaking.
    We are trying to guess future, here, but we are taking part in shaping it. Electrification of US mobility, if successfull would be a hell of a revolution!

  47. Must have been "hard acceleration" if you ended up "breaking" the car.

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