What is the basic purpose of the new electric cars? For most of us, it is as a city or local commuting vehicle.
The basic commuting "appliance" might be optimized to: 1. cost as little as possible to acquire; 2. have decent functional range for the typical commute or errand, e.g. 50 miles?; and 3. be able to carry 4-5 passengers.
The 2011 Nissan Leaf clearly meets these functional parameters, and the waiting list of eager drivers attests to how it promises to serve those needs. Current Leaf drivers, the 400 or so lucky early adopters, report great satisfaction with this vehicle, and attest to mild weather driving range of 70 to as much as 90 miles on a single charge.
The 2011 Leaf looks like a most reasonable costing alternative when compared to the more complex and considerably more expensive Chevrolet Volt, for the Leaf can be purchased for around $26,000 after federal tax credits and in California there is another $5000 cash rebate that drops the acquisition cost of the 2011 Nissan Leaf to just over $20k.
Now, Mitsubishi is really shaking up the market for the pure electric car with their late 2011 arrival of the "i" model. Delayed a bit from original delivery plans due to making the American version bigger than what is now already on the market in Japan and Europe, the American 2012 Mitsubishi "i" has an announced base price of $27,990 with an upgrade (SE) version another $2000 and an ultimate upgrade package which includes the DC quick charge port (a $700 option on the Nissan Leaf), a factory installed navigation system, and a quality sound system demands another $2790 from the buyer. The delivery charge is expected to be another $720-$780.
Mitsubishi i minicar
But, going back to what a commuting appliance should provide...The Mitsubishi appears to tick all the real needs even at the cost of just the basic configuration model. The big weakness in the 2012 Mitsubishi "i" is the more limited actual range, since it appears to offer a battery package 33% smaller than what is provided in the Nissan Leaf. The "i" looks to have a functional maximum range of about 50 miles compared to the Leaf's 75-85 miles of real use per charge.
So, for electric vehicle shoppers, looking for a pure commuter car for around town errands, the Mitsubishi "i" might be a more rational choice than the Nissan Leaf. My own choice would be the basic version, and I would get a 7" Magellan GPS unit from Costco with lifetime map and traffic updates (less than $200) to give me all the navigation detail needed...and much, much more current detail than any factory installed system.
U.S.-spec Mitsubishi i-MiEV
My "ideal Mitsubishi "i" would cost, in California, base price $27,990 + shipping $750 + $200 GPS less federal tax credit $7,500 and California EV rebate $5000 = $16,240 (plus sales tax, of course). I am committed to my 2011 Nissan Leaf for the next 3 years, but for those of you still weighing your electric vehicle options, the Mitsubishi "i" deserves your close attention.