It’s been nearly four years since the tiny Mitsubishi i-MiEV hit the market. And considering the rapid evolution and transformation of the electric-car market that’s occurred over the past several times the earth has gone around the sun, that’s really light years.
So when we decided to go back and revisit the little i-MiEV, which returns for 2016, we couldn’t help but see it in a different light. It’s no longer so much the technological curiousity, or a forerunner of a new technology—or, to early adopters, a long-awaited, fully legal electric passenger car.
Since it arrived on the market, so has the Tesla Model S, and a slew of other compliance-car models, like the Fiat 500e, that add some allure to going electric.
An odd one that makes sense up close
The 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, no matter how you try to spin it in your head, isn’t sexy. It’s a weird little tall hatchback with slab sides and an ovoid profile. It’s only 145 inches long and derived from Japanese kei cars, and it does wonders with space. But in the U.S. it looks more than a bit foreign, in an awkwardly small way.
2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Quick DriveEnlarge Photo
Functionally, it’s brilliant. I’m 6’-6” tall and can fit quite easily (in terms of entry and general comfort) in back, and there’s a useful 13.2 cubic feet of cargo spaces with the seats up in place. Flip down the rear seatbacks and you have space for the largest grocery runs. Or rou can fit four adults in the i-MiEV surprisingly well—although it’s nearly a foot narrower (62.4 inches) than a lot of U.S.-market models so you’re practically brushing shoulders with them.
The i-MiEV offers an official range of just 62 miles—the lowest of any of the battery electric cars sold in the U.S.—but it remains one of only a few electric cars to use the CHAdeMO standard for fast-charging (an 80-percent charge in under half an hour), and include it standard. That’s tremendous advantage in places like the region around Portland, Oregon, where electric-highway networks extend along major Interstate highways as well as to tourist regions like the coast, Mt. Hood, and surrounding wine country.
Realistically, the i-MiEV isn’t a vehicle you’d likely take to wine country. Its interior is downright drab, which is just one of many turnoffs here. Frankly, they may mostly have to do with any of your existinc preconceptions of economy cars. The doors close with a light, hollow ‘thunk,’ and they’re disconcertingly thin. You sit on what amounts to short, high benchlike perches, with no tilt adjustment (yes, I thought the front seats were less comfortable than the back ones) and sit awfully close to the steering wheel—which neither tilts nor telescopes. Switchgear feels borrowed from some 1990s econo-hatchback, while climate pre-heating is handled via a weird remote-control/fob thingy that looks like it should bear a Casio logo.
Simple in layout... and fun to drive
The i-MiEV is rear-wheel drive, and has its battery pack under the passenger floor, while the motor, inverter and controller are all at the far rearward portion of the car, under the cargo floor. Pop the front ‘hood,’ and it’s a tiny space, mostly with steering gear, braking and stability systems, and some ancillaries.
Gauges are refreshingly simple, with large analog meters for the speedometer as well as power input/output. It’s accompanied by a bare-basic LCD display that provides things like range and trip functions. They may seem cryptic at first, but it’s all you need.
The modes provided are just the basics, too. The i-MiEV provides more brake regen in its normal ‘D’ mode that many other electric cars, while you can pull the shift knob back to ‘B’ for something approaching true one-pedal driving. We should add that with the i-MiEV’s height and the tendency to bob fore and aft, it’s something your passengers may not love. In between there’s Eco, which merely softens accelerator response and reduces power.