Based on a model that has been sold in Japan since 2009, the i-MiEV will be Mitsubishi's first battery-electric car in the U.S. starting in November 2011, beginning with launch markets in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state. The Northeast rollout will begin in March 2012, and most states should follow by the year's end. The estimated price will be $30,000 before the $7,500 federal tax credit for which electric cars are eligible. It will compete primarily with the Nissan Leaf.
The four-door four-seater is based on Mitsubishi's mini car, called the "i," which to date hasn't been sold in the U.S. The i-MiEV (pronounced "meev") originally stood for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle, but the company now uses MiEV to represent the electric drivetrain, with the tagline "powered by MiEV."
At 144.8 inches in length, the i-MiEV is about an inch shorter than the Mini Cooper and more than 3 feet longer than the Smart ForTwo, a two-seater. It's roughly the same width as the ForTwo, though, and 4 inches narrower than the Cooper. It's taller than both at 63.6 inches. The i-MiEV's wheels are so close to the bumpers that there's practically no overhang at all.
The i-MiEV's interior is roomier than one might expect, with surprising headroom thanks to the car's tall stature. Despite the alternative nature of the drivetrain, the cabin is conventional with a regular ignition key and shifter with PRND settings.
The cargo space is also generous, especially considering the backseat room, and there is a 50/50-split folding rear seat.
Under the Hood
The i-MiEV's drivetrain consists of a 330-volt lithium-ion battery pack with a capacity of 16 kilowatt-hours of storage, a 63-horsepower electric motor and rear-wheel drive. As an electric car, there's no transmission in the traditional sense, which is to say no "speeds." In addition to a Drive mode, the Eco and B modes help the driver to accelerate more efficiently and also increase the degree of regenerative braking, which uses the car's inertia to recharge the battery pack.
The i-MiEV's estimated range is 80 to 100 miles, though results will vary with terrain, temperature, driving style and other factors. A depleted battery can be recharged in eight hours using 240 volts or 16 hours with standard 120-volt household power. When equipped with a second charging port, the i-MiEV can be charged to 80 percent (roughly 80 miles of range) in 30 minutes using a quick-charge station. Whether the quick-charge port itself will be standard or optional is not yet known.
As part of its adaptation for the U.S. market, the i-MiEV's bumpers were fortified, and it gained more than 4 inches in width, mainly to accommodate increased side-impact protection. Dual-stage airbags are standard. As required of all 2012 models by federal mandate, the i-MiEV has antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.