Staff Long Term Review: 2 Years with the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Here at Transport Evolved, our combined editorial and guest poster team has quite the selection of green and futuristic cars. We’ve got three UK-spec 2011 Nissan LEAFs, a 2013 Chevrolet Volt, a 2012 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, a 2014 BMW i3, a 2012 Tesla Roadster, a 2010 Japanese-spec Mitsubishi i-Miev, a 2015 Smart ForTwo ED, a 2009 Toyota Prius, and until recently, a 2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev.

The latter has lived with the Thwaite family in New Jersey for the past two years, but after two years and 15,000 miles, it recently came to the end of its lease and headed back to the dealer. But how has life with the cheapest electric car available back in 2012 been?

Has Mitsubishi's experiences with the i-Miev made it rethink trying to be first in the plug-in SUV market in the U.S.?

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV on delivery day

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV had a rocky start in the USA. It premiered at the 2010 LA Auto Show sporting US specific body modifications to meet US safety requirements – it looked like a sumo version of the Japanese i-MiEV that it was based upon. The car also appeared in Europe as the Citroën C-Zero and Peugeot iOn. The whole suite of derivatives are themselves based on the gasoline version of the Japanese car, the Mitsubishi i. A few ‘I’s appeared in Europe but none were big sellers outside of Japan where, its size allowed it to be classified as a ‘Kei’ car and hence allowed into the heart of the big cities where space is at a premium.

Original Japanese Spec Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Original Japanese Spec Mitsubishi i-MiEV Photo: Comyu

Space, is the i-MiEVs’ clever trick. From the outside, its diminutive frame hides a surprisingly versatile and spacious interior where, modest sized people of even 6′ tall or more will find surprising headroom and ample shoulder room. Rear leg room is a little constrained for those 6′ folk but, ingress into both front and rear through the four doors is every bit as good, if not better than a typical ‘C’ class car due to the upright seating posture. Passengers actually ride at SUV height.

Woody Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Woody i-MiEV – Whilst the i-MiEV can be decorated with some great graphics, not all work as well as others. Photo:Rachel So

The i-MiEV has taken some criticism for its downmarket interior. On the face of it, visually, the i-MiEV is worthy of that criticism, especially the basic ES model however, a closer inspection reveals a solid, well engineered car with great controls and especially good haptic feedback from the control stalks. The upmarket SE model added some leather interior trim and a few options like available navigation and 6-speaker sound system with USB interface.

Outside, the i-MiEV is a basic steel construction with copious amounts of plastic panels that tolerate slow speed bumps. The SE added alloy wheels and fog lights over steel wheels and blanking plates to remind those with the ES that they didn’t pay the extra!

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Engine Room Left 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Engine Room RightPower in the i-MiEV comes from a compact motor/power electronics/charging module that drops in the rear where the donor Mitsubishi i mounted the traditional gasoline engine. Only a couple of cables to the under floor battery and the cars control electronics exist outside of this module. It’s been said that the entire drive train can be exchanged in minutes.

When we say ‘Power’ in the i-MiEV we are definitely referring to it in the truly scientific meaning. It’s peppy with a 47kW motor and off the line it gathers speed all the way up to the limiter at 80mph, never faster, never slower, it just gathers speed consistently. You’ll never scare passengers in the i-MiEV. That said, like any EV, its torque output is solid regardless of the load and conditions so, add four passengers and aim it at a long steep hill and you’ll never suffer the raucous racket of a small capacity 4-cylinder, just the refined whir from beneath the rear load floor.

Handling is not the i-MiEV’s strong suit either. The narrow low rolling resistance tires coupled to a basic suspension don’t lend themselves to spirited driving, dishing out occasionally frightening understeer. Ride comfort is not limousine like either, the tall narrow body on lightweight tires delivers a fair amount of bounce and fore/aft bobbing about. Couple that to steering that takes more turns than it needs to affect a response and, well, it’s no back-lane banshee.

Empty Battery and Turtle Mode Engaged

Empty Battery and Turtle Mode engaged, the i-MiEV creeps into the drive way exhausted!

Range too is modest like the rest of the car. The 16kWh battery offers 80+ miles on a good day and less than 50 in winter with the asthmatic heater running flat out. It does offer CHAdeMO as virtually standard; few were sold without it but, the integrated charger is only 3.3kW making charging even that small battery feel pedestrian.

So, in summary, it’s simple, not very well constructed, slow, doesn’t handle and has poor range… So why do we absolutely love it?

That is the thing about the i-MiEV, it is simply more than the sum of its component parts. It baffles us but we fell in love with its one-rate-of-acceleration fits all (flat out) attitude to going anywhere, its I’ll-do-my-best-to-hang-on handling and its faithful The-READY-LIGHT-will-always-shine-green dependability. We think that, overall, it is the sense of fun that it imparts on every short journey. Perhaps it is because it is always working hard, always at its limits, that you develop a sense of respect for the effort it is clearly putting in. It feels like a faithful and obedient friend, and that is a trait that’s hard to design in.

The icing on the cake has been its final scorecard, in particular its overall cost. If ever there was a cost based reason to buy an EV, this personifies that:

  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV – 4 door, 4 seat, space-efficient EV
  • Time: 2 years
  • Miles: 15,000
  • Faults: Zero
  • Tires: None
  • Visits to the dealer: One annual inspection
  • Cost of down payment plus lease payments: $3,035
  • Cost of fuel: Very approximately $550

Would we recommend the i-MiEV? Absolutely! Especially if you’re looking for a reliable tool and your daily use falls within its range. Perhaps, this is the car to recommend to a friend who has never had an EV before – We know two such owners who are now hooked on EVs because of this low-cost entry into Electric Car fun. We don’t want to sound too crass but, a high end laptop might cost more than 2 years of i-MiEV fun. So, what if you picked up an i-MiEV to use for local stuff to save the miles and wear and tear on that expensive sedan? You never know, you might have more fun than you anticipated? Go on, do it! Do it!

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