Mitsubishi i-MiEV – My First Drive

By the good grace of its owner Karl, I had my first drive of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV at the Canberra International EV Festival.

The iMiEV (an acronym for “Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle”) is based on the Mitsubishi i Kei car; light vehicles governed by displacement (660 cc), size (Length 3.4 m, Width 1.48 m, Height 2 m) and power (47 kW; 64 PS; 63 hp).  I’ve driven many Kei cars and recent models are more than adequate.  I once drove my brother-in-law’s Mitsubishi Pajero Mini 4WD with intercooled turbo engine in the snow to the North of Hyogo Prefecture.  Quite an experience to be driving at 100 km/h @ 7500 rpm!

Despite (or because of) their small dimensions, Kei cars are typically tall enough to fit even me; though it isn’t unusual for my shoulders to be almost touching the glass and the passenger.

Here’s a comparison between the i-MiEV and the i.  Note that the power is at the top of the Kei regulations and the torque is 2-3 times that of the 3-cylinder turbo petrol i.  The larger dimensions in the US spec are not replicated in the i because it is only exported to right-hand-drive markets outside Japan.

i-MiEV i
Motor permanent-magnet motor 3B20 659 cc, DOHC, MIVEC 12v I3
3B20T 659 cc, DOHC, MIVEC, 12v I3 turbocharger
Power 47 kW (64 PS) 38 kW (52 PS) at 7000 rpm
42–48 kW (57–65 PS) at 6000 rpm
Torque 180 N·m (133 lb·ft) 57 N·m (42 lb·ft) at 4000 rpm
85–95 N·m (63–70 lb·ft) at 3000 rpm
Transmission Single speed reduction gear 4-speed automatic
Battery/Fuel 16 kWh/58 MJ (Li-ion battery) 35 l
Range 160 km (99 mi) (Japanese cycle) 19.0km/l ~ 18.4km/l JC08
100 km (62 mi) (US EPA cycle) 665km ~ 644km
Wheelbase 2,550 mm <–
Length 3,395 mm <–
3,475 mm (2012 Au)
3,680 mm (US)
Width 1,475 mm <–
1,585 mm(US)
Height 1,600 mm <–
1,615 mm(US)
Kerb weight 1,080 kg 890–900 kg
1,110 kg (2012 Au)

The doors of the i-MiEV were somewhat more substantial than an old Kei car; light, not flimsy.  Side impact testing requires strength.  Seating position was easy and the wheel was only a little bit too low; again, not unusual when you’re 195 cm tall and no longer at your fighting weight.

The dash is dominated by a large, analogue energy monitor.  The eco, power and regenerative zones are clearly marked.  The speed is a digital readout in the centre.  The battery (icon is a petrol pump with a two-pin plug instead of a nozzle), transmission position and range indicators complete the set.

After the Prius, turning a key to start a car is soooo last century but the ON then START process is at least familiar to most drivers.  No greeting tune like the Nissan Leaf and of course no vibration or noise.

Driving off is very similar to EV mode in the Prius (c. 30kW vs 47kW motors) up to low city speeds, the most obvious difference being that you don’t have to be gentle to prevent the non-existent petrol engine from starting.  Another similarity was the ability to glide (no power, no regen, just gliding) by lightly pressing the accelerator pedal to keep the energy monitor needle between Charge and ECO.  Karl pointed out the three regen modes: D for city driving, B for braking on long downhills and C for cruising  longer distances with minimal regen.  The distinct modes are selectable through a floor-mounted lever similar to an auto transmission.

Full throttle action is… delayed by the computer.  Floor it and the needle gradually moves through to Power range until it finally hits the maximum.  Could this be a safety feature or a form of traction control, I wondered.  Acceleration is about 12 s for 0-100km/h so its not slow for a small car and the extra torque compared to the Prius EV mode is obvious at fill throttle.

My test drive was a  rare experience in Australia as only 110 have been leased and 39 privately purchased as at July 2011.   These cars are expensive by their nature, but unlike many other countries there are few tax advantages to buying one.  In ACT there’s no stamp duty on the original purchase, saving $1540 on a normal $48,800 car.  However, you’ll pay 3% on the first $45,000 and 5% after that if you buy second-hand, just like a normal car.  Registration can actually be more expensive by virtue of additional weight; a i-MiEV is $25.40 more to register than the i.  In Victoria, hybrid and electric vehicles get a $100 discount on registration, however you have to pay $1.40 for a pair of “EV” or “hybrid” number plate stickers, in the same way that you need an “LPG” sticker.

We should thank our early adopters more.

And for the record, I quite like the look of it.

To make up for my lack of photos and video, here’s a few videos from television’s Robert Llewellyn on his i-MiEV.

Farewell i-MiEV