Test Drive: Mitsubishi i electric looks funny, rides rough – USATODAY.com

1 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Test Drive: Mitsubishi i electric looks funny, rides rough – USATODAY.com
Mitsubishi i

Test Drive: Mitsubishi i electric looks funny, rides rough

A hearty attaboy to Mitsubishi for, deliberately or otherwise, challenging Nissan’s Leaf battery car and Chevrolet’s Volt extended-range electric with a Mitsubishi electric car that, like Leaf and Volt, you can buy nationwide.

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Of course, there are fewer Mitsu dealers than Nissan or Chevy dealers, so going down to the corner store for a Mitsubishi i isn’t the lithium-ion cinch Mitsu might wish.

Mitsu’s good intentions are acknowledged, but a week in the i was unsettling, unsatisfying.

VIDEO: James R. Healey on the Mitsubishi i

PHOTOS: More views of the Mitsubishi i

Take the appearance: Tall and slender is OK for fashion models, but a dreadful approach to auto design. The i looks like an egg in heels. Corners a bit like one, too.

And the naming department needs to find other work. The car’s moniker looks like a typographical error. It’s also wrong-headed.

I is selfish, and electrics are we cars, their fans will tell you ad nauseam, meant for the greater good. In other markets the car is i-MiEV (for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Car). The name i-MiEV is also ridiculous but at least long enough to be a real name, not a typo.

The Mitsubishi recharging system, apparently designed by nervous lawyers, restricts how fast the electricity can flow in. A safety issue, the automaker says, because while the car surely is juice-proof, no telling if your house can handle it. Thus, it can take up to 22.5 hours to recharge the car using your 120-volt home outlet.

If you use the optional 240-volt charger, it takes seven hours, Mitsubishi says. If you can find a so-called level 3 charger — 480 volts — you can go from discharged to 80% full in 30 minutes.

The suspension gurus might need some re-education. They start with a 100-inch wheelbase, which is huge for the overall size of the car; in fact it’s some 69% of the car’s entire length, and should almost guarantee a smooth ride. Instead, the i jiggles and slaps and jumps and slams over ordinary road surfaces.

Even if you like everything else about the i, the ride gets tiresome pretty early in the relationship.

And here’s a sure way to offend American buyers: Brand them as second-class by refusing to change the gearshift pattern to suit the left-hand-steering that Americans use. It’s set up for Japan-market right-side steering, so the tugs and yanks you need to move the floor shift through the gear-selection are backward for U.S. users. As much as anything, it’s a symbol that the i isn’t meant to be taken seriously here.

Let’s not overlook the price. It starts at about $30,000, before the government’s $7,500 income-tax credit that some buyers will be able to claim. And you’ll want a 240-volt charger installed at home, so add $1,000 to $2,000 or so.

The total is low for an electric (Leaf starts at about $36,000; Volt, about $40,000), but high for a small car that’s not especially pretty or pleasant.

The good parts mainly are those typical of electrics.

Decent low-speed scoot, because electric motors give you all they have the instant they begin to turn.

Relative quiet. Not much road or wind noise. The electric motor is in back instead of the usual front location, so any whines or whirs from the motor are more distant from your ears.

The i is excellent with the windows down. No wind slap, just a light breeze. In fact, air flows so elegantly with the windows open that plastic-bagged hanging dry-cleaning doesn’t flap.

Because it’s so good at airflow through and around the open cabin, you need to use the air conditioning less, and that helps save the battery.

Controls and gauges are straightforward, easy to find and use. They aggressively eschew the electronic complexities some alt-power cars load up on to enhance their gee-whiz quotient.

A teaser test car from the Japan market tested here two years ago had promise. Seemed as if it could be a cute, fun way to electrify your mobility, once recast for the American market.

But the real U.S. version seems less tailored for its intended buyers than expected. Mitsubishi hopes it’ll be seen as an entry electric, with therefore forgivable foibles.

Instead, it seems more like an unfinished project.

The details:

•What? Battery-electric, four-door, rear-drive, four-passenger minicar. Official U.S. name is just i; elsewhere it’s the i-MiEV (for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle).

Mitsubishi i

•When? On sale in the U.S. since November.

•Where? Made in Japan.

•Why? Get attention by offering an electric car nationwide.

•How much? ES starts at $29,975, including $850 shipping. SE is $31,975. Well-optioned SE test car: $35,065.

Add $1,000 or more for installed 240-volt home charging station that cuts recharge time to about seven hours.

Some buyers will qualify for $7,500 federal tax credit, plus state or local subsidies.

•How many? Just 300 sold in the U.S. January through May, but nearly all to individual buyers, not fleets, Mitsubishi says.

•What makes it go? Electric motor rated 66 hp at 3,000 rpm, 145 pounds-feet of torque from 300 rpm up; single-speed transmission.

•How big? Not very. 144.7 inches long, 62.4 in. wide, 63.6 in. tall on a 100.4-in. wheelbase. Weighs 2,579 lbs. Rated to carry 750 lbs. of people, cargo, accessories.

Passenger space 84.7 cubic ft. Cargo space: 13.2 cu. ft. behind rear seat; 50.4 cu. ft. when rear seat’s folded.

Turning diameter, 30.8 ft.

•How thirsty? Rated 126 miles-per-gallon-equivalent in the city, 99 mpg-e on the highway, 112 mpg-e in combined use. Rated range: 62 miles.

Charge time, up to 22.5 hours on 120-volt household circuit.

•Overall: Small, choppy-riding, tinny-feeling, quiet, distinctive.

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