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September 17, 2013 > Mitsubishi i-MiEV: the electric car you haven't met yet

Mitsubishi i-MiEV: the electric car you haven't met yet

By Steve Schaefer

Electric cars are in the news a lot these days. You probably haven't heard much about the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, however.

The i-MiEV (i for short) is a "one box" design, but there's nothing boxy about it. Inside, there's room for four people, but knee room is tight in back. It does feel spacious, however, with a high roofline. The hatchback configuration is useful.

Instrumentation is minimal. All you get is a digital speedometer, an estimated range meter, and a gauge that shows you how you're driving. Like all electrics and hybrids, the car is either using battery power or recharging the battery. Driving in town and alternating between using and charging tends to keep that estimated range at the same level for quite a while.

Receiving my White Pearl/Ocean Blue 2012 test car at work, I drove it home in the blissful silence of electric vehicles - and kept an eye on the range meter. With a 51-mile range displayed, I figured I could go 30 miles with no problem, and when I pulled in the driveway, it read 22 - perfect. However, it was obvious I'd have to prepare to charge at work the next day.

I went online and found the closest charging location from Blink Network was a 20-minute walk away. It's easy to use these stations. You just plug in the cord from their machine into the socket on your car (behind what would normally be the gas door) and walk away. I used the regular (240-volt) charger and walked to work. I dubbed it my "exercise program" but I would hate to have to do this every day, rain or shine.

When I returned to the car 10 hours later, I found that it had filled the battery, but also charged me $1.50 per hour - $15. Apparently, it's the connection time, not amount of juice you use, that they use to calculate your bill.

The next day, I drove to visit a friend who lives 24 miles away. I figured, starting with a range of 65 miles, I'd have enough. But, when I got there, I saw that I had only 29 miles left. So, on the way home, I drove as carefully as I could, accelerating gently, not going over 55 on the freeway, and being sure to get maximum regenerative braking where possible. From that 29 on the meter, when I got home it said 17. A miracle!

The most convenient place to charge your car is at home, even at normal 110 household current. However, 110 is slow, so you need to charge all night. With a partial charge in there already, it was full by morning, but when I started the process with the battery near empty, overnight was not enough to completely fill the battery. Install a 240 charger and that will cut that time significantly.

The next day, I had a friend follow me to the Blink charging station. I plugged into the 440-volt quick charger. We had lunch and returned 45 minutes later and the battery was full!

The charging infrastructure is still in its infancy, so if you plan to charge on-the-go, you'll need to do your research; charging company websites can help.

EPA numbers for electric cars use the MPGe rating - miles per gallon equivalent. My i was rated 112 MPGe - 126 City and 99 Highway. The sticker says I'd save $9,850 dollars in fuel costs over five years compared to an average new vehicle.

The total MSRP on my car, including $3,000 in options and $850 in destination charges, was $35,065. Of course, there are federal and state rebates that can save you thousands of dollars. Some cheap lease deals are around on electric cars now, too.

I actually enjoyed driving the i. It felt responsive, with the torque inherent to all electric motors. It was stable on the road, although it did move a little side-to-side on a major bridge with the wind blowing. The seats were comfortable, the leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter made those touch points feel upscale, and the silent, smooth travel felt like flying.

There are numerous advantages to owning an electric car, including low operating costs, minimal maintenance requirements, and a low carbon footprint. With carpool lane stickers, I could use the carpool lane as a solo driver in commute hours and it cut my trip by about a third.

The main downsides are initial cost of purchase and limited range. With a 30-mile each way commute, its 62-mile average range is a bit tight for me. Other electrics have EPA numbers of 70 to 80 miles, and the Tesla offers a much greater range - but at a much higher price.

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