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For something supposedly killed back in the 1990s, the electric car is certainly exhibiting a lot of postmortem vitality. The newest spark of life for the electric car segment is the 2012 Mitsubishi i, a subcompact that Mitsubishi is positioning as the value-priced choice for an all-electric car.
By value, we're talking about a purchase price of a bit more than $20,000 once the $7,500 federal tax credit is factored in (residents of certain states qualify for other credits as well). Of course, you'll likely be springing for a 240-volt home charger as well, so there's some more expense. Still, the Nissan Leaf is the next most affordable 2012 full-electric model in the segment, and it offers a post-tax-credit starting price in the high $20Ks. The Mitsubishi i is also cheaper than plug-in hybrids like the Prius Plug-In and Chevrolet Volt.
Another plus is that this Mitsubishi i delivers a thoroughly agreeable time behind the wheel, with crisp acceleration, responsive handling and a smooth ride. Other than the muted whir of its electric motor, there's little to set it apart from any gas-only subcompact. It'll cost you less to charge the i than it would to pay for gas, but keep in mind that these potential savings take a hit in states with tiered electricity rates that increase cost as you use more juice.
This Mitsu goes from no charge to full charge in 7 hours using a 240-volt home charging unit, and while this is competitive with the charge time required of the Nissan Leaf, it falls short relative to the Focus Electric's claimed 3-4 hours.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mitsubishi i is an all-electric four-door hatchback available in ES and SE trim levels.
Standard equipment on the ES includes 15-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, 50/50-split rear seats that fold and recline, an onboard recharging system with a 120-volt portable charging cable, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. Also included is a heated and height-adjustable driver seat, along with a remote system that pre-activates climate control and the charging timer.
SE models add 15-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, automatic headlights, special interior trim, upgraded seat fabric, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a passenger vanity mirror and an eight-speaker sound system.
Both trims are available with a Cold Zone package that adds a battery warmer and heated outside mirrors. ES models may be purchased with a Level 3 quick-charging port, while SE models are available with a Premium package that includes a hard-drive-based navigation system, Mitsubishi's Fuse hands-free link system, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a quick-charging port.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Mitsubishi i is powered by a 49-kilowatt electric motor (66 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque) fed by a lithium-ion battery pack with peak storage of 16 kWh.
Driving range is an EPA-estimated 62 miles per charge, but real-world range can be significantly less, depending on driving style, traffic conditions, cruising speed, geography (uphill slopes will reduce range since the motor works harder) and battery age. In fact, even ambient temperature can affect cruising range, since extreme temperatures are detrimental to battery performance. The EPA has given the i an excellent energy efficiency equivalent rating (MPGe) of 126 mpg city/99 mpg highway and 112 mpg combined.
The 2012 Mitsubishi i comes standard with antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Mitsubishi i's tall body offers up ample headroom, and while most people should find front legroom comfortable enough, keep in mind that it trails that of the Leaf, Focus Electric and Golf TDI. Rear legroom is a bit tight and the backseats are flat and not terribly supportive. With just 13.2 cubic feet of space behind the backseats, the i comes up short in cargo capacity relative to its rivals, though there's enough room back there to squeeze in golf clubs or a standard-sized suitcase. The picture improves with the rear seats folded; cargo capacity expands to a healthy 50.4 cubic feet.
Many hybrids and electric cars feature cabins loaded with cutting-edge style and tech, but the i isn't one of them. Hard plastics abound, and the plain, no-nonsense presentation of its dash and controls is more in keeping with that of your typical bargain-priced subcompact than anything else. At the same time, standard equipment includes a remote system that allows you to pre-activate the car's climate control and charging timer.
Like all electric cars, the 2012 Mitsubishi i boasts a quiet cabin, which is the byproduct of an absence of recurring explosions from an internal combustion engine; the only sound from the electric motor is a whir that kicks in when you go heavy on the throttle. There's some wind, tire and road noise at higher speeds, but overall the cabin remains quiet enough to allow for easy conversation.
We achieved a top speed of 81 mph in the Mitsubishi i, which is slower than the Leaf's top speed of 90 mph. This top speed was enough to allow the i to keep up on the highway without any tense moments; still, this limitation underlines the fact that this Mitsu is better suited for city motoring than highway travel. As with other electrics, the i has ample pep off the line, allowing the car to easily get up to speed in metro traffic.
Despite its tall body, the Mitsubishi corners with poise. Three drive settings are offered. "Eco" reduces the rate of battery consumption to improve energy economy, while "B" increases regenerative braking to achieve the same result. The most natural-feeling setting is "D," which allows for full power and torque; in this setting, the i feels as responsive and engaging as any gas-only subcompact.
Comparable Small Mitsubishi iMiev
2012 Mitsubishi iMiev
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