America is ready for an electric city car, and Mitsubishi, not Toyota, might just be the company to give it to us. Our brief drive of the i MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) during last spring's New York auto show convinced us that this four-door Martian-mobile could play in Philadelphia, if not Peoria.
Like the Japanese-market i Car from which it is derived, the i MiEV has a rear-mounted powertrain. The lithium-ion batteries, which weigh about 450 pounds, are beneath the rear seats, and the electric motor, inverter charger, and other components are under the trunk area. Packaging the powertrain this way lowers the vehicle's center of gravity while maximizing room for passengers and luggage.
The i MiEV moves forward in near silence, with tire thrum pretty much the only sound. This is no sports car, but acceleration to 35 mph is strong and linear thanks to 63 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. The direct-drive transmission delivers smooth shifts, and the by-wire brakes provide predictable pedal feel and sure stopping, essential features when you're dodging big yellow taxicabs. The brakes also regenerate energy for the batteries, like most hybrid cars. Mitsubishi says the car should manage 80 miles between charges, especially if the Eco mode is selected, which drops power to 43 hp.
Since all four of the car's wheels are pushed out to the far corners, you sit much closer to the front of the car than you're used to, and you can sneak into impossibly small holes in traffic. With its firm body control, decent steering, and superb maneuverability, the tiny Mitsubishi is a willing companion for the cut-and-thrust moves that actually make it fun to drive in Manhattan.
The i MiEV is going on sale in Japan next summer for about $25,000, and Mitsubishi also has an eye on the newly mileage-obsessed U.S. market; it will be field-testing the i MiEV with California utility companies. "The joint partnership will yield valuable data and a greater appreciation of the practicality of an all-electric vehicle in California," says Tohru Hashimoto, corporate general manager of the i MiEV Business Promotion Office.
Which means the company would like to bring the powertrain here, if not the car itself. We say bring the i MiEV and position it as an ecofriendly alternative to the Smart and the Mini for people who want mobility in the city with minimal environmental impact.
Why We Want It
Ecofriendly minimalism in a four-door city runabout? Cool!
Why We Need It:
Because fossils are so yesterday's fuel.