Driven: Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Don Sherman

In about a year, Mitsubishi will join the electric-car club by offering its i-MiEV city car to US consumers. The first 'i' in the name is a play on the Japanese word for 'love' and has been used on a conventional-powered mini (kei) car that debuted in 2003 and has been sold in Japan since 2006. The remainder of the name is an acronym for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle.

To pave a way to the hearts and minds of green enthusiasts, the i-MiEV has toured the auto show circuit for two years. It went on sale in Japan a year ago and about 2000 have so far been sold. To support city use, 167 quick-charging stations have been erected in the home market. Including subsidies provided by the government, the Japanese price is $30,700. Mitsubishi is hoping to sell the i-MiEV here for substantially less but no firm price has been announced. Sales are also planned for Europe next year.

The Egg and i
Ultracompact family sedans make perfect sense in highly congested environments, such as downtown Tokyo, and there's a class of them called kei cars (short for keijidosha, which means 'light automobile' in Japanese.) Half a dozen makers build them for the Japanese market with engine size restricted to 660cc with a strict 63 horsepower limit.

While this Mitsubishi's egg shape is the ideal container for four adult occupants and a bit of luggage, the sight of one on US roads -- especially in right-hand-drive trim and with the exterior decorated in full electric car regalia -- is cause for smiles, waves, and pointed fingers. This is one car that easily exceeds the US adult's daily entertainment needs.

Practical Interior
All the basic equipment for a comfortable city car is present and accounted for. Four doors provide ready access. The seats are chair-high, trimmed in serviceable if not luxurious cloth, and comfortable. The rear perches split, fold, and provide backrest-angle adjustment. The climate control and audio entertainment systems are perhaps less than you'd expect in a $30,000 automobile but perfectly acceptable for the quick trips this electric specializes in.

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