By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 10/14/2011
The recipe for the 2012 Mitsubishi i goes something like this: Take one award-winning small car sold in Europe and Asia, and add an electric powertrain to the mix. Sell 10,000 units. Take everything you've learned from the experience, make a few modifications to meet U.S. safety requirements, and then bring your zero-emissions electric vehicle (EV) to American shores. Sound appetizing so far? We think so. With a compelling rear-wheel 5-door hatch-bubble that seats four, emits zero emissions, is rated at 126 highway/99 city mpg equivalent (MPGe) and costs less than any other EV on the market, Mitsubishi could have something very sweet on their hands.
Interested in owning an electric vehicle, but find them to be a bit out of your price range? The 2012 Mitsubishi i is the most affordable EV on the market, starting for nearly $8,000 less than the Nissan Leaf.
Is your commute unpredictable? Want to be a 1-vehicle household? If you answered yes to either of these questions, the 2012 Mitsubishi i hatchback's approximately 62-mile range might not work from you. Options like the Toyota Prius, the Chevy Volt or a gasoline-powered high-mileage car such as the Mini Cooper or the Hyundai Elantra might be a better fit for your lifestyle.
On sale in select states in 2012 and nationwide in 2013, the 2012 Mitsubishi i is the most fuel-efficient mass-production vehicle money can buy for under $30k. Make that closer to $21,500 if you qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
With light steering and compact dimensions, the 2012 Mitsubishi i is easy to maneuver in and out of congested city traffic. And with smooth and immediate power delivery - thanks to the vehicle's single-speed fixed reduction gear transmission and electric motor delivering 145 lb-ft of torque between 0-300 rpm - it's actually fun to drive. We just wouldn't recommend too many freeway trips if saving battery power is a concern, since frequent mashing of the throttle seriously diminishes the car's 62-mile range. To help curb a lead foot and put some regenerative energy back into the car's battery, the transmission can be put into "Eco" and "B" modes, respectively. We found the "B" mode to be especially helpful when descending hills, where the extra energy we generated with the brakes gave us a little extra juice around town.
We're still a long way from seeing electric cars from manufacturers that everyone can afford. Until that happens, it's nice to see an EV that fits into Average Joe's budget and not just the guy who buys one as a weekend novelty driver.
Sure, this little-bitty Mitsubishi hatchback slightly smaller than a Mini Cooper. But with a taller profile and a plenty of windows to let light in, the i feels more spacious inside.
The inside of the 2012 Mitsubishi i isn't all electric-car flash with informational screens to show energy flow or how efficiently the car is being driven. Instead, the i looks more like a conventional gasoline-powered car. It uses a regular key, has a regular-looking gas gauge indicating how much "fuel" you have left in your theoretical tank and a regular-looking gear selector. The cabin climate is adjusted through regular-looking knobs on the center stack. If someone didn't know the Mitsu i hatchback was an electric vehicle, sitting inside one wouldn't convince them otherwise. The only features that might draw some attention are the flip-down cupholders located beneath two air vents on the dash. Although practical, they're sized more for drinks befitting a trip across the city rather than road trip-worthy Big Gulps.
There's no denying that the 2012 Mitsubishi i has a unique look. With its engine positioned in the rear of the vehicle, this small electro-runner has no need for a long hood. As a result, it sports compact front and rear dimensions and a high roofline - giving it a somewhat jelly-bean-like silhouette. Large windows serve to further cartoonize the i hatchback's distinct dimensions, but they also give the driver a good view of the road - always welcome when darting in and out of city traffic (and avoiding bicycle messengers).
A 2012 Mitsubishi i ES comes equipped with niceties like a driver's seat heater (a more energy-efficient way to get warm), a 50/50 split folding rear seat that reclines, a 100-watt, 4-speaker audio system, auxiliary 12-volt DC power outlet and power windows, mirrors and locks. The more upscale SE model features a 2-tone black/brown interior with silver accents, a 360-watt, 8-speaker, premium sound system, auto on/off headlights, fog lamps and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Both the Mitsubishi i ES and SE hatchbacks can be equipped with a battery warming system and heated side mirrors. They can also be had with a quick-charging port for public charging stations (known as a "Level 3" charger - good for an 80% charge in about a half hour), navigation and the Mitsubishi Fuse infotainment system, which includes a USB port, Bluetooth and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The standard 120-volt plug-in charge takes almost a full day, so we recommend getting the 240-volt "Level 2" charging station, which can be purchased through Best Buy's Geek Squad and installed in your home garage for faster charging (about 7.0 hours).
The electric heart of the 2012 Mitsubishi i isn't under the hood - it's behind the rear seat. Comprised of an electric motor, a fixed reduction gear transmission and a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery (with an 8-year, 100,000-mile limited warranty), this powertrain delivers 66 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque to the Mitsu's rear wheels. It can go up to 80 mph, so short freeway jaunts are very doable, provided you have enough charge in the battery. On a regular 120-volt home outlet, a full charge for the i will take 22.5 hours. On a 240-volt outlet, about seven hours. A public quick-charging station - which aren't a common sight just yet outside of major cities - will charge the battery to 80% in a matter of 30 minutes.
AC synchronous permanent magnetic motor
16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack
66 horsepower @ 3,000-6,000 rpm
145 lb-ft of torque @ 0-300 rpm
Projected per-charge range: 62 miles
EPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent (MPGe): 126/99
The 2012 Mitsubishi i ES starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just under $30,000, while the SE runs closer to $32,000. If you qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, the i hatchbacks slide in closer to $21,500 and $23,500, respectively. The Nissan Leaf, the only other mass-market EV currently available, is priced from $36,000-$38,000 before factoring in any potential credits. If you're wondering how much an i might be worth in the future, the jury is still out on electric-car residuals. But as demand for these cars rise, expect to see their values rise as well.