By Matt Degen
With a starting price under $24,000, the 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the least-expensive electric car available. Because it is so small, this 4-passenger hatchback can slip into parking spots that even a compact car would have to forgo. But that's largely where the i-MiEV's positive attributes end. In most every other aspect, Mitsubishi's plug-in car is a letdown. Its cabin is crude, its ride is jittery at even moderate speeds, and we found its 62-mile range can drop alarmingly fast. On paper, Mitsubishi's plan to take an existing micro-car platform and bring it to the U.S. as an inexpensive electric vehicle seems logical, but in reality it has flopped. The i-MiEV's price is tempting, but you're better off spending a few thousand more for a Nissan Leaf.
If you want to spend the least amount of money on a new electric vehicle, have a very short commute that involves low speeds and routinely have to fight for a parking space, the i-MiEV might make sense. Even with all that, there are more recommendable EVs.
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV's shortcomings are many. It's limited to 60-some miles, only seats four, has an austere interior with limited amenities, and can take over 20 hours to charge. Unfortunately, between its bubble shape and poor road manners, it feels more like a street-legal golf cart than a modern-day automobile.
After taking a year off, the poorly received i-MiEV returns for the 2016 model year much the same as it left us in 2014. The only significant news is that it's now available with a 7-inch navigation system/touch-screen display.
We give Mitsubishi credit for giving the i-MiEV responsive steering feel and a very maneuverable platform. But when it comes to smoothing out road imperfections, this electric car's suspension appears...
... to be MIA. Like other plug-in vehicle's, power delivery is smooth and strong at first, but once in motion the i-MiEV takes its time getting to 60 mph. This, along with its jittery manners at speed, make Mitsubishi's electric vehicle ill-suited for prolonged freeway driving. We also saw its range meter plunge in unexpected ways. To achieve the 62-mile cruise range, you’ll need to go light on the throttle and limit use of the in-cabin heater for fear of draining precious electrons. 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 helpful when descending hills.
With a starting price around $6,000 less than the Nissan Leaf, the i-MiEV’s one saving grace is its affordability. Factor in the government’s $7,500 tax credit and California’s $2,500 electric-vehicle incentive credit, and you could conceivably drive away with a brand-new electric car for under $14,000.
The i-MiEV design may not be beautiful, but it is surprisingly spacious. The tall profile, big windows and hatchback design maximize space, as does the clever compact electric motor and a battery pack placed underneath the rear seat.
The i-MiEV's interior is about as plain as they come in a modern car. Even among economy-car standards, the cabin in Mitsubishi's electric vehicle is a tough sell. Woefully simple and filled with plastic, the dash is drab and feels cheap. The only way to spruce it up is by optioning up to the 7-inch touch-screen display. And where other electric vehicles have instrument clusters that innovatively display driving habits, range and the like, what's found directly ahead of the driver in the i-MiEV is utterly basic. The Mitsubishi only seats four passengers, further limiting practicality, but at least there's plenty of headroom. Behind the rear seats is a small hatch for cargo.
The 2016 i-MiEV has what can only be described as a unique look. Glass-half-full types cheer its cartoonish bubble profile, elongated headlights and nipped rear end as "cute." Cynics deride it as an overgrown golf cart. We'll let your eyes and heart decide which you see. On the non-subjective side, all i-MiEV electric cars have four doors and an upward-lifting rear hatch. At 144.7 inches, this Mitsubishi EV is shorter than a Mini Cooper Hardtop but longer than a Fiat 500.
Available in just one trim (ES), the 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV comes with heated front seats, a 6-speaker/100-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, keyless entry, folding rear seats and a 6-way manual-adjust driver's seat. Also standard is a Level 3 DC quick charge port for faster recharging.
The main option for the 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the new Navigation Package. It includes a 7-inch touch-screen display that relays 3D mapping, real-time traffic and points of interest. The system also has voice command, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, a USB port, and steering wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth functions. Other add-ons are limited to accessories like a map light, rear parking sensors and a USB kit for iPods.
The electric heart of the i-MiEV 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 electric hatchback's rear wheels. It can go up to 80 mph, so short freeway jaunts are doable, provided you have enough charge in the battery. On a regular 120-volt home outlet, a full charge for the i-MiEV takes nearly a day – 22 hours. On a 240-volt outlet, that time is cut to six hours. A public quick-charging station – not a common sight just yet outside of major cities – can charge the battery to 80 percent in about 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
EPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent: 126/99 mpge
EPA-estimated range per full charge: 62 miles
The 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $24,000. Adding the Navigation Package is $2,000 more. The $7,500 federal tax credit and state incentives like California's $2,500 credit can further reduce the Mitsubishi's cost. At its base price, the i-MiEV is roughly $6,000 less expensive than the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, and over $10,000 below the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. But the fact is, all of these cars are far better choices than the rudimentary i-MiEV. And practical – albeit gasoline-powered – alternatives ranging from the Kia Soul to the Mazda3 also make better choices in under-$20,000 transportation. If you're truly set on an i-MiEV, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying in your area. As for resale, electric vehicles in general have not held their value well, and the i-MiEV is among the weakest.