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Mitsubishi’s electric egg memorable

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 12:37 p.m. CST
Caption
(MCT News Service)
The 2012 Mitsubishi i, the company’s first mass-produced electric automobile, is also known as the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Car. The all-electric vehicle is small, but stylish.

Let’s start with this car’s name. It’s the Mitsubishi i, the company’s first mass-produced electric automobile. In the rest of the world, it’s known as the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Car. Neither name is memorable, but at least the second one makes sense in an unpoetic, corporate-speak way.

By contrast, the car’s egg-like shape is wonderfully odd. What a shame that such memorable styling was saddled with an unimaginative name. But its ovoid shape is merely reinforces its most distinctive trait: It’s an all-electric car, one of a handful on the market.

This four-door, four-passenger subcompact is tiny, measuring just over 12 feet long. Its short but tall body feels roomier than it really is, thanks to its large windows and tall roof. Legroom is acceptable for taller drivers, but still somewhat cramped.

The cabin is functional in its design and ambience. It has a Spartan quality, as if designers had to watch every yen spent. They did. Electric battery technology is spendy, not to mention fussy.

The one thing you learn is that batteries are like people; they don’t like it too hot or too cold.

According to Mitsubishi, below 32 degrees, the i’s battery pack recharges more slowly than it normally does, necessitating an optional $150 Cold Zone Package. By contrast, after five years in warmer climes, the batteries will retain only 80 percent of their original capacity. That falls to 70 percent after 10 years.

Maybe this explains why the test vehicle never recharged to more than a 70-mile range.

This sounds sufficient until you start the car and turn on the air-conditioning. This is enough to easily drop your range by eight miles, or about ten percent. But that’s only if you turn on the air to a moderate speed. Turn it on full blast, as I did, and mileage drops 12 miles.

The first couple drives were marked by range anxiety, as I was unsure how my driving style would affect the car’s range.

Mitsubishi advises leaving any “unnecessary dead weight” at home to extend the car’s range. (I could make a mother-in-law joke here, but I won’t.) Of course, they also advise that you coast down hills and not drive excessively fast, as that uses more energy. Really? I would have never guessed. Do they really think Americans are that stupid? Then again, maybe they watched “Jersey Shore.”

Anyway, I figured that my driving style must be pretty typical, as one mile driven was one mile depleted from the battery.

Most of the time, I used the normal drive gear to extract the most from the 49Kw electric motor, which develops 66 horsepower and 145 foot-pounds of torque. When streets were empty and I was in no danger of enraging fellow motorists with an excessively slow pace, I used the Eco mode. This mode is meant to conserve energy, but it’s so slow, joggers will give you a run for your money.

The car’s electric battery pack is placed ahead of the rear axle, which Mitsubishi claims protects it in the event of an accident. Given there’s no room to place them after the rear axle, it seems as if engineers had little choice.

Still, this is a car that has a lot of space for its overall size, but a fairly limited range.

Even though it’s less expensive than every other electric car, the Mitsubishi i is a pricey commuter car for those who want to shrink their carbon footprint. For the rest of us, it’s a curiosity, not to mention a precursor of what’s to come.

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