First impressions: Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Posted on: March 21st, 2013

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Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia stamped its name in the automotive history books with its recent big launch. And its recent big launch is actually something small. The i-MiEV is the first fully electric vehicle to be sold in Malaysia but are we really ready for such an automotive revolution? We had the chance to sample the i-MiEV for a few days prior to the launch to find out.

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First things first, as an EV, the biggest limitation of the i-MiEV would have to be its range. Fully charged, Mitsubishi claims that the i-MiEV will return a maximum of 160km in range. The test car that we had for a few days however, could only hold about 110-120km of charge in the real world. It is worth noting though, that this is a test unit brought in over a year ago for media testing and pilot programmes. Mitsubishi did confirm that the capacity of the lithium-ion batteries in the i-MiEV will deteriorate over time, much like the smaller scale equivalents that power our smartphones.

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Since it is running solely on electric, all of the i-MiEV’s 180Nm of torque is available from the get-go. Throttle response is something that will surprise every person who has not driven an electric car before, with the instantaneous delivery of torque hustling the car to cruising speed in a jiffy. Flat out, the 16kWh lithium ion battery pack will power the i-MiEV to a modest top speed of 130kmph, not that you would want to go faster as doing so will drain the batteries quicker.

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Coupled with its small Kei-car dimensions and a small turning radius of just 4.5 meters, the i-MiEV is one of the zippiest new cars money can buy. Crossing lanes, overtaking, parking, negotiating through tight spots – none of these pose a problem to the agile i-MiEV, which only weighs slightly over a tonne. It is after all built primarily for city use, as the range suggests.

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One of the aspects that will delight most drivers is the fact that the i-MiEV often returns more mileage than its displayed range suggests. This is because the batteries are constantly recharged during braking or at times when the driver eases on the throttle via kinetic energy regeneration. As such, the slowing-down experience once the throttle is disengaged is intensified, as though the car is performing engine-braking on its own. Think KERS, but on a more commercial scale.

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Because there is virtually no significant torque curve as compared to a conventional engine powered by fossil fuel, there is no need for multiple gears to shift through different torque ranges. Therefore, transmission in the i-MiEV comes in the form of a single-speed reduction gear. Operating the gear lever is pretty simple – B (Braking) to maximize regeneration via braking and C (Comfort) to minimize regeneration intensity for a smoother ride.

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Much like the latest smart phones in the market, the biggest concern with EVs is charging. With the i-MiEV, you cannot just pop into the nearest petrol station for a fill-up when the reserve is low. Once the batteries are flat, you need the help of a tow truck and the thought of this kept us planning every kilometer of our journeys. An EV really does promote disciplined driving.

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There are EV pilot programmes in Malaysia but a proper charging infrastructure might take a few more years to form. Luckily, the i-MiEV can be charged from home, with the standard power socket taking approximately 8 hours to fully juice the batteries. However, you need a wall socket near your porch or garage, as this charger will fry extension cables and such. Trust us, we tried. Anyhow, Mitsubishi will actually assess a potential buyer’s residence to determine the feasibility of charging. If there are no suitable power outlets, as is the case for condominium residents, Mitsubishi will not sell the i-MiEV to you.

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From an efficiency standpoint, it is hard to doubt the i-MiEV. According to TNB’s bill calculator, charging the i-MiEV’s 16kWh battery pack costs only RM3.49 by current tariffs. That’s about RM3.50 for 150km assuming Mitsubishi’s claims are correct. To get the same returns in a petrol-engined car by today’s fuel prices, you need something that can do 81 km per litre. Good luck finding one.

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As a car in general, the i-MiEV offers practicality in a small package. Despite its compact dimensions, Mitsubishi managed to carve out a good amount of cabin space such that no complaints can be made about headroom and legroom for front and rear seats. Ride comfort is acceptable, although the small tyres and rather frugal use of insulation materials make potholes your biggest enemy.

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Interior materials reflect other passenger models by the Japanese carmaker – a little on the glossy side with not much tactile value. Not that we should rant about it, as the i-MiEV was visualized as an eco car for the masses; a way for the general car buying public to take a step into the future, and not an S-Class rival. It does however come with a Kenwood-sourced touch-screen interface which we do not really like to be honest. Other Mitsubishi models use this as well and it is just far from being user-friendly.

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Overall, we really believe the i-MiEV is a representation of cars of the future. With the level of technology we are at and the engineering expertise the industry has, it is only natural that the way forward is the greener, cleaner and cheaper one. Motorshows of the past decade have presented fuel-cell, hybrid and EV concepts that can deliver this dream in years to come but the i-MiEV is one that can deliver right now. Essentially, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia is letting us buy tomorrow’s car today.

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That said, it is also no easy task for every driver to accept the way of the future. Driving methods and mentalities need to be changed and the way in which we plan our daily activities need to be altered to adapt to the limitations of an EV. Price is also another issue, with many tempting petrol-powered options in the picture. The convenience of petrol and diesel vehicles with fuel prices that are still reachable means that we might not be ready to go fully electric just yet but that doesn’t mean we cannot take the step forward first. After all, isn’t evolution a natural thing?  -Daryl Loy

 

Specifications

Powerplant: 49kW max output, 196Nm max torque

Batteries: Lithium-ion, 330V, 16kWh

Transmission: Single-speed reduction gear, final gear ratio 7.065

Performance: 0-100 in 15.9 secs, 130kmph top speed, 150km max range

Charging time: 8hrs via regular 230V socket, 30hrs via quick charger (available at EV charging stations)

Features: 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, RISE safety body, Acoustic Vehicle Alert System (AVAS), auto climate control, Traction Control, 15-inch wheels


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