Lets say you’re in the market for an electric car, but can’t swallow the idea of paying over $40,000 for something like the BMW i3. Well there is one electric car that has a price tag much closer to a conventional gas-powered vehicle: the 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV. This is the cheapest electric vehicle on the market right now, with a price tag that starts at $22,995 before any tax incentives are applied, but if you live in a state like California, the i-MiEV’s final price drops to a very inexpensive $12,995. I was eager to see how livable the small i-MiEV actually is, with its price tag similar to a gas-powered small subcompact. Read on to find out.
Mitsubishi was kind enough to give me the keys to this bright Aqua Marine Blue 2014 i-MiEV for a few days so I could drive it around Los Angeles. As with all electric cars, you need to make sure that you locate all of the available charging stations in your area before heading out. Luckily, Los Angeles is getting better about putting 240-volt chargers in its new parking lots, so it wasn’t too hard to find a plug whenever one was needed.
Back to the car: the 2014 i-MiEV is small on the outside—about the same length as a MINI Cooper—but it has four doors and room for up to four passengers. You sit high in the i-MiEV, which means that there is actually adequate legroom in the front and back. I put two six-foot tall friends in the back to make sure they could fit and they definitely complained a lot less than I’d expected. There’s also a small trunk that will hold a few grocery bags or two carry-on size suitcases. The rear seats also fold down if you need to transport larger items.
Unlike popular electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, which have their electric engines mounted over the front axles, the i-MiEV’s small electric motor is mounted at the rear. It’s a small, 66 horsepower electric motor that is powered by a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the rear seat. With an EPA rating of 112 MPGe combined, the i-MiEV is also one of the most efficient cars in the U.S. Unfortunately, this car’s driving range of 62-66 miles between charges is a bit lower than you get in a Leaf, but if you have access to charging stations you’ll be fine. During my time with the i-MiEV I rarely ever saw the energy gauge dip below half.
The i-MiEV comes standard with three charging capabilities: The standard 120-volt charger takea about 22 hours to recharge, but if you plug it into a faster 240-volt outlet it will take six hours to recharge, and if you find a CHAdeMO charging port you can charge the battery up to 80 percent in as little as 30 minutes. During our time, we mostly plugged into 240-volt outlets at the various public garages around Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
How does it drive? Given its diminutive size, tall driving position, and only 66 horsepower on tap, I didn’t expect this car to be very fun to drive. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised when I pressed down the small accelerator pedal. The i-MiEV actually feels quite zippy around town, and actually surprised the friends I brought along and even other drivers. It gets up to 45 mph just as quickly as a gasoline car, which makes it perfect for urban driving. Its steering is fast, and since it’s shorter than almost every other four-door car on the market, it was easy to park. That said, its top speed is limited to 81 mph, and it’s not ideal at speeds anywhere close to that, as its small motor struggles to keep it at highway speeds and staying there eats away at the driving range very rapidly. This reinforces why the i-MiEV is best suited for an urban setting.
At the end of my time with Mitsubishi’s small electric car, I found mostly impressed with it. The only big gripes I had were with its interior. The i-MiEV’s interior is covered in cheap-looking plastic, and there aren’t very many features. Yes it has power windows and a 100-watt audio system, but Bluetooth isn’t an option. A better audio system, Bluetooth, and slightly higher quality materials would go a long way here, but then again the price would go up. If you’re in the market for an electric vehicle, but don’t want to pay the higher price tags that the Leaf and BMW i3 command, then the i-MiEV is worth checking out. It’s a small electric car that is easy to live with, and it won’t break the bank.
Photos by Marc Carter and Mitsubishi