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2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Mitsubishi i-MiEV front quarter view

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We all "know" that electric vehicles (EVs) are the future. But how soon will we want one? One impediment: the requisite high-capacity battery packs are expensive, making for scary window stickers. But the Mitsubishi i-MiEV isn't only the cheapest EV. After a $7,500 federal income tax credit, it's only $22,475. Add another grand for a home charger, and it's still less than the typical family sedan. But what other sacrifices are entailed?

Tested: 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

4dr Hatch 66-horsepower Electric 1-speed automatic RWD

Compared: 2012 Nissan LEAF

4dr Hatch 107-horsepower Electric 1-speed automatic FWD

Why the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV?

  Compared to the LEAF
Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

The #1 reason to buy an i-MiEV is obvious: it burns no gasoline, and not much electricity, either. In EPA tests the 16kWh battery pack lasted 62 miles. With a delicate foot on the pedals, it'll go farther. At typical rates for electricity, a full charge costs about two dollars. Even the most efficient hybrid costs about twice as much to fuel. Over 12,000 miles with gas at $4.00 a gallon, you'll save about $500.

Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

The #2 reason might seem obvious, given that this is the cheapest EV. But if you can afford to spend another $6,075 you can get a Nissan LEAF instead. Not an insignificant sum, but the LEAF is nearly as efficient and is otherwise better, even much better, in just about every way. Oh, and the LEAF includes about $4,000 worth of additional standard features. The i-MiEV is about as bare bones a car as you can get in the U.S. Compared to the cheapest hybrid, the Toyota Prius C, the i-MiEV costs over $5,000 more once feature differences and the cost of a home charger are factored in. It will likely take over a decade to save that much in fuel costs.

i-MiEV Reviews: Mitsubishi i-MiEV rear quarter

Not a line out of place from this angle, either.

i-MiEV Reviews: Mitsubishi i-MiEV instrument panel

Could hardly be more basic.

Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Better Better Worse

For a car that is only 144.7 inches long and 62.4 inches wide but 63.6 inches tall, the i-MiEV is quite stylish. It could have looked far worse. But will Americans consider such a diminutive egg-on-wheels to be a real car?

Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: About the same Better Worse

For such a small, light car (this strength must also be qualified) the i-MiEV rides smoothly. It helps that the wheelbase is over 100 inches, about even with cars that are a foot or two longer.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Worse Better Worse

Adults won't have any room to spare in the i-MiEV's back seat, but they will fit. This counts as a strength for the same reason ride smoothness and exterior styling do.

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Why Not the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV?

  Compared to the LEAF
Handling: Much worse Better Worse

The basic specs--light weight, rear-wheel drive, slightly rear-heavy weight distribution--suggest that the i-MiEV might be a blast along a curvy road. This could hardly be farther from the truth. Perhaps because the car is taller than it is wide, Mitsubishi's engineers designed the suspension and undersized the front tires so that the i-MiEV would heavily understeer (start sliding at the nose) at very low speeds. The car is also far out of its element at highway speeds, where it feels tippy and twitchy. There's a reason cars this size aren't typically offered in North America.

Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much worse Better Worse

To package four adults in a very short car, Mitsubishi's engineers mounted the seats very high. Not a problem, maybe even a plus, in itself, but add in the egg-shaped exterior and the windshield header intrudes into sightlines. You must stop well short of the mark to view traffic signals without leaning forward.

i-MiEV Reviews: Mitsubishi i-MiEV front view

Hoodlums didn't bend the right wiper--engineers did!

i-MiEV Reviews: Mitsubishi i-MiEV view forward

Stop early to keep lights in view.

Feature availability
Feature availability: Much worse Better Worse

Even by cheap car standards, the i-MiEV is stripped to the bone. The steering wheel neither tilts nor telescopes. There's no system to track fuel efficiency or driving style over time. A base Prius c has about $1,600 in additional equipment.

Front seat room
Front seat room: Much worse Better Worse

The front seats are very close together. And, even after adding an inch for the North American car, your shoulder is quite close to the B-pillar. Anything else with four doors is much roomier inside.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

Flat out, the i-MiEV is quite slow, taking over 13 seconds to get to sixty. But this doesn't bother me terribly much as the car feels plenty energetic in typical suburban driving. EVs, like hybrids, also simply feel right when driven casually. Their powertrains are just so liquidy smooth.


The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is cheap for an EV, and cute, but you get what you pay for. Actually, less than you pay for. There's a reason cars this small and bare bones generally aren't sold in North America.

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2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
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