This i-MiEV was an electric version of the Mitsubishi i citycar, a design dating back to 2006. Fortunate then, that the looks of that original model were futuristic, meaning that this one didn't look in any way dated. It's clearly a little sub-supermini citycar, if a rather high-sided one. At 3.5m in length, it's more akin to a tiny hatch like a Peugeot 107 or a Citroen C1 in size than any Fiesta-sized supermini, though the 1.6m height makes it feel much bigger than the smallest urban runabouts inside.
Having to base this thing on a little citycar wasn't ideal for Mitsubishi. Whereas rivals Nissan could point to a relatively small price gap between a top-spec diesel Focus-sized family hatchback and their comparably-sized all-electric LEAF model, Mitsubishi acknowledged that there's a yawning price differential between the cost of an urban runabout like their little Colt hatchback and this i-MiEV. But they did point out that within the confines of its compact dimensions, this car offered a surprising amount of space inside.
The very first i-MiEV models felt cheap and plasticky inside in a way that European buyers would have objected to. Peugeot changed much of that when it came to bringing their version, the iON, to market and Mitsubishi were watching closely. They not only built most of the French brand's interior improvements into their version but also improved upon them, with options like the lovely - but sadly extra cost - leather-stitched dashboard finish.
As for the cabin itself, well yes, it really does feel surprisingly airy. Certainly it's narrow, but then you'd expect that given that this car is under 1.6m wide. The main thing is that passenger space was completely unaffected by the switch from petrol to battery power. The electric motor sits under the rear seat, with the battery pack under the floor in place of the fuel tank. As a result, there's enough space for two adults to feel quite comfortable on the kind of short to medium journeys this car will be making. We'd say three children could sit here but annoyingly, only two belts are provided, which will be really irritating for families.
At the wheel, you sit quite high, which isn't a bad thing in an urban setting, surrounded by sensible ergonomics and excellent all-round visibility. Taking a seat here for the first time, the only clue most would have that this was anything but a conventional petrol powered citycar would be the fact that the dash displays a petrol pump with, somewhat oddly, an electric plug hanging out of it.
Boot space isn't huge but despite the need to accommodate all those batteries under the floor, the 170-litre figure is 40-litres more than you'd get in a citycar from this period like Peugeot's 107. And you can make good use of it by angling the rear seat backrests forward. Of course though, if you're not using the back seat, you can push forward the 50/50 split-folding rear seats to free up much more space.
Make sure the battery on your MiEV hasn't been severely depleted; the car may have been sitting on a dealer lot (or someone's drive) for months with flat charge before being jumped into life for your visit. The manual says you should ensure a full charge every 15 days, so it must be important. As part of ownership, Chademo rapid charging is fine so long as you don't over heat the car such as repeated use on long road trips. Don't leave the battery at 100% for any longer than absolutely necessary. As for tyre pressures, well make sure they're on the dot as under-inflation, even by a couple psi, can make a big difference to range. The radio and phone/satnav will make no difference to that range, nor will use of the wipers or rear-screen demister - or even the lights. Use of the heating though, will make a huge dent in range capability; in winter, it could knock off 15 to 20 miles off if you want a warm car. Buy some good warm driving gloves for the winter and get into the habit of keeping your coat on when driving..
Speed will also make a huge difference to range. Try and keep the power needle as far left as possible while driving - ideally to the left of the text of the word "Eco" on the power dial as much as possible and passing the "o" of "Eco" only when you're in danger of getting too slow. Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking you can blast the speed and then gain it all back in regenerating brake energy harvesting - you will get back no more than about half of what you used to speed up by regenerating. When possible, drive at 50mph or slower, but don't significantly hold up the flow of traffic as you will be causing a danger and giving EVs a bad name. When you have spare charge though (on short trips) do use it as it can be fun!
(approx based on a 2015 MiEV 67KW excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are around £15-£38 depending on brand. A pair of front brake discs are around £130. Wiper blades sit in the £2-£15 bracket.
You expect a wacky, futuristic interior from an all-electric car. Instead of which there's ordinary switchgear, an ordinary auto gearbox and ordinary instruments - well at first glance anyway. Peer a little closer and it becomes clear that they aren't ordinary at all. Instead of a speedo needle arcing around the digital mph display, there's a needle designating three coloured power meter zones. Keep it in the green area and you'll be keeping to progress with minimal energy consumption. Put your foot down further and the needle will stray onwards into a white zone that denotes energy-hungry driving. Slow significantly and the needle will drop back leftwards into the blue zone as brake regeneration recharges the battery.
To the top left of the power meter is what looks like a fuel gauge but actually denotes your remaining battery charge. Which isn't much help unless you know just how far said charge might take you. For that, you've to scroll through the options on the LCD circular display that sits the other side of the digital speedo until you find that displaying range. It should be more prominent. There's a conventional ignition key to fit into the conventional ignition, but there's nothing ordinary about the silence greeting you when you twist it. Or about the way that this car shoots away from rest.
There's a standard 'D' or 'Drive' mode as with any auto, but you can also flick the lever down a little further for 'B' or 'C' options. 'B' designates a Drive setting that will give you more regenerative braking, which means the vehicle will harvest more energy as you slow and give itself a longer operating range. And it'll be more controllable down steep hills. 'C', on the other hand, is a Drive mode that reduces the amount of regenerative braking you get, so aiding more relaxed driving and cruising. I'd guess though, that most users will use the normal 'D' setting and forget about it. Which is probably why the Peugeot and Citroen versions of this car dispensed with the 'B' and 'C' options entirely.
Because all 180Nm of torque is thrust onto the tarmac right from the word go, from 0-30mph, this car really does feel quite rapid (quicker in fact than a typical hot hatch), but progress slows as the revs rise, culminating in a 0-60mph of around 16s time that's no better - but certainly no worse - than a conventional rival petrol citycar. Get fully up to speed and with 64bhp on tap, there's an academic top speed of 80mph, with enough overtaking punch to get from 37 to 56mph in about six seconds, but approach either of those figures on any kind of regular basis and you'll find the figure on your range indicator dropping like a stone. And this, we'd suggest, is a read-out you're going to be staring at rather a lot since it'll determine exactly how and when you're going to be able to use this i-MiEV.
As with the Peugeot and Citroen versions of this car, the designers quoted a range (NEDC-rated) of up to 93 miles from fully charged, but that seemed to be a figure calculated on the basis of someone motoring very slowly indeed. We certainly never saw anything like that amount of projected mileage on this indicator in our time with this car. The computer driving the read-out bases its calculations on previous use, so artificially lowering a range figure you can then extend by driving carefully. Limited use of the heating and air con will also help.
A few other things that we wondered about that you may also be concerned over. No the battery doesn't leak charge over time to any significant extent - so you won't come back from holiday and find your car immobile. And no, you can't inadvertently set off when still connected to a charging point as the car's ignition is disabled when you're wired up. And there's no problem with just 'topping the battery up' for short periods: you don't need to regularly completely discharge as you had to with batteries in the old days.
The standard package doesn't include the kind of useful sat nav system you get on a Nissan LEAF that when you're out and about will guide you to your nearest charging point. But sat nav was an option, so you might find it on some cars. Like its other EV rivals, this one's synchronous electric motor makes no noise whatsoever, which in itself can be a bit of a menace to dozy pedestrians or the partially sighted who aren't alerted to its presence as they would be by the artificial noise created for safety purposes by a rival Nissan LEAF. So you'll need to have your wits about you when inching your way down congested city streets or manoeuvring about carparks. Here, the compact dimensions and impressively tight 9m turning circle are both a boon, as is the finger-light power steering.
Leave the city limits though, and that same lightness at the helm is less welcome but handling is much better than the tall stance and skinny tyres lead you to expect. This is due to well controlled body roll thanks to the fact that the heavy 240kg 88-cell 16kWh lithium ion battery pack has been strategically located underneath the centre of the vehicle to give a low centre of gravity and balanced stability. Heavy side winds and the turbulent wake from enormous HGVs can upset things a bit though. And there's plenty of tyre noise. But one of the most abiding feelings you take away with you after a drive in this car is that of how little you have to use the brakes. Approach a corner, a junction or a roundabout and with the gearbox set to 'D' or even better 'B', the regenerative braking does most of the slowing down for you, replenishing battery energy as it does so. Such is the cleverness of modern technology.
'MiEV' stands for 'Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle' - and this was certainly that. It was one of the first pure electric vehicles of its kind and it remains one of the better early ones. Yes of course, you'll need to be embarking on your electric adventure with your eyes wide open. You'll need a garage for charging, naturally, and a more conventional car on hand for longer trips. We reckon though, that if you owned an i-MiEV, you'd be surprised by how much you used it. By how enjoyable it was to drive. And by how quickly you could justify the up-front outlay. In fact you'd be surprised all round. New technology has a way of delivering that doesn't it?