An electric economy car
We had an opportunity to drive the Mitsubishi i electric vehicle (EV) this morning, so we thought that we would take advantage of it.
Not long ago, we wrote an article that compared the two vehicles. Based on some of the measurements, we expected the little Mitsu to be really little. As it happens, it is just little. We spoke with the event manager to get his view of the vehicle. More on that in a bit. But he was 6’3″ (we asked), so we asked him to sit in the driver’s seat – to which he obliged us. Will was mostly legs, so he slid the seat fully rearward as he entered the car. His legs were bent at the knee, but not so much that his knees touched the steering wheel. Good thing, as the i has no tilt steering wheel adjustment. This seating position does not leave much room for back seat passengers. I sat behind him, and at only 5’9″, my knees were in the back of the front seat. Will moved it up a notch, and reduced the angle of the back to increase my knee room, which helped, but then he had less than optimal space. He did have a couple of inches of headroom remaining, but his body proportion was mostly legs and less torso. I asked if he would be comfortable driving friends to dinner in that position, and he said that he would.
Our first impression when we opened the driver’s door was one of low-cost interior materials. The LEAF is far from luxury standards, but seats are comfortable and materials feel nice to the touch. The i looked and felt more entry-level economy car in pretty much every respect, which is a reflection of its lower entry price point. Lots of plastic on the doors, the seats were not particularly uncomfortable but offered no side nor thigh bolstering for support. Upholstery felt more coarse than that in the LEAF. Also, there was a weird hard plastic access panel in the middle of the bottom cushion of the back seat. In between the two back seating positions, no one would be sitting on it, but it certainly reduced the fit and finish quotient of the i even more. The cargo area load floor was fairly high as the battery pack was placed underneath it. This would minimize the amount of stuff that one could throw into the i. Climate control knobs looked and felt inexpensive to the touch. And this was all in the top SE model with Premium Package. Rather than me providing iPhone pictures of the interior, you can check out their professional grade interior photos on the Mitsubishi i site.
No doubt about it… the i is an odd looking vehicle. This from a LEAF owner. Really tiny wheels and tires pushed to the far corners to optimize interior space combine with an extremely short snout to place the front bumper of the car just a couple feet ahead of the leading edge of the front door. No safety tests have been performed in the United States yet, but the i received 4 of 5 stars in the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) and the Australasian New Car Assesment Program. LEAF was awarded Euro NCAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 5 stars and the IIHS Top Safety Pick. IIHS has not yet tested the i, nor has NHTSA.
We have always been of the opinion that performance equals safety. Quick throttle response can get you out of harms way if needed and sharp turning and handling can help avoid a dicey situation while maintaining a sense of confidence. We mentioned the tiny wheels and tires earlier. Front tires are 145 section width (sidewall to sidewall roughly 5.7 inches). Tread width looked like less than 5 inches, although we were just guessing. We’re positive that somewhere we saw that the front wheels were only four inches wide, but now we can’t seem to find the source. We can’t recall any car in recent memory with wheels anywhere near that narrow. Rear tires are a pretty wimpy 165 section width. The better to minimize rolling resistance with only 66 hp (49Kw) on tap. Not so great for ultimate grip if needed.
Speaking of power… there’s not much under the hood. Actually, there is none under the hood. We lifted the hood to find a poorly designed mini-prop rod to keep it in place. Once opened, there was not much to see anyway. A 12-volt battery, ABS and assorted brake system hardware, and not much else. The motor is in the back, along with the battery pack. Remember, this is a rear-wheel-drive EV. That’s why the front end is so short.
Initial punch off the line was quick, but the curve dropped off quickly as speed rose. One lesson that Nissan needs to take from Mitsubishi is the addition of a third drive mode that offers maximum battery regeneration on throttle lift off. The i has D mode, ECO mode, and B (for battery or braking – our hostess wasn’t sure) mode. The B mode offers the most regeneration, but still nowhere near what we experienced in the Mini E. The Mini E regen was so aggressive it could cause motion sickness in a sailor. It’ll be interesting to see if BMW tames it in the i3. Nissan – if you’re listening – dial in a third more aggressive regen option. (Sell it as a performance enhancement as well as a regen optimizer for maximum value).
Our drive was self-directed, but limited to 25 mph surface streets with no real handling opportunities. Ride quality was okay, as far as we could tell. Hard to tell road noise from such low speeds.
We arrived at the drive event early, in fact they were still setting up. We parked and registered to drive and after a brief intro, were allowed to take the wheel. It was readily apparent that our right seat hostess had not received much training. She spouted pricing info and government incentives, but was unsure about the car itself. In fact, just by playing with the instrument panel we were able to teach her about some of the functions provided, such as the range remaining indicator. And if our experience was any indication, Mitsu’s range remaining indicator will be about as accurate as that in the LEAF. When we started, it showed 57 miles. When we were done – 51 miles. We didn’t drive anywhere near six miles, although I was accelerating aggressively a portion of the time to evaluate not only acceleration, but the various regeneration values in the three drive modes. Still – I’d be surprised if we covered much more than a mile.
Our impression of the car? About what you would expect of a lower priced, lower powered car than the LEAF. Not that that is a bad thing, but the inevitable comparisons between the two cars (such as this one) are really only being written because both cars are electric. They really aren’t in the same class. We expect the Ford Focus Electric to offer a more appropriate LEAF alternative.