Is the Mitsu really an alternative?
To know if the Mitsubishi i is really an alternative to the Nissan LEAF, one needs to know what your situation is. Just like the LEAF, the Mitsubishi i is a situationally specific vehicle – with a few more restrictions thrown in on top of those required of LEAF owners.
Let’s start out with its good qualities. Like LEAF, it is all electric with all of the good and bad that all electric locomotion brings. No emissions, but limited range. But as many LEAF drivers have already discovered for themselves, the range limitation is not such a big deal if only you pay close attention to your needs prior to your vehicle acquisition. Just on the way home from the San Diego Chargers game today, the passenger in the next car at the stop light yelled “Is that all electric?” We answered in the affirmative. Next question came from the driver – “Will it go over 100 miles?” Our response – “We don’t need it to”. We noticed that his 0lder Honda Civic was being offered for sale. We doubt that he is considering replacing it with an electric car based on his question. The education of the broader public is still forefront in the adoption of the electric vehicle. We’re not going to change his mind at a stop light, but we can try to present a positive impression of our experience. We do what we can.
Back to the Mitsu. Let’s see… other good qualities… it is less expensive than a LEAF. Starting price is under $30,000. Retail MSRP of ES starts at $27,990 and SE starts at $29,990 less incentives. Now it starts getting more attractive for a much broader section of the population. Of course, at those prices you are giving up some of the comfort/convenience features of the LEAF, but you are getting a fully electric vehicle that will charge in less time than the Nissan LEAF. That is because the battery capacity is 16 kilowatt hours compared to the 24 kilowatt hours of the LEAF. So you won’t be able to go as far. But we’ll get to that in a minute. So what are you giving up? Bluetooth voice activated phone system is helpful, but only optionally available on the top SE when you get the $2,790 premium package. The package also includes the navigation system and DC quick charge connection along with a battery warmer and heated outside mirrors, but no heated seats. But that brings the price up to near $33,000. For just a couple grand more the LEAF is now a reasonable alternative to the Mitsu. Decisions, decisions.
Now let’s take a look at the flip side. It is a smaller car, physically, than the Nissan LEAF. One tradeoff here is passenger capacity. For us that would be a deal breaker. Our family has three kids. The i only holds a total of four. That took the Volt out of the running too (though we never seriously considered the GM product). There are other limitations to consider. With a smaller battery capacity comes not only a lower price, but a shorter leash. Targeted test cycle numbers put the range at about 85 miles. We expect it to be less in the U.S., just as the real world mileage of the LEAF for most owners is less than the advertised 100 mile range. That said, if you are truly buying it as a short distance commuter, you should be fine.
The i has a smaller electric motor. The LEAF won’t light any fires under you, but it is more impressive than most will think at first blush. The i barely smolders with 66 horsepower. Top speed is also limited to 80 miles per hour, a speed that we’ve already exceeded in our LEAF. And if you think that the LEAF lacks in the looks department, the i will strike you as just plain odd. The term “form follows function” takes on a whole new literal meaning with this car. And one really bizarre bit – different sized front and rear tires eliminate the possibility of life extending fore/aft tire rotations. We suppose that they are looking for every last ounce of range with the narrower front tires (they are just doing the steering, while the power goes to the rear wheels as opposed to the front wheel drive of the LEAF).
If one doesn’t need the passenger capacity, or the greater range of the LEAF, the Mitsubishi i could make a compelling argument. Not everyone needs navigation and other bells and whistles found standard in the LEAF.
With a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $28,000 and federal (and some state) incentives applied, this brings the price of the car to less than $20,000 for many. Reservations are now being taken in limited markets for early 2012 delivery.