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Mitsubishi i: Electric car underpromises, overdelivers
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The 2012 Mitsubishi i. - photo by Photo Contributed

Body style: compact, four-seat, five-door, rear-drive electric vehicle with hatchback
Motor: AC synchronous permanent magnet, water-cooled and maintenance-free
Battery: 16kW, 330-volt lithium ion
Charging time: 22.5 hours on household current; 7 hours on level-2 240-volt
Transmission: Single speed, fixed reduction gear
Power: 66 hp at 3,000-6,000 rpm
Driving range: 69 miles city, 57 miles hwy
Cargo space: 13.2 cu. ft. to 50.4 back seats folded
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 35.6/33.8/54.8 in.
Length/wheelbase: 144.7/100.4 in.
Curb weight: 2,579 lbs.
Turning circle: 30.8 ft.
Standard equipment includes: power windows and locks; mirrors; 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with digital playback capability; speed-sensitive electric power steering; LED taillights; driver’s seat heater; electric air conditioning system with micron filter; vehicle security; and immobilizer system
Safety features include: six air bags; electronic traction and stability controls; front vented disc brakes, rear drums with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution
Base price: $29,975, including $850 freight charge; base price after $7,500 federal tax credit: $22,475
Where assembled: Japan
Warranty: 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain; 8-year/100,000-mile battery

The four-seat, four-door Mitsubishi i is the simplest mass-produced electric car to date and possibly the most satisfying to live with for its hardiness and utility. It’s also got the lowest starting price.

This face of Mitsubishi’s new green and fuel-efficient direction began its launch in November for California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Dealers will have at least one car for test drives, and preordered cars will begin deliveries in early 2012. The rollout will be nationwide by the end of 2012.

The i has been on sale in Japan since mid-2009 and in Europe, Australia and France (through a partnership with Renault) since 2010. More than 11,000 cars have been sold in those countries. Mitsubishi hopes to sell 1,500 of its ovoid EVs in the first full year and claims 450 preorders since Earth Day through the dedicated website

The car has been modified for U.S. consumption. It is 4.3 inches wider and 8 inches longer for air bags and impact protection. The width helps stability at highway speeds, and the i can do 80 mph (just not for very long).

Mitsubishi has translated the EPA’s confusing miles-per-gallon-equivalent mileage ratings of 126 MPGe city and 99 MPGe highway to a simple, real-world rating of 69 miles city, 55 miles highway and 62 combined. In perfect conditions and moderate climate, some drivers will be able to get 80 miles on a charge.

It won’t take a degree in computer familiarity to get underway. The electric i is a conversion from the gasoline model sold in Japan and elsewhere, but it doesn’t give the impression of a cobbled-up EV. It is actually quite progressive, with an automotive-grade lithium ion battery pack and a cooling system to keep those 88 cells comfortable and functioning.

This EV has a key for “starting” and a gearshift, not a joystick-like device to engage gears. With a one-speed transmission, shift it into eco mode for maximum thrift, drive for power or B-mode to recapture more braking energy. The throttle and brake pedals look and react much like a traditional car. Throttle response is familiar, if a little slow, and the brake response is as capable as any other economy car. The suspension can feel jolty over rough roads, but much can be forgiven in this overall agreeable experience.

With two trim levels, pricing for the base ES model starts at $29,975, including an $850 freight charge. The price drops to $22,475 after taking into account the $7,500 federal tax credit. Standard features are acceptable for a $20,000 car, including remote locking, power windows and mirrors, four-speaker digital audio system, driver’s seat heater, air conditioning and 120-volt charging cable and the MiEV Remote System to pre-warm or cool the car and set the charging timer.

However, most early adopters will be more likely to purchase the up-level SE, which starts at $24,475 after the tax credit. It’s dressed up with an appealing two-tone black-and-brown interior of upgraded upholstery (instead of basic black), fog lights, automatic headlights and alloy wheels. It also is further upgradable with option packages, such as a navigation system with rearview camera. Also available is the Premium package, which, for an additional $2,790, gets you a battery warmer, a quick-charge port, navigation and hands-free phone connectivity.

Charging time for a depleted battery would take about 22 hours with the 120-volt, level-1 portable charging cable, or seven hours with a dedicated 240-volt, level-2 charger. And a level-3 public charging station would give an 80 percent charge in less than half an hour.

Mitsubishi wants to keep EV ownership simple. It isn’t trying to reinvent the concept of a battery-powered car or one-up the campaigns of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.

The Mitsubishi i is an affordable little car that has usable range and user utility.