Last Friday, Chelsea Sexton dropped off the cute little Mitsubishi iMiEV (pronounced I-meev) test car. She and her husband, Bob, had been driving it for a week, and now it was our turn.
This version is a right-hand drive built for the Japanese market. Driving from the right side of a car isn't that hard to get used to, but remembering the turn signal vs. windshield wiper switch took concentration.
According to Mitsubishi, this Smart-sized EV will be aimed at the commuter market which, given the sub-80 mile range, is a perfect fit. The 16 kWh LiIon pack, located under the passenger compartment, keeps the center of gravity low. One of the benefits of having a smaller battery pack is that the overall weight of the car is just a bit north of 2300 lbs.
The driving experience was very good. Acceleration was comparable to our RAV, which is to say, it's not going to beat a Tesla Roadster, but it had no problem accelerating up to speed on the freeway. I particularly liked its cornering ability, and the small size makes it very easy to park just about anywhere. Their engineers must have been listening to us since they incorporated a creep mode into the software. This mimics how a gas car will roll forward when you take your foot off the brake. It's helpful when you're on a hill so you don't roll backward, and it's something you expect, so the experience is very close to what you're used to. The iMiEV is also very quiet, much like the RAV.
There are two modes of regenerative braking, accomplished by shifting into "eco mode". There is no "freewheeling" which will disappoint RAV drivers who like to use this coasting method for hypermiling. When you are in full power mode and lift your foot off the accelerator, the regen is always there at about the same level as that found in a Prius. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer the option to freewheel since I can get better efficiency when driving in heavy traffic.
The instrumentation in this near-production prototype was spare. I want to see a digital readout of my state of charge (SOC), not some approximation from an analog bar. One of the great things about electric vehicles is their ability to travel a predictable distance per kWh. Zan and I don't hesitate to drive the RAV all the way down to the bottom if we need to, because we know precisely how far we can go given we have RAV Info, an after market Palm Pilot program that taps into the RAV's main CPU where all the car's info is. We can see to a tenth of a percent how much SOC we have. All of the EV companies need to adopt something similar, but make it part of the standard instrumentation, not an after market thing.
Charging the iMiEV was simple, we just plugged it into one of our standard 120V outlets in the garage. It's a slow way to charge, but we had the whole night, so that's plenty of time. The Level 2 charging cord set wasn't available, so that's all we could use. Once the car is ready to sell to the general public, we'll see 240V Level 2 charging which is plenty fast for a commuter car.
The iMiEV is a lot roomier on the inside than you would expect from looking at it. Seeing it parked here behind our gas-guzzling Honda Insight, you can see that it's a bit larger than that tiny two-seater. Sitting inside the car, I got the feeling it was even roomier than our RAV.
Pricing is unknown, but rumor has it that they'll be well under $30K. I think it'll sell fast if they can price it about $4K-$5K under the Nissan Leaf. There are millions of people who commute to and from work in huge, inefficient vehicles that are grossly over sized for the task at hand. I think Mitsubishi will get a good share of these people to switch once they get this to market some time in the fall of 2011.
One very sad note, as I was completing this blog, word comes over the net that a small plane piloted by one of Tesla's chief engineers, and carrying two others, crashed just after takeoff from a Palo Alto airport. From what I hear, all the engineers were working on the Model S program. They were on their way to meet with Elon Musk here in LA. The EV community mourns this terrible loss.