"Subcompact cars range from 10 to 112 MPGe. The best vehicle rates 112 MPGe."
This slightly redundant message appears at the top of the window sticker of our new long-term 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV. Next to that is the official EPA fuel economy rating for this all-electric subcompact: 112 MPGe.
Despite the press, the hype and the common wisdom, the most efficient car in America isn't a Toyota, a Nissan or a Chevy — it's a Mitsubishi, and we've got one for the next 12 months to see if it lives up to the numbers.
What We Got
The 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV is available in two flavors, ES and SE, and both have similar starting points. It all starts with a 49kW (66-horsepower) AC synchronous motor backed by a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The motor sits low and in the rear of the vehicle atop a three-link de Dion rear suspension. From there, a single-speed, fixed-gear reduction transmission powers the rear wheels but, unfortunately, doesn't develop enough twist to break the tires loose. A shame, as we were hoping for some battery-powered burnouts.
Not that the 175/60R15 rear tires would have made much smoke. Then again if you think those are narrow, take a peek up front. Those fuel-saving skinnies are 145/65R15. Disc brakes handle the heavy work up front while drums do the trick out back. The i MiEV weighs in at 2,579 pounds.
It may not be the sexiest setup, but this is a powertrain that's good for the aforementioned 112 MPGe combined. It can do 126 MPGe in the city and 99 MPGe highway. Unfortunately, it can't do it for very long. The feds give the i MiEV a driving range of only 62 miles. Our long-term Nissan Leaf had an EPA rating of 99 MPGe but managed 73 miles of range on the feds' test. During our year with that EV, we found that the Leaf had a realistic range of 86 miles with our driving habits. Your guess is as good as ours as to what we'll get with the Mitsubishi.
Beyond the standard stuff, we opted for the SE trim level, which jacks the price to $31,975 from $29,875. This upgrade entitles us to such niceties as an eight-speaker "deluxe" audio system with 360 watts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, two-tone instrument panel done up in brown and black, an upgrade in seat materials, cloth inserts on the door panels, 15-inch alloy wheels, foglamps and a passenger vanity mirror.
We also ticked the box for the Premium package. That $2,790 option gives us the Level 3 DC charger (for public quick-charge stations), a rearview camera, battery warning system and a 40GB HDD nav system with USB port. With only 62 miles of range, we can't see using the nav that often, but the USB port is well worth the price of admission. Finally, the two-tone White Pearl/Ocean Blue paint is an additional $300. If you're going to drive one of these, don't even bother trying to fit in. You've got to go for the bold paint.
When all was said and done, our 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV rang up a final MSRP of $35,065. Since Mitsubishi provided the car for the test, we didn't take advantage of the various incentives available for electric vehicles.
Why We Got It
Electric cars have been on the fringe of reality as long as we can remember, but now they're slipping into the realm of reality. First we tried the Mini E and then the Nissan Leaf. Each one had its own unique benefits and shortcomings, but they were usable everyday cars.
The Mitsubishi i MiEV trades normalcy for a stand-out shape. It also trades some sophistication for exceptional efficiency, which seems like a good exchange for this kind of car. Lastly, it also signals a shift in priorities for Mitsubishi as it refocuses from performance to frugality and responsibility.
With fuel prices hitting $5 per gallon around Los Angeles, the i MiEV couldn't be hitting the market at a better time. For the next 12 months we'll find out if the 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV is a true replacement for a traditional car, or just a quirky stopgap vehicle on the road to electrification.
Follow our Long-Term Road Test Blog for daily updates on this and our entire long-term fleet.
Current Odometer: 422
Best Fuel Economy: N/A
Worst Fuel Economy: N/A
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): N/A
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.1