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Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Click to view picture gallery“To be in with the In Crowd you
t need Bryan Ferry just
s black-with-red-stripes
  all-electric i-MiEV...

THANKS MOSTLY TO the heavy-breathing, hard-charging Evo, Mitsubishi's triple-diamond logo is recognised the world over. Now, equally extreme but in the greenest possible way, comes 'the future' a real-world four-seater Mitsu that offers zero tailpipe emissions and, significantly, is also fun to drive and which can be enjoyed with a clean eco-conscience.

Sound too good to be true? As they say: Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Oh, and before you climb inside, you'll need to love the limelight because driving an i-MiEV will get you more exposure than an appearance on X Factor, with thumbs-up from both road and foot traffic.

Rolling on seven-spoke alloy wheels, our test car came dressed to thrill in high gloss black with 'no stopping' double red lines running all the way from nose to tail.

To look at, the i-MiEV is long and lean and back to the future —
you get the feeling that it could have been designed by Philippe Starck (it wasn't) and that it's the vehicle that Bruce Willis should have been driving in The Fifth Element

“Most amazing was not
being able to ‘plug ’n’ fill’
to ‘refuel’, but that
a full electrical ‘fill-up’
costs about the same
as some Sunday
Technophobes, be not afraid: charging up is done via a three-pin 13A socket. It's real-life plug 'n' play! It takes seven hours to complete a flat-to-100% charge but the longest our i-MiEV needed charging was four hours (when the range was down to 18 miles).

If you're in a hurry, rapid chargers from power companies such as British Gas will do flat-to-80% full in just thirty minutes!

Most amazing of all was not just being able to 'plug 'n' fill' to 'refuel', but that a full electrical 'fill-up' costs about the same as some Sunday newspapers. We averaged around 65 miles on a single charge that added less than £3 to our domestic electricity bill. With a gallon of diesel or unleaded now costing around £7, that equates to 150mpg!

Drive your i-MiEV economically and you can, say Mitsubishi, get up to 93 miles between recharges. Driving just like everybody else, we found motorway trips tended to give 55 miles on a full charge; mixed town and country routes pushed this to 66 miles.

And, as is the case with all electric cars, you trade-off some range whenever you use the air-conditioning. However, summer motoring does not necessarily mean less range, as we discovered —
the i-MiEV's aerodynamics enable you to drive with all the windows fully open at 55-60mph without any blustering or buffeting.

Actually the range limit does have an upside: it gives you a brilliant excuse not to visit anyone living outside your area (How very unkind!
Ed). However, if you do need to drive a few hundred miles then you can always hire a car — many rental companies will now bring it to your front door and pick it up again when you've finished with it. And any rental costs will be more than covered by the money you've saved running your i-MiEV — so you'll still be saving a bundle on your annual motoring costs.

“Driving the rear wheels
is a 66bhp
electric motor with just
four major moving
parts — compared to
over 300 in a typical
internal combustion
Juice, as already mentioned, is pure electric and it comes from a 49kW (66bhp) AC synchronous permanent magnet motor — with just four major moving parts compared to over 300 in a typical internal combustion engine — directly driving the rear wheels and powered by a 200Kg lithium-ion battery under the boot floor.

It's 66bhp and 133lb ft (available from 0-2,000rpm) is served up in one continuous stream and the selector lever offers the choice of three seamless driving modes: D for normal driving; C for comfortable driving, particularly steady-speed (city-low or motorway-high) cruising; and B for downhill driving (this also provides engine braking while at the same time recharging the battery pack).

I have never found that 'go-faster' body stripes on cars work; but the red ones on the i-MiEV certainly seem too! It zips from standstill to 62mph in 13 seconds —
and it's quieter than the quietest Rolls-Royce ever built. Top speed is 81mph.

In addition to a perfect 10 for tailpipe emissions, the i-MiEV also scores a perfect 10 for sound pollution. The downside is that you have to make extra allowance for the fact that it's as silent as a ninja and watch out for children and adults who, not hearing the i-MiEV approaching, can walk right into your path. Fortunately the high seating position and large glass areas provide first class visibility in all directions.

Standard kit includes essentials such as power windows, heated electric door mirrors with on-demand powerfold, Climate Control, CD player audio system with MP3 compatibility, USB and AUX-in, electric power steering, rear privacy glass, auto Halogen headlights, LED tail lights, and a tyre inflation kit.

And in addition to a 4-star EURO NCAP safety rating you and your passengers are protected by six airbags (dual front, front side and front/rear curtain), ABS braking with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA), and M-ASTC —
Mitsubishi's Active Stability Control (ASC) and Traction Control system.

“The slim cabin — with
a hint of Concorde
about it — is far more
spacious than you were
probably expecting
from its tall, elongated
bodyshell; four adults
can travel comfortably
in the nicely firm
and well padded seats
The slim cabin — with a hint of Concorde about it — is far more spacious than you were probably expecting from its tall, elongated bodyshell; four adults can travel comfortably in the nicely firm and well padded seats.

Front and rear headroom is excellent, even for taller adults; and getting in and out is easy. The driving position is fine and the driver's seat adjusts for height.

Adding some luxury to our test car was a black suede headlining, black leather upholstery and a black leather fascia, the red stitching matching the striped livery jazzing up the outside.

The neat fascia looks pretty much like any other; the only difference being a crystal-clear digital speedometer flanked by a pair of smaller dials showing the range in miles and the amount of charge in the battery pack.

The speedo's outer ring indicates when the regenerative braking system is charging the battery (as happens every time you lift off the accelerator pedal), and helps you stay in the Eco Zone.

The dealer-fit multimedia Kenwood SatNav (with 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, iPod compatability, rear-view camera, and pre-set London charging points) is brilliant. Non-g
eeks will love its no-brainer usability, in particular the Where Am I? and Go Home functions that do exactly what they say.

And your luggage can come too: 227 litres of it will fit behind the rear seats. W
ith just the front seats in use and the rear 50:50 split seatbacks folded completely flat, there's room for 860 litres and items up to four feet long. Loading through the regular-shaped tailgate is hassle free.

Driving is the fun part, thanks to the instant response to the accelerator and very smooth power delivery that makes sure you're always off the mark quicker than most. Keeping up with traffic is not something you need worry about, even on motorways, as the i-MiEV whooshes along silently. Whatever you speed,
the electric motor runs extremely quietly and smoothly, and there's almost no noise, vibration or harshness even at the legal limit.

“The i-MiEV zips from
standstill to 62mph in 13
seconds — and it
quieter than the quietest
Rolls-Royce ever
The ride is good and handling and roadholding are first class, as is quickly apparent after the very first quick corner. You can put this down to well-mannered body control, a low centre of gravity (courtesy of the weight of the underfloor battery pack), steering that's precise and responsive and the wheel-at-each-corner layout. And while it might be wearing low rolling resistance tyres on its 15-inch alloy wheels, they're 'sticky' enough for some spirited driving even though this is an 'Eco' vehicle, not an Evo…

At 24K (after the £5K Government 'plug-in' grant allowance) these i-MiEVs won't be saving money for the very motorists who need it most. But as sales continue to rack up (it's the best-selling electric car world-wide), prices should drop.

At the moment it's the EA's (Early Adapters) who are the biggest winners, reaping the benefits of all-electric i-MiEV motoring: no road tax, free parking in some London boroughs and cities such as Milton Keynes, with more following soon), no London Congestion Charge, various business tax incentives, low servicing costs, and unbelievably low charging costs —
approximately £2.91 for a full charge (£1.73 on Economy 7).

i-MiEV owners will pay just £376 to charge their battery for 12,000 miles of driving (£223 on Economy 7 tariff). On a cost-per-mile reckoning, this is less than 6% of the fuelling costs of a comparable petrol-drinking vehicle —
and that's before taking into account the free parking and no road tax.

Servicing can be carried out by any one of Mitsubishi's 133 dealers and for £300 you can buy an i-MiEV Mitsubishi Service Plan that covers the first three years' servicing. The battery, incidentally, is covered by a 5-year warranty.

The i-MiEV is a wake-up call for drivers who think EVs (Electric Vehicles) are boring, boring, boring. The 'i-meev' is comfortable and zippy, serves up a good measure of fun handling, is easy to drive (a ten-year-old could), is a doddle to park in even the tightest of spaces, and costs next to nothing to run. If that's 'boring' then the future's looking good to go.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV | £23,990
Maximum speed: 81mph | 0-62mph: 13 seconds | Overall Test MPG: See text
Power: 66bhp | Torque: 133lb ft | CO2 0g/km