I have driven some of the world's fastest cars.
Today, I drive the most fuel-efficient one. With a combined rating of 2.1 litres per 100 kilometres, the 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV is the most fuel-efficient mass produced vehicle in Canada today.
If fuel economy is your goal, electric cars, and especially the Mitsubishi i MiEV, are the only way to go. It only uses 1.9 Le (Litres equivalent) per 100 kilometres in the city. For those who are having a hard time with metric measures, let me put it another way: The i MiEV is rated at 148.67 miles per gallon.
The news gets better. Electricity is much cheaper than gasoline. Using electricity, the i MiEV costs the equivalent of 1.3 cents to cover a kilometre, about 80 to 90 per cent less than a conventional gasoline-powered car.
Natural Resources Canada's EnerGuide fuel economy guide estimates it will cost the typical driver a mere $449 to drive 20,000 kilometres a year in the i MiEV.
For those already driving a Prius or a Smart car, the transition is almost seamless. The infrequent gas-station visits merely turn into no visits altogether.
The first question everybody asks is: "What's an electric car like to drive?"
My answer is always: "It's just like a regular car - only quieter."
Although the i MiEV electric motor only has 66 horsepower, it has an impressive 145 lb.-ft. of torque. One hundred per cent of this torque is available from a dead stop. This gives the little car performance on par with a four-cylinder internal combustion gas engine. The 0-100 km/h time is around 13 seconds. Top speed is 130 km/h. Merging on the highway is no problem.
The transmission is just a single-speed reduction gear. Theoretically, one can go as fast backward as forward with this setup.
There is a quiet whine on the highway, but at low speeds the car is so quiet it has to generate an artificial sound to warn pedestrians of its presence. The steering is light and, combined with the instant torque, the i is a force to be reckoned with in the city. With a 9.4-metre (30.8-foot) turning circle, it can manoeuvre with finesse.
On the highway, the i is sensitive to side winds because of its tall body. With its lean in corners, drivers will never think they are in a sports sedan. Potholes and bumps are felt and heard.
The i has the dimensions of a subcompact. It's about the same size as a Toyota Yaris. But the i has two dimensions that stick out - its wheelbase and its height. Its 2,550-millimetre wheelbase means more room inside for passengers. Legroom is good even in the back. Its 1,627-mm height means adults as tall as six foot two adult still have some air above their heads.
But it is narrow, only 1,585 mm, just 26 mm wider than a Smart car.
It's equipped like a typical econobox as well. Hard plastic covers almost every surface, with only a bit of silver-coloured plastic in the centre console to break up the monochromatic black. It is a far cry from the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, with their colourful LED screens and soft materials. The Mitsubishi should appeal to pragmatists who want the latest in technology, but wrapped in a simple package.
The simplicity ethos continues with the vehicle's electronic instrumentation. While its competitors compete to deliver the most colourful sharp and graphic rich display, Mitsubishi is definitely low-tech. There is a large eco gauge in the centre that tells a driver if he is driving in a fuel-efficient manner. A digital speedometer is in the centre. A "gas" gauge is on the left, giving the amount of energy left in the battery. A multi-function gauge on the right has what some EV owners have dubbed a "guessometer." This gauge calculates what range is left based on how the vehicle is being operated.
A full charge shows about 115 km. Turn on the heater and the gauge immediately drops about 40 kilometres. I suspect using the air conditioner will produce the same results. It is fun to turn climate controls up and down, on and off to see how it affects the range on the guess-o-meter. The driver gets a heated seat (the seat back is unheated) because it draws less power than the regular heater, says Mitsubishi.
The front seats are short and provide poor thigh support. The driver's seat is height-adjustable but the steering wheel offers no tilt or telescopic adjustment. The back seats are just plain uncomfortable and suitable for only short distances. It only seats two in the back. The seatbacks do fold 50/50 with a 1,430-litre capacity with both seats folded down. The rear headrests partially block vision out the back, but can be easily removed.
But nobody told Mitsubishi about thieves in this country, or maybe they thought nobody would break into the car. For whatever reason there is no cargo cover - you can't even buy one as an option. That's just crazy.
Our tester was the base model and a premium package is available, with an upgraded interior and niceties such as a navigation system and back-up camera. That package costs an extra $3,000.
In a way, the Mitsu i is like the original Volkswagen Beetle - a simple vehicle with few frills. While simple, the Beetle was wellscrewed together, and it's much the same with the quality of materials in the Mitsubishi i.
That simplicity is reflected in its price as well. The price of admission to the electric club is now $32,998, making the i MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) the least expensive battery-electric vehicle on the road. It is $5,400 less than a Nissan Leaf and a whopping $8,500 less than a Chevrolet Volt.
After factoring in a $5,000 before-tax incentive by the province to promote electric vehicles, you can park this zero-emission vehicle in your driveway for $27,998. The incentive finally puts pure electric vehicles in the same price rage as gasoline-electric hybrids, such as the $27,800 Toyota Prius.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) aren't the solution for everyone. Due to their limited range, the target buyer today is a person with more than one vehicle in the family. Those in a single-car scenario may want to consider an extended range electric vehicle (EREV) or plug-in hybrid instead.
But for those with an eye toward a world where vehicles don't pollute the atmosphere, there isn't a mass-produced car out there that is more economical or enviromentally friendly. That it is the least-expensive and can carry four adults as well is a welcome bonus.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Battery Electric Vehicle. Subcompact four-door hatchback, rear-engine, rearwheel drive
Engine: AC synchronous permanent magnetic motor, 49 kWh, 66 hp at 3,000 to 6,000 r.p.m., 145 lb.-ft. of torque at 0 to 300 r.p.m.
Battery: 16 kWh lithium-ion. 330 V
Chargers: Level 1, 120 V, 22-hour recharge. Level 2, 240V, 7-hour recharge. Level 3, quick-charge, 80% recharge in 30 minutes.
Transmission: Single-speed, fixed reduction gear. Final gear ratio 7.065: 1
Dimensions (mm): Length, 3,675; width, 1,585; height, 1,615; wheelbase, 2,550
Curb weight (kg): 1,171
Price (base/as tested): $32,998/$34,798 (includes $1,450 destination, $250 PDI and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 145/65 R15 front and 175/60 R15 rear on steel wheels and wheel covers
Fuel type: Electricity
Fuel economy (L/100km): 1.9 Le city/ 2.4 Le highway or 18.7 kWh/100 km
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new vehicle three years/unlimited km roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain, eight years/160,000 km lithium-ion battery.
THIS WEEK ON DRIVING.CA
Check out these highlights on the driving.ca portion of our website, timescolonist.com
The sixth-generation BMW 3 Series, long the benchmark for performance sedans, is now arriving in showrooms. Stiffer, more luxurious and now with a first-ever four-cylinder turbo on the 328i, the new 3 Series charts a different course for the Bavarian automaker.
See our photos and read all about it on timescolonist.com/cars
Inside Driving this week, you'll find reviews of the newest Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG, the 2012 Camaro ZL1, the new Kia Rio sedan, the 2012 Chevy Volt and - in case you're going to Europe anytime soon - the Volkswagen Up!, which for now is only available across the pond. Also inside this week, auto-history writer Bill Vance takes a look at the storied history of Peugeot.
Driving instructor Steve Wallace's weekly column points out ways drivers can reduce the number of pedestrians hit by vehicles in crosswalks
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