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Lower price comes with drawbacks

Electric is smaller than its rivals with less comfort and range

The 2012 Mitsubishi i subcompact electric car falls short both as a car and as an electric vehicle (EV).

The i is a battery-powered subcompact four-door hatchback. It's based on a gasoline-powered car Mitsubishi sells in Japan. It's one of a small but growing number of EVs and plug-in hybrids.

Prices start at $32,998. All i's come with an electric motor that produces 66 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque, and a single-speed automatic transmission.

The i competes with cars like the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus electric, Honda Fit electric, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.

The i costs less than most electric and plug-in hybrid cars, but it's smaller, less comfortable and has less range than most competitors. All electric vehicles face questions about their battery range and charging time, but the competitors outperform the i.

Mitsubishi says the i's range is 100 kilometres on a charge. That's less than a quarter tank for most gasoline-powered cars, and less than any other EV claims. The battery is a 16 kWh lithium-ion unit that takes seven hours to charge fully with a 240-volt outlet.

The bottom line is that an i owner shouldn't figure on going more than 50 kilometres away unless there's a 240-volt charger and a place they can wait for seven hours at the end of the trip. The i's charging time is comparable with Nissan's Leaf, but longer than Ford claims for its Focus EV.

Range isn't an issue if you buy an extendedrange electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid. Extendedrange EVs and plug-ins - the distinction between the two is largely semantics - erase range anxiety, the fear that an EV will leave you stranded miles from home.

The i's interior looks and feels cheap, with very little storage space for glasses, phones and other items. The steering wheel neither tilts nor telescopes, something that's almost unheard of in contemporary cars.

There's plenty of room in the front seat, and the high roof affords ample head room. Rear leg room is severely limited. There's a useful 13.4 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seat.

The location of the charge port in the rear fender - it's at the front of the Volt, Focus and Leaf - makes it hard to plug into charging stations in public parking lots.

Acceleration is excellent, because electric motors produce plenty of torque as soon as they start. Despite the i's shortcomings, there's something very satisfying about a high-efficiency subcompact that blows the doors off a hopped-up pickup truck revving at the stoplight. The "eco" button extends the car's range, but power falls significantly.

The steering is very light. It provides little feedback, and I found the car tended to wander in its lane. The i is best suited for city streets. It feels jittery at highway speeds.

EVs and various types of hybrids are almost certainly the way of the future. Unfortunately for Mitsubishi, there's no "i" in future.