A car for the country

Road test: Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Pure electric cars: limited range, lack of charging infrastructure, expensive. Well, yes. So I shall start with reviewing the i-Miev as a useful city car and consider some of the wider implications later.

So what does one get for £23,990 (including the £5,000 Government hand-out)? Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV (‘aye-me-ev’) is a narrow four-seater B-segment hatchback. This press car has some fancy leather seats and a flimsy spoiler on the roof but the standard model is well-equipped, with sat-nav, electric folding mirrors, iPod connectivity and so-on.

Let’s start with some myth-busting. Four-up, ascending a one-in-six hill, the i-Miev pulled perfectly well – in fact better than many small-engined petrol cars. This is thanks to the electric motor’s torque being delivered from standstill. It’s also going to be slow. Nope. It’s not what one might call startlingly fast but it’s on a par with many other small cars. It will sit at the legal speed limit (top speed quoted at 81 mph) but this will eat into the range rather quickly.

93 mile range is probably achievable

In the heap of papers accompanying the press car, there were comments about not using the air-con, driving gently and eeking out everything from each charge. So with the sun out, the air-con on full and a brief motorway blast, I knocked off a third of the battery’s range in about 25 miles. This means with some careful driving, the quoted 93 mile range is probably achievable.  Living in a hilly part of the world I did wonder how this might clobber the battery but for all those ups, the regenerative braking does its best to recover the energy on the downs.

The i-MiEV is extremely easy to drive. While never going to be the last word in handling (the de Dion rear axle design does lead to an occasional hop and a skip if pushed), the low-mounted batteries help. Braking takes a little getting used-to, with the amount of pressure needed on the peddle being variable depending on how much energy is being recovered at that time. Steering feels a little numb but the i-MiEV has a good turning circle and is easy to manoeuvre.

The i-MiEV has three driving modes, marked slightly unintuitively as D, B and C. These provide different levels of energy regeneration on release of the accelerator, providing a braking effect while the motor is used as a generator. D mode is for urban driving, tuned to be energy efficient; B increases regenerative braking during descents; C decreases it for smoother driving on longer runs.

A full charge can be achieved in around 7 hours using the i-MiEV’s dedicated domestic charging cable and a 13A socket. If access to a rapid charging point is available, i-MiEV can be charged from empty to 80% in as little as 30 minutes.

No public charging infrastructure between Birmingham and Hull

Now moving on to the infrastructure aspect, there are some important messages. Mitsubishi’s site claims “There are a growing number of designated electric vehicle charging points around the UK”. They might be growing but there is still nothing between Birmingham and Hull. Speaking with Oldham Council (which is leading the consortium of private and public investors for Manchester’s Plugged-In Places project) this is still some way off:

“It has proved challenging to get all the private sector partners to commit the necessary investment at the required levels during tough economic times.

“We’re working hard alongside MECC [Manchester Electric Car Company] and other partners like Transport for Greater Manchester to find a solution to deliver both the infrastructure and the commercial elements of leasing, renting and selling electric vehicles.

“A lot of planning is in place for the charging points and related infrastructure. That remains valid – as does our commitment to delivering this – and we expect to be able to announce the next steps forward on this project some time in early Autumn.”

So home charging it is. This should use a dedicated spur from the main board to protect the rest of the household, even when using a standard 13A socket because of the high load. And five metres isn’t very long so a convenient charging point and off-road parking location are critical. Installing a dedicated 20-50kW charging point for rapid charging will cost the thick end of a grand.

AA pragmatic with recovery strategy

So assuming the i-Miev is for you and that you are comfortable with only home charging, what happens should an extra errand take you beyond the range of the car? It won’t be a walk to the nearest filling station in the rain clutching your five litre can. The AA will clearly recover you and it claims its force has been trained in terms of how to recover electric vehicles (tow them with their driven wheels off the ground – so backwards in the case of the i-MiEV). Basic cover ordinarily gets a driver and vehicle to the nearest garage but this too won’t work because there’s no database of which garages have been suitably electrically tested to allow the use of a high-drain charge – and that’s assuming the customer would wish to wait for a couple of hours… To be fair, the AA was fairly pragmatic stating that because of the limited range, it was likely the driver wouldn’t be too far from home and therefore that might be the easiest recovery route.

So it’s rather expensive and for most parts of the country, infrastructure-wise, you’re on your own. Therefore, I’d suggest this isn’t in fact a city car at all but it is ideal for areas with poor public transport, narrow lanes and available parking. It’s a car for rural areas.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, £26,990 (including £5,000 Government grant)

Power: 66 hp (2,500 – 8,000 rpm), torque: 180Nm (0 – 2,000rpm), emissions: 0 g/km CO2 (band A), range: 93 miles, 0-60 mph: yes

Motor Writer rating: ●●○○○

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