The whispers had gone beyond audibility, to a constant rumble of anticipation. My dear employers had purchased a fleet of electric cars, soon to be rolled out in a blaze of corporate publicity. Already charging points were appearing around our rambling ‘multi-node’ campus, but a veil of secrecy remained.
Unexpectedly, this morning, I became involved in the peripheries of the project and seized the opportunity to find out more. In full ‘wily old fox’ mode, I engineered a reason to see a car in the metal and plastic and very soon was introduced to a shedload – literally – of new white Mitsubishi i-MiEVs. I didn’t even have to ask for a drive – just by showing enthusiasm and knowledge, the offer was made.
The Mitsubishi i car is a rare sight here in tghe UK so there is no commonplace point of comparison. The Smart ForTwo, with which the i shares mechanical DNA, is closest. The formula is much the same – and, unlike anything else, except possibly the Tata Nano, a sort of ‘Poundland’ i. Up front are the customary MacPherson struts and electric powered rack and pinion steering. At the rear – the driven end – a 66bhp motor sits just in front of a De Dion axle. The lithium-ion battery pack, cleverly shaped to minimise intrusion, sits below the passenger compartment
The first impression from the driver’s seat is that Mitsubishi have made every effort to make the experience as conventional and un-daunting as possible. There’s an orthodox transmission selector, like a CVT, there is no automatic ‘creep’, and the accelerator is required for any forward motion. To remind us that the underlying technology does not come cheap, this £24,000 car has interior quality and equipment levels which would just pass muster in an £8000 Korean sub-supermini.
Out on the road, expectations were not high, but my cynicism was confounded. The fully-charged car was impressively lively. Lately, I’ve been doing most of my driving in a 55bhp one ton supermini, which needs to be driven hard constantly to maintain decent progress. The i-MiEV, 10% heavier, was effortless. It doesn’t quite have steam train torque, but it’s unlike any 66bhp petrol engine I’ve driven.
Electric idiosyncracies are notable by their absence. The regenerative system built into the drivetrain gives better “engine braking” than most automatics, so the rather sudden, typically Japanese, brakes are rarely called on. The chassis impressed, feeling well tied down, with scarcely any roll. A low centre of gravity, with the major masses placed at floorpan level must surely be the secret. I wasn’t going to find out for the readers’ benefit, but Smart-sized tyres – 145/65R15 at the front, 175/55R15 at the rear – suggest roadholding limits would not be high. Ride is excellent, helped by all that weight, and a ‘wheel at each corner’ which Issigonis would have admired. Another delight is the i-MiEV’s narrowness – it is a true kei-car, only 1450mm wide, and I found myself wondering why European superminis need to be a foot wider.
My passenger, who has been evaluating the i-MiEVs for some time, counselled that I should take particular care when pedestrians are around. Many of the county’s residents cross roads by ear, reserving their visual faculties for their smartphones. They should be very afraid – the Silent Death is about to take to the streets.
The 80 mile range has been verified, though charging well before is recommended. It’s not impressive compared with later EVs – the Tata Vista EV claims 150 miles. Equally the £24,000 list price – after the Government’s £5000 subsidy – will limit the market. I made discreet enquiries as to the price paid for our fleet and was astonished. Suffice to say, either that hefty list price has plenty of room to drop or else Mitsubishi are buying “visibility”.
I left impressed with the experience and am looking forward to my next acquaintance with the i-MiEV. I’m not personally in the market for one, but can understand how it could be a formidably effective medium-distance corporate transport tool where a charging network is available.
Plenty of reservations still remain. According to Jesse Crosse in this month’s Boring Boring CAR, the CO2 output of a typical EV running on UK-generated electricity is 75g/km. Internal combustion diesels and even petrol cars are rapidly approaching this level. That said, in its defence, the EV generates the emissions at the power station, not the tailpipe. However – and I have no plans to be AROnline’s George Monbiot – to the best of my eco-simpleton’s understanding, CO2 produced in the middle of nowhere does just as much harm as that produced in a city centre.
Fiscal considerations cloud the water further. How does one compare a vehicle running on energy taxed at 5% with one using fuel taxed at 175%? Long term, this cannot be sustained. Rascally Governments will manipulate our choices, but they won’t put up with missing out on revenue. Don’t bury internal combustion any time soon – it always finds a new trick to play. However, if you have the chance to try an EV, jump at it – motoring life’s nothing without variety.