"Pioneering i-MiEV electric car offers super-low running costs, but the asking price is high."
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV started life as the i, a tall, narrow, futuristic looking four-seater city car with a tiny petrol engine under the boot floor. Mitsubishi then developed a 64bhp electric motor and battery system to replace the engine, and this gives the i-MiEV a range of 93 miles on a full charge. That means short journeys are its forte, and it's perfect for city life. There's space for four inside, while there's enough room in the boot for a couple of shopping bags. You need to plug the car into a power point to recharge the batteries, but this will cost considerably less than filling a conventional car with petrol. Running costs are extremely low, with free road tax and parking bays available, plus exemption from the London Congestion Charge. However this is offset by the i-MiEV's list price, which is on a par with upmarket saloons such as the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series.
The i-MiEV is tailor made for short trips on city streets, which is just as well, as that short range will make you think twice about journeys beyond the city limits. Because of the way electric cars work, all of the motor's power is available as soon as you press the accelerator, so the little Mitsubishi can rocket away from traffic lights. Thanks to the narrow body, the i-MiEV is easy to thread through the smallest of gaps, while a relatively tall driving position and big windows give a great view of your surroundings. One thing to beware of when driving is that the i-MiEV barely makes any sound, so pedestrians and other road users won't hear you coming.
As there's no engine noise, the cabin is a quiet and comfortable place to be, although if you do find yourself travelling on a faster road, the electric motor does emit a high-pitched whistle and tyre noise can also be heard. The tall body means there's plenty of space for four inside, although larger passengers in the back may tend to rub shoulders.
Work first started on the i-MiEV in 2006, and Mitsubishi has undertaken extensive testing on the charging system and electric drivetrain to ensure it's reliable. As well as the standard 3-year warranty, the electric system is covered by its own 5-year warranty. The i-MiEV was the first electric car to be crash tested by Euro NCAP, and it achieved a four-star rating.
Because the batteries are stored under the floor, the i-MiEV has the same amount of interior space as the petrol car it's based on. There's room for four, although larger passengers may find it a squeeze in the back. The boot is 166 litres, which isn't huge, but is enough for a couple of shopping bags. Charging is the biggest issue facing potential owners. The i-MiEV comes with a five-metre long charging cable, and Mitsubishi states that household extension cables cannot be used, so you need to be able to park near a mains socket to charge it. A full charge from empty from a mains plug takes 7 hours, while rapid charging at a dedicated car park point will see the battery up from empty to 80 per cent full in half an hour.
Value for money
Cars such as the i-MiEV are eligible for the Government's £5,000 electric car grant, but that still means the Mitsubishi has an asking price of nearly £25,000. That's similar to a top of the range BMW 3 Series or Audi A4, and is more than double that of a petrol city car, such as the Toyota iQ. Standard equipment could be better, as sat-nav and a premium six-speaker stereo are only available as options.
Once you've overcome the shock of the i-MiEV's asking price, running costs are ridiculously low. Charging a flat battery to full costs around £2 on a standard electricity rate, and this is good for a range of around 93 miles – you'd easily spend £10 to fill up a petrol city car to go the same distance. And the savings don't end there, as the i-MiEV is Road Tax exempt, qualifies for cheap or even free parking in some regions, is exempt from London's Congestion Charge and also qualifies for tax exemptions for business users.