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USA: 2012 Mitsubishi i Electric Vehicle

t’s easy to confuse weird with bad. The Mitsubishi i is weird. It looks like a computer mouse. It has windshield wipers that resemble Ultraman’s arms in attack mode. It is powered by a 66-hp electric motor mounted under the rear seats. It carries onboard the energy equivalent of less than half a gallon of gas. Its front tires look like compact spares. We could go on. But despite being weird, the i isn’t bad.

To make the tiny electric car (called i-MiEV in the Japanese market) slightly more palatable to American tastes and to allow it to comply with our crash standards, Mitsu­bishi stretched the Japanese version nearly eight inches and widened it by 4.3 inches. It’s still tiny but now about the same length as a Mini Cooper. The new body’s widened track makes it less likely to be cow tipped. The radically cab-forward, vanlike shape allows four adults to sit within (some touching will be involved). A Nissan Leaf is larger inside and out, but it starts at $36,050. The i opens at a pre–tax-credit price of $29,975; sales started on the West Coast in November, and Mi­tsubishi plans to offer it nationwide by June. And just to get its new electric car off to a good start in the market, the company will refer to it as the i, but the badge on the car will read “i-MiEV” because, well, Mi­tsubishi doesn’t appear to have the slightest clue why.

Despite its weirdness, driving the i is unexceptional. It’s slow—0 to 60 takes 13.0 seconds—but there’s nothing abnormal about how it operates. The electric power steering, reportedly tuned by Lancer Evolution engineers, feels surprisingly alive.  An electrically powered, vacuum brake booster delivers a firm pedal. The i is relatively light—2552 pounds—but stops from 70 mph in an unremarkable 183 feet, thanks in large part to its low-rolling-resistance tires. The ride is smooth, the structure quiver-free.


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