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Inside The Cheapest Electric Yet: Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV

At just under $30,000 base retail price, the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the most affordable all-electric car in the U.S. market.

The little five door with very little hood in the front also has an eye-popping, 126 miles-per-gallon-equivalent rating from the federal government in city driving. That’s higher than the 106 mpg-e city rating of the 2012 Nissan Leaf electric car but less than the 132 mpg-e of the upcoming Honda Fit EV.

An added bonus: The rear-wheel drive i-MiEV has a plucky personality and speed-sensitive steering that, while electrically delivered, feels and responds more like a regular car’s steering than does that of some gasoline-electric hybrid cars.

The same compliment goes for the iMiEV’s electric brakes and their firm, realistic pedal feel.

Still, i-MiEV drivers have to keep a close eye on mileage range, because like all solely electric cars, this little hatchback can’t go far on a full charge. Indeed the U.S. government estimates the i-MiEV range at 62 miles on a full charge.

Typical time to fully recharge: Seven to 22 hours, depending on the charger.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $29,975 for an i-MiEV ES model with 66-horsepower electric motor, a 16-kilowatt lithium-ion storage battery and a one-speed, direct drive transmission.

In comparison, the most popular all-electric car in the United States — the front-wheel drive Nissan Leaf — has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $36,050 for a base, 2012 SV with 107-horsepower electric motor, 24 kilowatt lithium-ion battery and a single-speed reducer tranny. The federal government estimates a 73-mile range for the Leaf on a full charge.

The front-wheel drive, 2012 Chevrolet Volt, which has a plug-in electric motor plus a gasoline engine on board for short, around-town, all-electric trips plus long-range, gas-engine travel, has a starting retail price of $39,995. The Volt’s electric-only range is just over 30 miles, but the federal government estimates a 397-mile travel range when both electric motor and gasoline engine are used.

All these vehicles are eligible for a one-time federal income tax credit of $7,500. But buyers must wait for this credit until they file their tax documents for the calendar year in which they made their vehicle purchase. Some states and cities provide incentives, too.
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