I’ve been daily driving a worn-out example of probably the worst mass-produced, freeway-capable electric car sold in North America, a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. This little egg-shaped, critically panned car has worked its way into my heart as a regular daily driver for about half of my weekly driving needs, even though the lack of range is a challenge. After 650 miles of driving, I can tell you that living with a well-used low-range EV isn’t so bad, but it’s not without its pain points.
The i-MiEV Couldn't Go Far When New, And Now It's Worse
The i-MiEV is a very efficient car with an admirable 112 mpge figure that is still out of reach by many modern electric vehicles. Unfortunately, it was equipped with a dinky 16-kWh battery that was rated at 62 miles (or 59 miles, depending on the year) of single-charge range under ideal conditions.
Nearly eight years have passed since the i-MiEV’s battery was replaced under warranty sometime in early 2015. Still, time hasn’t been kind to the i-MiEV’s lithium-ion battery chemistry. The battery has degraded and left me with about 72 percent, or 11.5 kWh, of total battery capacity. Realistically, the i-MiEV in its current state is good for about 45-55 miles of mild city driving with minimal HVAC usage before it’s out of juice. This isn’t a lot, no, but sometimes, it’s just enough.
I live in suburban Columbus, Ohio, which is not EV-friendly. The i-MiEV is quick off the line and pulls adequately to about 35 mph, but at speeds above that, it quickly feels out of place. More importantly, the faster it travels, the more energy it swills. Suburban roads are fast with minimal chances for energy recuperation via regenerative braking.
Those variables don’t matter as much as I thought they would. I don’t pay too much attention to my projected range when I drive the i-MiEV because I know what kind of distances it can handle. The car doesn’t have enough range to drive from my suburban Columbus home 25 minutes north on the freeway to the outlet mall in Delaware, Ohio. It can’t do that. It can, however, drive me to the grocery store three miles from my house or drive me 25 miles downtown to my favorite coffee shop and back home.
I’m Always Looking for a Plug
Through the Car Bibles EV test, I learned that EV ownership sans home-charging is a real hardship that involves a lot of visits to DC fast chargers often placed out of the way.
Since November, when I returned the last press car and started writing the series, two things have happened. The infrastructure in Columbus has improved, and I got 240-volt home charging. Now, two of the coffee shops I frequent have public charging options, when they didn’t have them a few months ago. I often write from coffee shops, so it’s very simple to leave my house, drive to the coffee shop, and plug in on arrival. By the time I’m done with a few scribbles and am vibrating from my third oat milk latte, I’ve replenished however many electrons it took me to drive down there. I’ve embraced the “top ‘er off, not fill ‘er up” ethos that the Citizens Utility Board of Ohio (CUB) said is crucial for mainstream EV adoption.
But it’s not always enough. Some of my friends live in suburbs on the opposite side of town where there aren’t any nearby public charging options. A round trip to and from their houses could very well fall just outside of the margins of what the i-MiEV can comfortably do. A wrong turn, accelerating too hard, or simply not wanting to freeze my butt off could spell a stranded egg.
Just a few weeks ago, a charger malfunction meant the i-MiEV didn’t charge while I was at the coffee shop, and I was left with just 12 miles of range to complete an 11.5-mile journey. If I can’t find a public charging option nearby, sometimes I just don’t go to that place in the i-MiEV. My model does not have DC fast charging, and the i-MiEV’s onboard charger is a mere 3.3-kW system, about half the output that most public Level 2 chargers can output. If I do run out of juice, it’ll take quite a bit of waiting until I’m able to move on to the next place.
Listen, it’s fully established that the i-MiEV can’t do very much driving, so it’s very much a city vehicle. On paper, it was a terrible deal. My i-MiEV SE stickered for about $32,000 without destination fees back in 2012. That’s too much money for a car that takes 15 seconds to get from zero mph to 60 mph and can only do 62 miles under ideal conditions.
At $3,500, though, it’s a lot more compelling. From flat to full, the i-MiEV costs about a dollar to recharge with my current electricity rates. It’s spacious for its size, fun to look at, has weirdly good steering, and is probably the easiest car to park this side of a Smart Fortwo.
Some have negatively compared it to a golf cart, which is both apt and very unfair. It’s apt because, like a golf cart, the i-MiEV excels at hyper-urban driving for very short distances. It’s wrong, too. The i-MiEV feels like a real car on the road. It has airbags, heat, and a real sound system. By comparison, a Polaris GEM electric cart is about the same form factor, but it doesn’t have 240-volt charging (at least in base models), its chassis is mere steel bars (unlike the i-MiEV’s modern safety cell), and it’s limited to 25 mph. Oh, and it costs at least $14,000, while doors are optional.
My mama told me that everything ain’t for everybody, and cars like the i-MiEV encapsulate that. Commonly, folks are amused (and a bit horrified) at the i-MiEV’s low range, and they tell me, “Oh, this would never work for me, I need to go a lot farther.” Correct! You probably do! Not everyone does, though.
For me, a remote-working suburbanite headed to trendy spots, the i-MiEV can serve a purpose. The i-MiEV’s previous owner was an elderly lady who only drove to church, the grocery store, and to see her grandkids across town. If she needed to drive further, she’d just enlist the help of her kids to cart her around. For her, a long-range EV or even a gas-powered car is more than she’s ever needed. The i-MiEV was a whisper-quiet, economical way to retain her independence.
For some, a derelict i-MiEV with 45 miles of real-world range is all they need.