First Drive: The tiny all electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV mystifies gas station goers

Mits iMiEV TFL 1

This is how it went down (this REALLY happened – I included as many quotes as I could remember):

I nearly got back to the i-MiEV I was testing in the demilitarized zone called Fontana, California from the AM/PM Mini-mart when two men stopped me.

“Suup?” the short one with the prison tattoos and low-rider glass said to me. “That your car?” the massive one asked who smelled like a sweat distillery. I nodded and thought about my situation:

Here I was, driving a car from Mitsubishi that I’m sure they want back after my half-an-hour ‘solo’ test drive. I parked it at the gas station – despite the fact it’s an electric car – and I vanished inside. It sat there for nearly ten minutes while I attempted to rid my body of a rotten breakfast pastry I inhaled an hour earlier. Now two, fairly intimidating looking guys were interested in it – I think – maybe it was my shopping bag with the pink bottle inside.

“Wha’suup with the steering wheel on the right side?” the short one asked.

“It’s a test model from Japan… they…” I was cut off – “…They drive on the right.” Offered the large one, “like the British” he continued as he casually peered inside.

“Is it front wheel drive?” he asked.

“No” I said, “the motor is in the back, between the rear wheels. The batteries are flat and lay underneath the floor.”

A crowd was forming as I continued, “it’s a 16-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack. The 47-kilowatt motor produces about 63 horsepower and 133 foot-pounds of torque from 0-rpm.” I was commanding an audience and began fielding questions.

Mits iMiEV TFL 3

“How fast is it?” asked the hot-looking lady who works there. “It’s not fast, but it is quick. 0 to 60 took me 8.8 seconds, I think the top speed is just over 80-mph.” I replied.

At this point I wanted the questions to stop so I could choke down my recently procured bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

“How far can it go?” asked the shot guy.

“It’s supposed to go up to 75 miles on a charge” I said. “Less when it’s cold” I recalibrated my brain to dig up facts, “if you only need 80-percent of the charge and have more than 20-percent left, you can get that charge in about three hours from 220 volt hook-up” I added.

What started as a tense situation (perceived only by me), turned out to be a rather pleasant Q and A session with some nice people. I told them about the town of Vacaville, California where they are already setup with a special electric station that can charge the i-MiEV in 30-minutes. We talked about the performance of the i-MiEV, as it is as good as its gas built brother which has a turbocharged, 63 hp 660cc three-cylinder engine.

We talked for another few minutes and they were pleased to look inside (I opened it up) and were curious if it’s cheaper than the Nissan Leaf – that was one of the few questions I could not answer; however, given the fact that this is a pre existing platform and that the American production version will be rather similar (it will be a bit larger to meet various U.S. government requirements) I am guessing it will be thousands less.

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The Nissan Leaf looks to be a slightly more substantial vehicle.

Either way, that little i-MiEV was a solid performer, more exciting than the Smart Fortwo Electric I had driven. Just as importantly noted, it’s mighty cool to look at. Just ask the group of folks who gathered to see it on a recent Wednesday morning in friendlier Fontana, California.

Expect to see them here in 2011…

… in left-hand drive.

Editor’s Note: Nathan Adlen filed this first drive review from Fontana, California at the annual automotive journalist MPG event. Take a look below as Nathan and Roman take the all electric Tesla Roadster on a cold Colorado Roadtrip.

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