So, This Is What's Wrong With the MiEV


Mitsubishi brought a couple of i-MiEVs to the Chicago Auto Show, one in white and one in a gorgeous plum purple. Since I’ve written about the capabilities and specs of the i-MiEV multiple times, I don’t think I need to go into that here, but I did come to a realization while poking at the display. I think I have identified why the i-MiEV will not do well in the American market (and seriously, guys, this makes no one sadder than me, because it is still the cutest electric car I have ever seen).

The Cutest EV of 2011

On the outside, the i-MiEV looks great. It’s got the egg shape with the quizzical little headlights tilting forward, the tiny little grill at front looking like a happy cartoon mouth, and even the bigger bumpers actually look pretty decent in person. It looks like an actual car, not some kind of (admittedly adorable) toy.

One of the floor models had its hood up, and I have to give points to Mitsubishi for this. The vast majority of hybrid and electric cars we poked at had the hoods (and sometimes even the trunk) locked down tight. In stark contrast, the i-MiEV was just hanging out with its electric motor on display, as if to say, “Hey, look, electric cars aren’t scary or arcane at all. Come see how this works.” It was a display that encouraged all sorts of curiosity.

…But Not On the Inside

But then I opened the doors and got to poke around the inside of the car. It’s really easy to tell that it’s based on a kei car (the little tiny inexpensive ones with awesome gas mileage that come with the advantages of lower yearly taxes and fees but as a trade-off don’t go faster than maybe 60 mph with a stiff tailwind). And honestly, the inside of most kei cars do not really qualify as “nice.”

Don’t get me wrong – the Mitsubishi i and i-MiEV are perfectly serviceable little vehicles. They’ve got all the parts you need in the places you’d expect, they’ll go where you want, they’re super adorable and I would still drive either one into the ground. But when bringing the i-MiEV to an American market and charging upwards of $20,000 after the maximum tax credit has been applied… the consumer expects that the inside is actually going to look really nice.

And unfortunately, the inside of the i-MiEV looks and feels like a kei car. I don’t think the fact that it’s an electric car or the fantastic most-efficient-ever EPA rating will be able to overcome that impression. I am disappointed, Mitsubishi. For what it’s worth, the best impression I got from sitting in a battery electric car at the show was the Nissan Leaf. It was fabulous. And I wanted the i-MiEV to be fabulous, too, it just didn’t happen.

Questions? Opinions? Tell me I’m wrong or totally right? Let us know in the comments below the gallery.

Source | Images: 2012 Chicago Auto Show.

About the Author

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.
  • Agree 100% with this review, but I think I’d have used the word “crap” quite a bit more. With a sticker about half as scary as the one the i wore, Mazda’s 2 was in a different league. For about a third of the i’s asking price, the Nissan Versa was, again, a world ahead in terms of interior refinement.

    Th decline of Mistubishi, in other words, is NOT surprising. They should spend less money, methinks, promoting their cars in GT racing games, and more on making them feel “not like crap”, you know?

  • I drove the last week the european versión, Citroën C-Zero, for about a week, and the interior materials and equipment it´s simple, but not a crap. The plastics more or less its about the same on the Honda´s cars and the performance, well, its a 16 kWh battery, and you cant have miracles with that.

    European price now drop to 23.500 euros, 6.450 less than the Nissan Leaf, so now, its a good alternative with de diesel up to 1,5 euros the liter.

    • No, it’s crap. For the most part, Euro brands like Fiat, BMW, etc. upfit their cars with nicer trim for the US market because the US market tends to be less forgiving about interior materials quality, and if THIS is the best Mitsubishi can do, it is really no wonder why they’re nearly out of business.

  • Ziv

    This sounds totally natural. We are seeing the development of a spectrum of BEV’s/EREV’s that sees each car maker trying to find their own niche. GEM has their NEV, Mitsu has the iMIEV which is a kind of city car that wouldn’t be very safe at highway speeds even though they could do it, maybe. Then you have a roomy 5 seat BEV or a sporty 4 seat EREV in the LEAF or the Volt. Tesla nails the luxury sports sedan later this year and hopefully Kharma will be nailing the super luxe sports car later this year.
    As the battery prices continue to slowly drop and the electric intent parts drop in price, hopefully all of these vehicles will be steadily getting more inexpensive.
    I have two cars that I use for different purposes, and I could definitely see myself in one of the limited utility NEV’s or city cars for a few years. They look like a lot of fun to drive.

    • It’s not about the car being “expensive”, it’s about the interior being so cheap and crappy looking that cars with pricetags only 1/3 as much look like luxury yachts in comparison.

  • Tinapoli

    I think what some may be missing is that the first wave of electric cars will be more expensive than their gasoline counterparts. There is a cry for “less expensive” versions. i-Miev is less expensive. Part of the way they achieved a lower price is they didn’t pack the car with high end appointments. You want a more luxury EV, try a Volt, or a Focus, or a Leaf. But you’ll pay more. If you want luxury EV’s at an econobox price you’ll likely need to wait 5-10 years. Or buy one of the more expensive models used in 3 years when they come off lease.

  • You couldn’t be more wrong about Janeway being the best Star Trek Captain although you may be right about Mitsubishi’s misstep on the interior trimmings. On the other hand, the interior of a Mini I sat in a few years ago was really chintzy and they seem to be selling well. I saw my first MiEV a month ago and was taken aback by the narrow tires. They should make the tires fatter as well (which would mildly compromise mileage) and, ah, I realize this is a guy thing with potentially Freudian overtones ; )


    • I really have to simultaneously agree with you on the Mini, then point out that we sat in the Mini ($5000 less than the MiEV in top-spec Cooper S form, by the way) not 60 seconds later than the MiEV and it was WORLDS better. As nice as the Mazdas, VWs, etc.? Maybe just (and not as nice, frankly, as some of the top-shelf Kias and Hyundais) but really objectively nicer than the Mitus.

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  • Rich K

    $20k + for a car that goes 30/40 miles and dies on me? You folks are all chasing rainbows on this EV thing, or you got too much money to burn on a hobby car/toy. By a bicycle already.Oh wait, Im sure you have those already.
    Im waiting for my Mag-Lev car like George Jetson had and it will be just as practical as these $25k EV’s too.But it will fly,Weeee,,,,,

  • Larry Patty

    Electric cars are a waste of money. Neither electrics or hybrids get the mileage they claim and both are hideously expensive compared to regular cars.When I see either of these types of cars I can immediately form a judgement about the people driving them. With electrics it’s ” I an environmental advocate but I’m stupid because I think that the electricity used to power them is made from unicorn farts. I can’t get my head around the fact that most of the power that I put into them comes from that nasty smelly coal or even worse, that horrible nuclear power!!” With hybrids it’s “I am so smug that I think I am better than 99% of the population that I will drive this overpriced tinkertoy and that I will completely ignore the fact that there is no chance I will ever recoup the extra cost for this car in it’s lifetime and I am basically paying a prestige price, not reality.” A friend of my sister originally was going to buy a Prius and was shocked, shocked to find they would not give her any discounts. They saw her progressive bumper stickers and thought they had an easy mark. She finally wised up and got a Camry.

    • T Adkins

      Well I will give credit for now those cars are fairly over priced. Even with the current energy grid the pollution from power generation is cleaner than from automotive transportation. Coal now only make up about 48% of electricity in the US, nuclear is an amazingly clean form of energy certain government policies are in the way of making it cleaner and cheaper, nuclear in use to make electricity puts out no green house gases. 63% of our oil is imported which means 63 cent of every dollar paid for oil leaves this country, money paid for electricity which is made here for the most part stays in the US. If more people go the hybrid or the EV route they are saving the guy buy a ‘normal’ car money at the pump by either using less or none of the gas, helping to keep the price down.

      These are first gen EVs, they will get better and cheaper, just like high end TV’s have come down in price or computers or cell phones. As the grid get cleaner the EV car will become cleaner for the most part owning and operating an EV will cost less than a ‘normal’ car it is just getting past the buy price to get in the door that is higher. As gas price increases keep out pacing electric cost the EV just saves more and more.

      You can recoup the cost difference of the car in its lifetime but most likely you wont regain the cost in the 5 years that car companies want you to own a car for. As far as smugness well I have heard the stories of 3 or 4 hybrid owner(usually Hollywood actors) that are at a friends place and they want to go to dinner and then come back so instead of just taking 1 car they each take their own hybrid there and back, when they could do more if they would just carpool, even if they carpooled in an escalade it would do more than driving 4 separate hybrids.

  • Burt Taylor

    Those who would critisize the interior of this car have never sat in a brand new 1968 Plymouth RoadRunner with lust in their hearts. Those cars came with no carpet, minimal chrome inside or out hard bench seats and not even armrests. If it did not add to speed and power it was not put on that car. The only cute thing about it was its distinctive ‘meep meep’ horn.

  • geek49203

    Okay, so excuse me if I ask some obvious questions here.

    Let’s assume that I spend $20k for this thing, and it costs me NOTHING for electricity. For that I get an “adorable” car with a “crappy” interior that has all of the limitations of something the size of an enclosed golf cart. But hey, I look really “cool” and “environ-friendly” for chicks that dig guys that drive “cute” enviro cars.

    Then, let’s compare that to my hypothetical neighbor who buys a Jetta TDI off of a 2 year lease lot for $15k. My neighbor gets something that will do 150 mph, be warm / cool as desired, will seat 5 people, and survive an accident a lot better.

    At the end of the 3 years of ownership, even assuming I paid nothing for my electricity (I charged at work or something), do I break even with my neighbor when we both sell our cars?

    • T Adkins

      In 3 years of driving if your neighbor drive 40.000 mile putting just over 13,000 miles a year on the car and if he pays at least $3.50 per gallon for his diesel. With you free fuel vs him having to pay including the buying of the car yes just there you make out by about $500, this does not count him having to do normal maintenance on the Jetta like taking it in for at least 3 oil changes, new filters. You both might have to get new tires in 40k miles of driving, but the i-MiEV probably has you take it in once a year to look at it smack it on the butt and send it back out, i-MiEV will also get to use HOV lanes at all times, until they change that law/perk.

      In your favor tho is that if he does drive around at 150 or even 100 mph he will use more fuel meaning you would save more, that and not having to pay for his potential speeding tickets. Normally you would figure the guy buying the used car would end up doing better.

      But after 3 years and his car being around for 5 years the i-MiEV should hold up as a better used sale; unless newer and cheaper EVs with better interior and battery life and range and recharge times come around. Cars like the Leaf, i-MiEV, and Volt were not around 3 years ago but look at how the Prius really didnt change much until about just over 10 years of being on the market.

      • Larry Patty

        When did electricity become free?

        • T Adkins

          it was his hypothetical he charges at (steals it from) work. He could also install solar panels or have moved into a place that already had solar. He went with the work thing, I read somewhere charging an electric car works out to $3/day at the most. 5 days a week 52 weeks a year works out to $780 a year. Some companies have chargers in their lot and some businesses have them too.


          • Larry Patty

            It’s still not free. Somebody has to pay for it. Epic fail!

      • jdkchem

        So the i-MiEV has no moving parts that need service? The batteries will still be serviceable after 3 years or not have to be replaced prior to that? Then of course there is the limited range of the i-MiEV. In this case the guy buying the used car does end up doing better.

        • T Adkins

          EVs need a lot less service Tesla only asks you to bring in the car once a year to get looked at you need to replace tires as normal and you brakes last you twice as long, thet is pretty much the maintenance you have less than a tenth of the moving parts. The batteries are now meant to go 100,000 miles many companies will warranty the batteries for 7-10 years.

          His hypothetical didnt go over the range limits but if it just for a 50 mile round trip commute he should be fine if people can charge at work and home they can go farther even if they have to pay their employer to charge there.

          By they way I am not a fan and I personally dont like the i-MiEV it doesnt do enough for the price.

  • K

    Let’s cut to the chase here. Mitisi or anyone else is not going to produce an electric car to make money – the technology still isn’t mature and the infrastructure is not in place. They’re doing it to please the nasty little Mandarins who presently run western governments. Make it a law that all elected officials have to own and drive one of these to work every day and all this nonsense would end overnight.

  • Fast car

    @Jo. Why so angry? Don’t like don’t buy it. The cars got the best mpge in the us and is also the most affordable. It’ll take you through city and highway driving safely. Huge warranty for those concerned about longevity. As everyone has said. It fills a niche. I don’t think anyone expects it to outsell the versa, mini, Mazda 2, etc. But it does introduce people to an affordable alternative and for many will serve as a 2nd or 3rd car.

  • Alan

    People who write articles like this are like the clueless rich people we all used to laugh at. Remember Gilligan’s Island or Chatsworth Osborne’s mom…

    • jdkchem

      I haven’t stopped laughing at them.

    • T Adkins

      I like to think people who articles hear enjoy and want viable EV’s but still enjoy cars for being cars. They also know this car will sell less than it should because of the cost and the poor interior.


  • John

    President Obama should appoint an Automotive Interior Design Czar who could simply command that Mitsubishi build a better car. I mean, if you can dictate fuel efficiency, why not dictate other car aspects as well? That’s the government’s job, right? Right?

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