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2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)
2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV (Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail)

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Cheapest fully electric vehicle coming to Canada soon Add to ...

For a relatively tiny car company, Mitsubishi is forging ahead with an ambitious electrification plan that puts it close to the forefront of the burgeoning electric car movement.

Judging from the 2012 i-MiEV fully electric hatchback set to arrive in Canada in December, it’s clear the company does not have the disposable research or materials budgets that plug-in leaders GM and Nissan do to pour into this expensive area. But what it does offer is North America’s first “entry-level” EV: the least expensive fully electric vehicle, to start at about 25 grand after provincial rebates in Ontario and Quebec, where the bulk of initial Canadian EV sales are expected.

Twenty-five large, zero tailpipe emissions (or tailpipes), near zero driving noise and never having to care about the price of gas is an enticing proposition. Granted, this is the i-MiEV’s starting price after provincial tax rebates of $8,230 in Ontario, and $7,850 in Quebec, and before sales taxes and the $1,450 freight charge.

Consumers in other provinces are looking at a starting price of $32,998 for the (very) base car, or $35,998 once you include the highly desirable Premium package. The provincial governments of British Columbia and Manitoba are also very active in the electric vehicle sphere, and are both considering their own plug-in incentives, but nothing is official yet.

Then there’s the one big caveat: the i-MiEV will realistically only give you about 100 km worth of driving before it needs a long electricity fill-up. And the majority of my colleagues on this launch experienced a healthy dose of range anxiety, and that includes some Mitsu Canada folks, in a day’s worth of driving.

But first the cost question, since it is a key but complicated one with battery EVs. Whatever your province, the i-MiEV commands a hefty price premium compared to similar-sized subcompact gas-powered vehicles. Especially once potential buyers factor in a $2,000 or so home charger, which in Canada is a must-have for any BEV owner. Buyers in Quebec are also eligible for money back on their home charger installation, up to $1,000.

I’d argue the Premium package – which adds Bluetooth, USB, steering wheel stereo controls and a GPS system for $3,000 – is a must-have as well. The package’s large colour touch screen adds a much-needed high-tech touch to what is a painfully plain econo-car interior.

Where everyone will save money is in refuelling costs. Although the actual electricity rate you pay will depend on a multitude of factors (which province you live in, time of use rates in some areas), Canada averages about $0.10 per kilowatt-hour. Enter the U.S. government’s super handy and metric-friendly fueleconomy.gov site. It allows us to change the cost of fuel from their laughable $0.927/litre default to a more realistic for us $1.25 and $1.35/litre for regular and premium, respectively, and then compare it to our average electricity rate as well with the i-MiEV.

Using these figures, an i-MiEV would cost $447 to run 24,000 kilometres, about a year’s worth of driving for the average Canadian commuter, compared to $2,139 for the similarly sized subcompact Hyundai Accent hatchback. And against the best-selling car in Canada for the past 13 years, the also new Honda Civic? It would cost $2,205 to cover the same distance, or almost five times as much to fuel, using these approximate figures.

Mitsubishi and most industry watchers say the cost of maintenance will also be much lower, since the car doesn’t have many of the parts that need regular upkeep: engine oil, filter, spark plugs, transmission, exhaust system, fan belt – the list goes on and on. No estimate yet on how much less this could work out to, and we likely won’t know until owners start blogging about living with one, after deliveries set to start in early January.

But we do know that every i-MiEV will come with a large key fob that has three unique functions. Push a button, and it will tell the driver how much charge the battery contains. Hit another, and it will allow you to set when you’d like the i-MiEV to charge, taking advantage of cleaner and lower cost off-peak electricity, at least in parts of Ontario. It’s a basic and bulky tool, ironically performing very advanced functions.

Driving the i-MiEV is like getting a 70 grand discount on a very small but pricey luxury car – without the classy ambience or soothing seats.

Like hybrids and its main EV rival, the Nissan Leaf, it’s eerily silent at low speeds. So much so that it will have a pedestrian warning system meant to prevent folks from stepping into its path, although nobody in our group could hear the system working, either inside or outside the car.

But the Leaf’s much more comfortable, roomy and futuristic interior also includes near-luxury niceties that help justify its three to six grand higher price: heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a standard navi system and its Carwings telematics system. This system allows one to perform all the functions of the i-MiEV’s bulky key fob, but from any smartphone or online computer.

Mitsubishi says the i-MiEV can travel up to 155 km (98 miles) on a single charge, though as my colleagues found out, it’s better to stick to the EPA’s “real-world” figure of 100 km. For us, we had plenty of electricity left after a couple top-ups, cruising into the hotel with just under half a “tank” of charge. But for others, waylaid by a traffic tie-up and sent on a circuitous route back by the GPS, at least two colleagues pulled in with a flashing low energy light, very thankful to have made it.

It’s the public’s acceptance or refusal of this shorter range and constant charging that will determine the future of BEVs, a path influenced largely by the costs and potential overall savings of doing so. Yes, doing something responsible for the environment will count greatly for many, if not most, early adopters. And the i-MiEV represents the funkiest-looking, lowest-cost way (so far) into the brave new world of gasoline-less driving.

2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV

Tech specs

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Type: Subcompact, four-seat battery electric vehicle (BEV)

Base price: $32,998; as tested, $35,998 (before provincial $8,230 rebate in Ontario, $7,850 in Quebec)

Engine: none; 16 kWh lithium-ion battery

Horsepower/torque: 66 hp/145 lb-ft

Transmission: direct drive

Drive: Rear-wheel

Range: up to 155 km, real-world EPA figure of 100 km

Charge time from empty: 22 hours using standard 120V outlet; 7 hours with a 240V charger

Alternatives: Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius plug-in, Ford Focus EV (launching 2012)

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