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I-MiEV electric car has decent output

By Graeme Fletcher, Postmedia News October 14, 2011

Electric vehicles have been slow to make inroads into the mainstream market for a number of reasons, the main one being range anxiety. Heading into the test of the Mitsubishi iMiEV, which arrives in dealerships in November, I half expected to run headlong into most if not all of these reasons. It was not as expected.

Certainly, the car has its limitations, but they stop well short of being described as hangups.

The i-MiEV — or Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle — is based on Mitsubishi’s i car, a diminutive sled that’s just 3,395 millimetres long. The Canadian version has been widened by 110 mm when compared with the Japanese model, which adds some needed elbow room. The transformation from i to i-MiEV begins by ditching the fuel tank, engine and transmission and installing the electric powertrain.

In this case, the main 16kWh lithium ion battery is housed beneath the vehicle, where it is protected in the event of a crash. It can be charged one of three ways: Using a 110-volt outlet requires a lengthy 22.5 hours to fully recharge a depleted battery. A 220-volt outlet cuts the time to a more realistic seven hours. The third method uses a DC fast-charger, which instills an 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes.

This last method is not yet readily available, although there is a fast-charger located on Portland’s Electric Avenue.

The electric motor and power electronics are located at the back of the car beneath the trunk floor. The location means the i-MiEV retains its utility, offering 13.2 cubic feet of space with the seats up and 50.5 cu. ft. with them folded flat.

After cranking the i-MiEV to life, little seemed to happen. Only a smallgreen Ready symbol told me the car was primed for action. Shift into Drive and the sound of silence ushers the car off the line with surprising alacrity. True, the 66 horsepower and 145 poundfeet of torque the electric motor generates don’t look like much on paper, but, as the motor develops peak torque from Rev One, the i-MiEV picks up its little side sills and runs to 100 kilometres an hour in about 10 seconds.

It’s far from fast, but the performance is more than enough to handle the cut and thrust of an urban commute. Mitsubishi claims it has a 155-kilometre driving range with a fully charged battery.

The i-MiEV has three driving modes — Drive, Eco and Brake. The regular mode is Drive. It brings the best balance between performance and the aggressiveness of the regenerative braking that tops up the battery whenever the driver begins to slow or brake. Brake mode offers the same level of performance, but it ramps up the level of regenerative braking to the point where it can be used to bring the car to a halt. This action also recharges the battery faster.

The Eco mode softens both aspects to the point where it will likely see little use.

As for the rest of it, the i-MiEV holds its own very nicely when driven in a normal manner. The ride is comfortable and there’s little in the way of body roll. Likewise, the electric steering is light and precise at slow speeds and it firms up nicely as speeds rise. Push too hard, however, and the i-MiEV will slip into understeer because of a lack of mass up front.

Aside from a couple of reservoirs and the master cylinder, there is very little under the hood.

The test drive was broken up into several short runs between points of interest. The run to the final stop of the afternoon took us up a long, steep hill to a magnificent vista point. The drive back to Portland called for a reversal of this route. However, my driving partner and I decided to take a different route past several spectacular waterfalls.

Unfortunately, this doubled the length of the drive. We left with an 80 per cent charge and a 75-km highway drive ahead. Unfortunately, highway driving is all take with virtually no give from regenerative braking.

With about 10 km to go to our destination, the fuel gauge (a stylized gas pump with a plug instead of a nozzle at the end of the hose) began to flash with an alarming urgency.

The good news was that the end of the drive meandered through downtown Portland, so there was ample brake regeneration to stretch the range. Mercifully, we made it back to the hotel without the need for one of us to get out and push. The reality was that there was probably 15 km or more left in the battery with the regenerative braking doing its thing, but range anxiety caused by the flashing gauge proved to be very real.

The lesson learned was profound — the i-MiEV is ideally suited for whirring about town, but it’s not very well suited to an extended highway run. As with all electric-only rides, this may limit its appeal, but it did not diminish the fact that the i-MiEV is a viable mode of urban transportation.

Mitsubishi would like to sell 1,000 units in the first year — ambitious but not out of sight. The i-MiEV will be priced at $32,998. The Premium pack ($3,000) adds, among other things, a 360-watt sound system and a navigation system with a backup camera.

The i-MiEV’s pricing has to be tempered by the incentives offered in Ontario (up to $8,500) and Quebec ($7,900). In Ontario, it qualifies for a rebate of $8,230. In somewhat of an ironic twist, Ontario’s rebate program rewards those electric vehicles that consume more electricity during the act of charging — the Nissan Leaf and its larger battery (but similar driving range) is the only car to get the full rebate so far.

Go figure.

Enviro footprint of an electric vehicle is driven by a country’s power sources

How much of an environmental footprint the electric car leaves in its wake very much depends on the source of electricity. In Norway, an electric car would leave a significantly smaller environmental footprint than its gasoline-powered counterpart because 99 per cent of the power is hydroelectric.

In Canada, it is pretty much a wash because of the blend of power sources (hydro-electric, nuclear and coal). In China, however, the electric car would leave a much larger environmental footprint on a life cycle basis than its gasoline-powered cousin because the bulk of the country’s electricity (77 per cent) is produced by coal-fired generation. Without clean electricity, the electric car is less than the cleaner and greener ride so many suggest.

Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post


Date posted: October 14, 2011

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