Mitsubishi iMiev Test Drive

iMiev in the Basement

After a couple manufacturers pulled out of the 2009 Detroit Auto Show at the last minute and the floorplan was rejiggered, there was a large, empty space leftover in the basement of the Cobo Center. What to do with it? I know! Let’s bring in trees, tulips, and shrubberies, and have alternative-fuel vehicles available for test drives!

And so I found myself in line late in the afternoon, waiting to drive the Mitsubishi iMiev. Mitsu didn’t have a booth at the show, so I didn’t think I’d get to see this little EV in person. I was happy to be wrong. It was one of the most popular vehicles to test at the show, as most of the other vehicles were new hybrid models like the Cadillac Escalade. We’ve all driven a hybrid by now, right? Journalists are so jaded.

I lugged my press-kit-filled tote bag to the driver’s side, only to find it wasn’t the driver’s side. The car isn’t manufacturered for use in the States, so it’s right-hand-drive, Japan-style. Luckily, the car is tiny, so I didn’t have far to walk to correct my mistake. Mitsubishi PR guy Moe took the passenger seat to ride along with me and answer my questions. Moe is a fairly tall guy, and he didn’t look too uncomfortable inside the car. I’m only 5′ 4″, and I fit behind the wheel just fine.

We tootled about the smooth cement track for three or four laps. Moe pointed out that there is an Economy mode that slows the starts and is 13% more efficient than regular Drive, and a Boost mode for getting up hills that makes use of regenerated braking power. The little iMiev isn’t fast by anyone’s standards, but it was hard to gauge its usefulness in the real world when I was confined to 700 feet of basement track and a maximum 10 mph.

Moe said the iMiev project started in 2004, and that a fleet of the cars is being tested worldwide, with the U.S. being a proving ground for cold-weather use. He said he’s driven the iMiev on the highway without fearing for his life or being blown all over the road. The batteries help give the little car some weight, he said; he found the gasoline-powered version of the car scarier than the EV on the highway.

The interior was pretty Spartan, with few bells and whistles. But the rear seats can fold down for extra cargo space, which is nice as long as whatever you’re loading in the back is large and airy, like, say, a balloon bouquet. Anything heavier is going to have a noticeable effect on the little motor’s get-up-and-go.

Image by me. Moe is in the passenger seat on the far side of the car.

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