One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society released a study in March that I thought sounded silly. "Understanding the Impact of Electric Vehicle Driving Experience on Range Anxiety" argued that consumers are still afraid of acquiring EVs because of the fear of becoming stranded with an empty battery. I figured the advancements in EV technology, including some models' on-board indicators of mileage remaining on the charge and locations of an ever-growing number of charging stations, would have stamped out the range anxiety cited in the report by "the world's largest scientific association for human factors/ergonomics professionals."
But I must confess that when I recall my recent week with a 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, I start getting the range-anxiety shakes.
That's a shame, because I had sorta convinced myself that my first fully electric car would be a Mitsubishi after checking out all (and test driving some) of the various car companies' vehicles at last September's EV Fest in Huntington Beach.
And before that I had experienced an extended test drive of a Mitsubishi EV. While it's not the electric car I would purchase if I won the lottery (I still haven't been behind the wheel of a Tesla!), it would adequately meet my current requirement of having a ride that starts at a low, low price and can handle a very short commute.
When the 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV rolled up into my driveway, I had visions of the cute little blue, five-door hatchback confirming my purchasing plans. It had a gauge that looked like a fuel gauge on a petrol-powered vehicle, only the bars surrounding the "pump" illustration did not show how much gasoline was in the tank but how much of a charge was on the main-drive lithium battery. (There is also a standard battery to start the car and run the audio system, windshield wiper and supplemental restraints.)
Written materials that came with the car indicated it would go 62 miles on a full charge. Three-quarters of a full charge were shown by the gauge's bars when I got the ride. Surely it's first trip from my home in north Costa Mesa to the Orange County Coastkeeper Garden next to Santiago Canyon College in Orange would be a snap. It's about 30 miles roundtrip.
I sensed something was wrong when I got off the 55 freeway at Chapman Avenue. Several of those charge bars had disappeared. Then, driving up the hills in east Orange it was as if every time I looked at the gauge, another bar had vanished. Mercy.
It was at three bars when I parked next to the garden, where I'd gone to catch an informative lecture on growing strawberries. (Penance for having killed a ceramic pot full last growing season.) Afterward, I started up the i-MiEV and it was now down to two stinking bars, although coasting downhill it went back and forth between two and three bars.
It's unsettling when the gauge gets down to two bars because each bar and the fuel pump illo begin flashing at that point, as if to say, "Hey, yo-yo, momma needs juice." I pulled over to acquaint myself with all the quick charge stations between the 55 at Chapman and my home and was delighted to learn there are multiple EV stops along the way.
All the bars disappeared somewhere in greater Santa Ana and the flashing pump was joined by a light shaped like a yellow turtle, which informs the driver power is being conserved by keeping your speed down and cutting juice suckers like the air conditioner. I white-knuckled it all the way to my garage, where I dutifully took the charger out of the back hatch area, plugged into a standard 120v household outlet and stuck the nozzle into passenger-side port.
Then I did what I should have done before taking off for Orange: read the owner's manual. I discovered at 120v I could set the charger at a quicker pace to get a full charge in 14 hours but that it was better on an empty (or near-empty) battery like this that I had chosen the longer, 22-hour trickle option.
You can also use a special 220v commercial or household charger (sold separately) and get to full charge within six hours. If I'd gone to one of those quick-charge stations I scoped out, it would take about a half hour to reach an 80 percent charge.
I also discovered in the manual that you should never "top off" a charge, and that high acceleration, a heavy payload, windy or wet driving conditions, running the heater or air conditioner and driving uphill or on a highway can lower your range. And increase my anxiety, obviously.
City driving is better, as is shifting into "E" for power-saving eco-driving rather than "D" for drive. I avoided the other option "B" heading up those hills mistakenly thinking it stood for "boost." Actually, it's for drawing more battery life from braking, which is what I really should have done driving downhill to stave off disappearing charge bars.
The flashing pump and yellow turtle were thus chocked up to the highway, hills, lack of "B" driving and, this being late winter/early spring in SoCal, the running of the A/C. (A curse on those thinking I represent a heavy payload.)
At least, those were the reasons I figured until the next time I set off on a full charge, first for the completely flat, six-mile roundtrip to my office near the airport and then to central Westminster, 8.8 miles away. On the way back home, at about the same distance from my garage as on the Orange trip, all the bars disappeared again and the yellow turtle came roaring back.
I wound up charging the car again completely and never driving it again, leaving it in my driveway so the poor fellow from the drop-off service would have enough juice to get it back to his lot when my test period was over.
Perhaps Mitsubishi deserves the benefit of the doubt. It does say in the manual that over-relying on quick charges versus slow trickle charges can harm the performance of the lithium battery. It could be previous drivers did just that.
By the way, I could never get the hang of the remote system on mine, but there is a way to automatically time the length of your charging and pre-activate the A/C so the car will be cool once you climb in.
Last month, the 2016 i-MiEV arrived at American dealerships. They remain the most-affordable EV with a starting MSRP of only $22,995. (My 2014 model and options had the same MSRP, or $23,685 with destination/handling charge.) Keep in mind there is a federal tax credit of $7,500, so the net starting MSRP would be reduced to $15,495.
Like the 2016 model, the 2014 I drove came with heated driver and front passenger seats and remote keyless entry. These also were not on my test car but are available additionally on the 2016s: an MMCS navigation system with 7-in. touchscreen display, real-time traffic, 3D mapping and Mapcare, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, USB port and rear view camera.
Mitsubishi includes a fully-transferable 8-year/100,000-mile limited warranty for the lithium-ion main drive battery pack and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.
No mention of picking up the cost of range-anxiety therapy, though.
2014 I-MiEV ES 5-DOOR HATCHBACK AQUA MARINE BLUE METALLIC/BLACK
AC Synchronous Motor 1 Speed Transmission 50-State Emission Standard - Low-Emission Vehicle
Mechanical Features -100% Electric, No Gas Required, Zero Tailpipe Emission Vehicle -Electronic power steering -Single speed, fixed reduction gear transmission -Real-Wheel Drive -120V portable 8 /12 amp switchable charging cable -On-board battery charging system with Level 1 120V, Level 2 240V charge port -Level 3 DC quick charge port -iMiEV remote system (pre-activated air conditioning and timer charging) -iMiEV shift selector (Drive, Eco, Brake) Modes -Regenerative braking system -Battery warning system -Charge Port Lamp -Center instrument display
Exterior Features -Auto on/off headlight control -Halogen projection headlights -Halogen fog lights with daytime running lights (DRL) function -Body-color outdoor door handles -Body-color power sideview mirrors -Side fender running lights -Front and rear window intermittent wipers -Electric rear window defroster with timer -Rear LED combination tail lights -Roof-mounted radio antenna -Heated outer mirrors -Black door sash trim -15" Aluminum alloy wheels
Interior Features -4-passenger seating capacity -6-way manual adjustable driver's seat -4-way manual adjustable front-passenger's seat -Leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob -Heated front seats -50/50 split fold-down and recline back seats -Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob -Matte black audio and shift panels -Silver interior accents -Front and rear adjustable headrests -Carpeted floor mats
Convenience Features -Electric air conditioner with pollen filter -100-watt, AM/FM/CD/MP3-compatible audio system with 6 speakers -Electric cabin heater -Driver and front passenger visor vanity mirrors -Power windows with driver one-touch auto-down feature -Height-adjustable front shoulder-belt anchors -Remote keyless entry with panic feature -12-volt power outlet -Front map lights -Rear dome light -Retractable assist grips (x4) -Front cup holders -Front-door storage pockets
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Safety and Security -Advanced dual-stage front air bags -Front seat-mounted side airbags -Side curtain airbags -Active Stability Control with Traction Control Logic -3-point seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters -LATCH System (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) -RISE Chassis construction with front and rear crumple zones -Tire pressure Monitoring System -High voltage cut-off system -Acoustic Vehicle Alert System -Vehicle Immobilizer System -Vehicle Security System -Low battery warning indicator
EPA/DOT Fuel Economy and Environment -112 MPGe (Subcompact cars range from 15 to 119 MPGe) -City 126 / Highway 99 / kW-hrs per 100 miles: 30 -You save $8,750 in fuel costs over five years (compared to average new vehicles) -Annual fuel cost: $550 -Fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating 1-10 (10 being best): 10 -Smog rating 1-10 (10 being best): 10