Electric-powered cars are now upon us, and more are scheduled to go on sale in the coming years. They all promise gas-free driving and the comforts of a conventional car. The issue so far for many potential buyers has been the price, with sticker shock setting in when people start looking at the numbers.
The Nissan Leaf is an EV in its purest form (no engine at all), and has a base price of just over $35,000. The Chevrolet Volt, which enjoys the benefits of having an engine to generate power when the battery pack is depleted, starts at $39,145. And the new Ford Focus EV, which is supposedly “on sale” but isn’t available in significant numbers yet, starts at $39,200.
Yes, there’s a federal tax credit of $7,500 right now for buying any of these, but even with that, it’s hard to get into an electric car for under $30,000, and most will end up costing well over. EV’s are new technology and use costly battery systems, so they’re expensive to build and thus expensive to buy.
But Mitsubishi is offering up a new, more affordable electric car called simply the “i.” Its base price is $29,125, so after the tax credit we’re talking under $22,000. For those who feel that the other electric car choices are just too pricey, this could be a more affordable solution.
The i looks funny and is somewhat small. It’s narrow, has a curved roofline, and the wheels seem dinky by today’s standards. But it is a real car with all the features real cars have, and can drive anywhere you like, even on the freeway.
You can drive anywhere you like, that is, so long as you’re just sticking to a city-type commute or driving loop. Mitsubishi and the EPA estimate that the i can go 62 miles on a full charge in mixed driving, with an “urban” estimate of up to 98 miles, though I found that second number kind of laughable in my brief experience with the car.
Like all electric vehicles, the i uses its battery pack to not only propel the car, but obviously to power all the accessories too. When the i was delivered to me via a truck, the range indicator showed 61 miles, with the battery gauge reading a full “tank” the way a fuel gauge does on a conventional car.
But as soon as I started driving, the number began dropping, not necessarily in relation to how many miles I was actually traveling. By the time I’d gone six or so miles, I’d lost ten on the range indicator. (And no, I was not mashing the throttle at every green light.)
The next day, after getting the indicator down to about 40 miles remaining, I gave the car a long charge-up with the supplied 120 volt power cord, which can be used in any standard electrical outlet. If your battery is fully depleted, it’ll take 22 hours to top it back up. (With the optional 240 volt home charger you can do it in seven hours.) My five-and-a-half-mile trip home then took the range from 70 to 60, according to the indicator.
The next day I set out on a pre-dawn jaunt to the fitness club. Since it was cold outside and the windows had moisture on them, I cranked up the heater/defroster, the rear window defroster, and obviously had the headlights on. The range indicator went from 60 miles to 38 in an instant. Obviously you wouldn’t run all those accessories continuously here in mild SoCal, but that showed how much you can affect the battery range by wanting to use it like a regular car.
Besides the limited range (the Nissan Leaf does much better), this is also an economy car through-and-through. Its interior is a bit cramped, the seats aren’t too comfortable, and it’s very plasticky everywhere you look and touch.
But that’s what you get when you want a basic electric car for as little money as possible. It’s not a bad car, and would make a good short-distance commuter. Cheap to run (about $550 per year for juice, says the EPA), plus easy to park and maneuver. It’s a fine little urban vehicle. Just don’t plan to go too far, especially if you start using those accessories.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave