After a presentation by Mitsubishi Australia staff I had a brief test drive of the i MiEV electric car. The car lived up to the claims made by Mitsubishi Australia CEO and President , Robert McEniry that it was a production car, not a prototype. The car has two very roomy seats at the front and a slightly cramped, but usable two seat bench at the back. There is a usable load space accessed via the back hatch. This is a car I could drive around the city every day (but could not drive intercity).
The car has key less "ignition": you turn what looks like a normal knob on the steering column to get the car ready to go. Then you move what looks like an automatic floor shift from P to D and press the accelerator. The difference to a petrol car is that there is no engine noise when the car is stationary. There is also almost no perceptible engine noise when the car is moving. When you take your foot off the accelerator the car slows down slightly with some regenerative breaking. There is a "B" setting on the floor shift to simulate the engine breaking of a manual car. In other respects this looks and drives like a small four door hatchback car.
I was surprised by the low technology instrument panel used. I was expecting a flat screen display like the Toyota Prius. Instead there is a large digital speedometer set in the middle of a very large economy dial gauge showing energy use. The emphasis seems to on making the car look normal.
Overall this is a usable little car, comparable to my Daihatsu Sirion and other little cars, such as the Hyundai i10 and Suzuki Alto. However, such cars, with petrol engines of about 1 litre will cost around $15,000, or less, in Australia. The i MiEV will probably cost more than twice as much. Until the batteries can be mass produced at low cost, the electric car will be prohibitively expensive. In the interim it will make more sense, environmentally and financially, to use a smaller battery in a hybrid car.