We take a look at the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive and Mitsubishi i-MiEV in the final part of our two-part series examining the electric vehicles on AJAC’s Brighton-to-London EcoRun.
The second part of our AJAC EcoRun EV Special involves two cars that are less like “cars that became electric” and more like “cars that were born to be electric”. Even the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive–which is based on a platform that started out as a diesel or petrol-powered city car–seems like a car that should have been electric from the start, perhaps more so than the rest of the EVs featured in the event (other than, perhaps, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV).
The previous three cars, on the other hand—the Volt, Leaf and Focus Electric—are cars that, on the surface, are just a little more down-to-earth. Of course, both the Leaf and Volt were designed from the ground up to be EVs, but thanks to their size, seating for four or five and other amenities, their scope is a little broader than simply working as vehicles for trips around the inner city.
After each summary of our driving experiences, look for the stats compiled by Natural Resources Canada determining both the power economy of each car. The numbers are presented in a similar way to those used to govern fuel economy (litres per 100 kilometers), with 8.9 kilowatt-hours representing one litre of gasoline. So, like gasoline-powered cars, the lower the figure, the better.
Click past the jump for our driving impressions of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive and Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
Smart ForTwo Electric Drive
This is a model that really should have started life as an EV. It’s got all the right ingredients, like a futuristic pod-like shape, a short wheelbase that makes navigating busy city streets a breeze and overall tiny proportions. Sure, the Electric Drive can’t go any faster than an alleged 120 kilometers-an-hour or so (and you’ll need nothing short of a runway for that), but who cares? You’re in the city and you need efficiency.
The car we tried was a pre-production model (as a result, NRCan has no figures on it), but what you see is pretty much what you’re going to get when it begins to hits dealerships. Short of a slight facelift that reflects that which is going on across the board at Smart for 2013, it’s pretty much a spitting image of what you see here.
However, the way in which the Smart transmits info to you with regard to charge level and so forth, is actually a little more old-school than what we saw from the EV Part 1 cars. No digital readouts here; instead, it’s got two analogue gauges mounted atop the dash for your power level and state-of-charge. They’re a little small, but everything in the Smart is so close together that they aren’t all that hard to read. They do, however, allude to the car being based on an older platform.
One thing the Electric Drive doesn’t have that all other Smarts do is a transmission of any kind. Which, if you ask me, is not a bad thing because the autos found in most Smarts are not the easiest or most intuitive examples out there. Instead, you have all your torque available from 0 r.p.m., which meant little squirts in-and-out of city traffic come off without a hitch. Powering the Smart is a 15.6 kilowatt-hour battery of the lithium-ion variety, which is nice and light and doesn’t’ take up too much room in the already tight Smart.
As far as energy consumption goes Smart is claiming 140 kilometers on a single charge, and over ten clicks in the city we used 80 per-cent of battery life, which is close to what Smart is claiming.
It’s also one of the buzzier cars here, but that could be something that changes as the car begins to hit dealerships.
Aside from its slightly dated looks (which is entirely fair, because Smarts have always looked the same, and they’re so recognizable that people probably are willing to look past the fact they haven’t’ really changed in 14 years), the Smart Electric is an ideal application of this tech. You don’t get the hauling, don’t get the space of the Part 1 cars but it can be fully charged within three hours according to Smart, is small and probably could be parked perpendicular to the curb if it were legal. What more do you really need from your city car?
Well, this, perhaps.
The i-MiEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) is born-and-bred as an electric, and it has the futuristic styling to back it up. The rims (there’s only one style choice), the globular headlights, the vertical (at rest) passenger-side windshield wiper and the way the passenger compartment seems separated from the rest of the car thanks to the curved door surround are all very “look-at-me” and very futuristic. In fact, of all the cars on EcoRun, this is probably the one that best embodies what I always thought cars of the future would look like. Plus it has the added benefit of a five-door configuration and seating for four, even though the seats—front and back—aren’t the most comfortable items.
Inside, it’s a little more contemporary—the climate control dials, info screen and even the steering wheel all look like they were sourced directly from the Mitsubishi parts bin—the same one used for an RVR or Lancer. Of course, this is understandable as this is a production model (they’ve sold 91 since its inception ion November of 2011) so we can’t expect to see a whole array of special controls just because it’s an electric car. However, this is slightly troubling; Mitus aren’t exatly known for the quality of their interior materials, and it’s no different here. Expect plastic. Lots of plastic.
What you won’t see in any other Mitsus is the gauge cluster found in the i-MiEV (“eye-meev”). Like the Smart, Mitsubishi engineers have gone the analogue route with the main display, although you get a nice, big digital speed readout right at the center of the main power gauge. Similar to what we saw in the Leaf, you have a single band with “Charge, “Eco” and “Power” inscribed upon it. And like the Smart, when the needle is within the “Charge” area, chances are you’re either coasting or braking and the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery is getting juiced. This is where you want to try and keep the needle (which is not hard, assuming you’re in the city and not running at highway speeds).
Like Nissan with the Leaf, Mitsubishi had a representative ride along with us throughout the event, whose job it was to gently nudge us if we were driving a little faster, or a little more aggressively than what was most efficient. It was also good that they had someone on hand to help us explain the transmission system of the i-MiEV.
You also get three forward drive-gears in the i-MiEV: “D”, “E” (can you guess what that stands for?) and “B”. The last one is the least obvious of the three; “B” stands for “brake”, meaning you get the highest rate of regenerative braking when this is selected. I’m serious when I say that when you release the throttle, the sensation as forward progress is curbed is not unlike inputting a larger-than-normal amount of brake force in a car, even though you’re not touching the brake at all.
You power level, meanwhile, can either be monitored by the info screen or by a power gauge mounted within the instrument cluster. It looks pretty much exactly like a gas gauge in a normal car, right down to the gas pump icon, here with a power cord attached to it instead of a fuel nozzle.
“D” and “B” give you full throttle response, meaning that as soon as you hit the “go” pedal, you’re off without a hitch. “E”, on the other hand, only gives you a maximum of 80 per cent throttle so when you’re dawdling along at city speeds, you get the best bang for your buck. This is the mode we stayed in throughout our test; you don’t get the extreme drag found in “B” mode (which should really only be used when descending steep hills), and the power usage of “D” mode.
Another neat feature included with the i-MiEV is the key fob which, much more than simply unlocking and locking the doors, actually lets you monitor your power level, or decide when to start charging the car. It’s a nice feature, but I wonder if the decision to go with an iPhone app à la Nissan Leaf and Focus Electric would have been a better way to go. It’s just more in keeping with both the “less is more” approach (fewer parts, less power, fewer emissions et cetera) and “connectivity” themes so prominent in this new electric world.
Still, with a range of 155 kilometers when driven gingerly and without relying too heavily on climate control for your comfort needs, the i-MiEV is a good start for those that are ready to take the EV plunge. Add in that the Mitsu had the lowest kilowatt-hour usage according to NRCan at 1.9 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometers (!) in the city, and 2.4 on the highway, and you can make quite a compelling case for the futuristic i-MiEV.