Last week I asked which driver has won the German GP six
times? The answer was not one of the present day overpaid auto-jockeys, but
Rudolf Caracciola in the Mercedes-Benz at the old, and feared, Nurburgring
circuit. Regular contestant Ivar Hoylem was first in and correct.
So to this week. The US GP of a few years back started with
six cars only and was a farce. However the 24 Hours of Le Mans started one year
with only 17 cars. What year was that?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct
answer to email [email protected]
Domestic electrics just around
Mitsubishi are well on the way to offering one of the first
‘all electric’ small cars on city streets. Whilst still not slotted for release
in Thailand, it is going to be available in Australian showrooms later this
Small cars generally come with small engines, but the i-MiEV
replaces the mid-mounted petrol engine found in the Japan-only Mitsubishi ‘i’
upon which it’s based with a 47 kW/180 Nm electric motor that drives the rear
wheels and is powered by a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat
and boot floor.
Those who have driven production models of the i-MiEV noted
that in the 1080kg i-car, the result is instant throttle response and brisk
acceleration from just about any speed, making the i-MiEV more satisfying – at
least in a straight line – to drive than most other small cars.
In ‘Brake’ mode , delivers both maximum performance and
maximum ‘engine’ braking with enough retardation to make braking unnecessary if
you read the traffic right, while also maximizing energy regeneration.
It has an electronically limited top speed of 130 km/h (Mitsubishi
says it would otherwise do 160 km/h), and Mitsubishi’s all-electric pioneer is
also suitable for short freeway runs.
Go Auto in Australia drove a production i-MiEV exclusively
within the city of Brisbane , and reported that unlike nearly anything else on
the road, the i-MiEV makes only wind and tyre noise, and a seamless wall of
readily accessible torque from any speed in almost complete silence.
Truth be told, the i-MiEV’s eerie silence went barely
unnoticed within the bustle of even Brisbane’s city streets, where streams of
noisy traffic reduced the ground-breaking Japanese hatch to being just another
small car on its way to somewhere else.
Coupled to solar panels at home, however, there’s no reason
i-MiEV owners can’t be fully self-sufficient in terms of their automotive energy
consumption by using power free from the sun.
Unlike their Japanese counterparts, individual Australian i-MiEV
owners will not have a fast-charge option, which can deliver an 80 percent
charge in 30 minutes by connecting a different cable between a 200-volt or three-phase
power outlet and an inlet port in the left-rear of the car – rather than the
right side for regular charging.
However, Mitsubishi says none of this is a problem because
fast-charge stations are expected to eventually be installed at many office,
residential and shopping locations, and a full range of up to 160 km should
easily accommodate most city dwellers on any given day. Like mobile phones,
Mitsubishi expects EVs will most likely be charged overnight. The trickle-charge
rate is expected to be just seven hours.
While a digital battery charge meter takes the place of a
traditional fuel gauge and a large central power consumption gauge replaces a
speedometer, the i-MiEV features keyless ‘starting’ like many other models these
days. Simply turn the dummy key on the steering column and the ‘ready’ light
illuminates on the instrument panel to advise the car is ready to drive – just
like the Toyota Prius.
The i-MiEV complies with the Japanese kei-car regulations,
including a total length of less than 3400 mm and width of 1600 mm. That makes
the i-MiEV almost as small as a Smart, and smaller than top-selling B-segment
cars like Toyota Yaris, the Mazda2, Hyundai Getz and Ford Fiesta.
Naturally, space is therefore limited in the i-MiEV, which
appears even smaller in the metal than you’d expect but compensates somewhat for
its tight elbow room, upright seats and cramped rear legroom with a tall roof
that gives decent headroom.
There’s no getting away from the i-car’s utilitarian roots as
an affordable Japanese runabout, however. Hard plastic surfaces abound in the
funky but functional interior and the hard seats offer limited adjustment up
front, even if there is a modicum of luggage space behind the rear seats.
Like any car with a wheelbase this short and wheel tracks
this narrow, fore-aft pitching is brutally apparent over pavement joints you’d
never notice in a larger vehicle.
The i-MiEV’s steering is best described as wooden and,
despite a refreshingly firm suspension set-up that returns minimal bodyroll, the
tall seating position and high perceived centre of gravity do not inspire the
confidence to test its cornering grip.
Looking at the i-MiEV as a proposed city car, the projected
initial price of up to $70,000 puts it in the same bracket a BMW 320d, and is
therefore likely only to attract well-heeled early-adopters that want to
broadcast their environmental conscientiousness.
Since the (high) cost of electric vehicles is inextricably
linked with the price of batteries, which in turn is dictated primarily by
production volumes, the price of the i-MiEV and a host of other imminent new EVs
will eventually come down.
In the same way prices of plasma-screen TVs have plunged in
just a few years, Mitsubishi expects the i-MiEV to cost less than a Prius by the
time it’s widely available.
Mitsubishi says that although it also shares its basic
architecture with the petrol-powered i-car, the i-MiEV is the product of a 10
year development program and is built in the factory from the ground up as an
electric vehicle, rather than being created in an aftermarket conversion.
With an influx of other EVs from Japan and China – and the
plug-in Volt hybrid from GM, the i-MiEV’s success could well hinge on how soon
it hits local showrooms. Mitsubishi is betting against global demand to make
that happen sooner or later, and hopes the i-MiEV will become to EV what the
Prius is to hybrid.
Of course, the i-MiEV is far from perfect and will never
replace petrol or diesel power as a means of long-distance travel, let alone for
traversing vast, rugged continents like Australia.
However, given the refreshingly crisp performance on offer in
a vehicle that is bound by Japanese kei-car regulations, which include limits on
vehicle size and power, the i-MiEV is a tantalizing taste of larger, more
powerful and eminently more versatile EVs to come.