The iMiev looks just like the three-cylinder, 600-cc, rear-drive Mitsubishi i that’s already on sale in Japan. But insteaad of a gasoline internal combustion engine, this little guy gets a 47-kW electric motor driving the rear wheels and a 330-volt lithium-ion battery pack (manufactured jointly with GS Yuasa). Mitsu says this urban-oriented ride gets about 85 miles on a charge traveling at 55 mph; max speed is 80 mph.

We sampled the iMiev through the streets of Greenwich Village and found it a refreshing experience: The tiny Mitsu sneaks through traffic snarls so easily, it’s almost like cheating. And there’s plenty of low-end torque to scoot around pesky cabbies, too. The power builds nicely once you’re up to 35 or 40 mph, and passing power in that range is just about as good as a four-cylinder family sedan.
Stab the throttle, and the rear of the car dips slightly under the torque, which is much more satisfying than the torque steer of a front-drive EV. Shift into “eco” mode, and the power is cut in half for better economy. But under most circumstances, we hardly noticed the lack of power. 

Most impressive of all is that Mitsu’s regenerative braking (to help charge the battery pack) is virtually transparent. The car doesn’t radically cut speed when you let off the accelerator—it coasts, just like a gasoline car. The “b” mode in the transmission activates more aggressive re-gen braking. 

The iMiev is about as roomy as a Smart car up front, if a little cramped in the back. Look straight ahead, and it feels like most any car. It’s only when you notice that your passenger’s shoulder is mere inches from your own that the true size of this tyke becomes apparent.

Using a 220-volt plug, the iMiev takes about 7 hours to fully charge; a 110-volt outlet can do the job, too, but expect to wait 14 hours. Mitsu is developing a quick-charge system that will allow the battery to charge to 80 percent in 3 hours. And like any car company today interested in giving owners a truly zero-emission vehicle, Mitsubishi has been studying solar solutions not unlike the Solar Lifeport. And for those concerned that an iMiev couldn’t hack that weekend trip from L.A. to Vegas, the company’s been studying an option: Instead of buying a second car, officials are looking at the feasibility of offering another gasoline Mitsu as a loaner car for those long trips. Now that would be a convenient solution.

Mitsubishi has a surprisingly long tradition of building prototype electric cars. They’re first was in 1971. And they developed a plug-in hybrid SUV in 1995, although it did tip the scales at nearly 4500 pounds thanks to the heavy battery packs. But now, it seems Mitsu’s EV program is ready for prime time, with one company executive laying it out to PM bluntly: “We are poised to become a leader in EV technology.”

The iMiEV Sport drive system uses three permanent magnetic synchronous motors. One in-wheel motor is placed at each front wheel; a single motor drives the rear wheels. Plus, there’s Super All Wheel Control—the company’s vehicle dynamics control system—to achieve high maneuverability. Top speed for the vehicle is 112 miles per hour, with a travel range of 124 miles. Taking advantage of its relatively long wheelbase, a lithium ion battery is installed at the lowest area under the floor, which will grant the vehicle maximum stability, agile handling, and a more spacious interior. The iMiEV Sport concept—like most concept vehicles—has its share of eye-candy for the green geeks. The list includes a photovoltaic generator on the roof, a power-generating fan inside the front grill, power-saving LED lighting, and an air conditioning system made more efficient by the use of heat-absorbing windows. In addition, Green Plastic—Mitsubishi’s plant-based resin technology—is used for many interior components as a further effort to be as eco-friendly as possible.