Electric Car Test Drive – Mitsubishi i and Nissan LEAF

Electric Car Test Drive – Mitsubishi i and Nissan LEAF

Mitsubishi iBy John Addison (10/31/11)

I just drove two electric cars on the same route that included demanding freeway acceleration, cruising along a beautiful ocean highway, serious hill climbing, and maneuvering through street traffic. Let’s compare the Mitsubishi i with a starting price of $29,125 with the Nissan LEAF with a starting price over $6,000 higher.

Mitsubishi will finish 2011 with about 5,000 electric cars on the road globally. Mitsubishi has taken orders for 400 of the Mitsubishi i in the USA and will start dealer deliveries in about 3 months. Nissan will finish 2012 with about 50,000 electric cars on the road globally and 20,000 delivered in the USA.

The Mitsubishi i is a 5-door, 4-seat, microcompact with more room inside than a MiniCooper and friendly outside looks similar to a VW bug. The Nissan LEAF is a 5-door 5-seat, compact hatchback with stylish yet conventional looks.

Mitsubishi i Meets Demands of Test Drive

I started each test drive at a Best Buys in Northern California. Mitsubishi is first touring the West Coast and later other parts of the country letting people take their EV out for a spin. Some showed up solo, others brought the family including kids and car seats. Best Buys will be putting some Mitsubishi i cars into their Geek Squad fleet. Best Buys also sells the Eaton Level 2 charger and can arrange the charger installation in your garage.

Being a pure battery-electric the Mitsubishi i cruised the first mile in near silence, demanding little work from the electric motor. Then I entered a freeway onramp where I was forced to accelerate into merging freeway traffic up a 6-percent grade. I shifted from ECO to Drive mode for better acceleration. On a flat the Mitsubishi can go from zero to 60 in 12 seconds. Up these steep freeway grade the Mitsubishi merged into traffic, slowly accelerated to 70 mph passing a couple of cars and trucks that were struggling with the hill which I purposely selected for this test drive.

When I reached the peak, I was rewarded with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon. As I took a steep downhill decent, I shifted into “B” which aggressively applied motor resistance for regenerative braking. When I leveled out on Coast Highway, I shifted back into ECO mode that extends the electric range about 10 percent by smoothing acceleration. After 3 miles I ascended another steep hill. ECO mode handled the ascent just fine.

The Mitsubishi i handled curves well. It had a bit of a sports car feel due to its low center of gravity and rear-wheel drive handling with the electric motor over the rear axle finished the drive in stop-go traffic with the car handling lane shifts with ease.

Nissan LEAF Meets Demands of Test Drive with Ease

Nissan LeafOn the identical route, I drove my own Nissan LEAF that has been problem free in all driving situations for six months, rain or shine, day or night. The LEAF merged on to the 6-percent freeway grade with more ease than the Mitsubishi, as I shifted from ECO to “D” (drive mode). The LEAF reach 80 mph faster than the Mitsubishi I reached 65 mph. The LEAF has an 80kW electric motor; Mitsubishi 49kW.

As I descended towards the Pacific Ocean, I shifted into ECO mode. The LEAF does not have a “B” mode for extra regen braking, but like other electric cars it does put energy into the lithium battery pack during downhill, when braking, and even when the computer determines that extra energy can be captured.

Enjoying the drive along Coast Highway, I fishermen casting lines, surfers catching waves, and golfers hiking into the rough. Like the Mitsubishi i the LEAF climbed hills fine in ECO mode, handling windy curves with ease, and cruised the surface streets in silence. The LEAF seemed a bit more quiet than the already quiet Mitsubishi i.

Range Anxiety

The Mitsubishi i appeared to achieve 4.3 miles/kW; the 600-pound heavier LEAF only achieved 3.9 miles/kW. The Mitsubishi did not offer a precise reading, just a display showing battery use. The LEAF offered a precise read-out. I did push the LEAF to 80 mph, so the comparison is not perfect, but indicates that the Mitsubishi uses a bit less electricity. Since I have never paid over $40 per month to keep my LEAF charged; the difference is not much.

The lighter Mitsubishi i has an EPA adjusted range of 62 miles with its 16kW lithium battery pack; the Nissan LEAF has an EPA adjusted range of 73 miles with its 24kW lithium battery pack. Stay in ECO mode and stay below 50 mph and you are likely to have a 100-mile range in the Mitsubishi i and 120 in the LEAF.

In pure electric cars, range concerns are real unless you can afford a Tesla Roadster or the new Tesla Model S with a 300-mile range option. To extend range, I always drive my LEAF in ECO mode and rarely exceed 65 mph. I go for smooth driving and use cruise control. On 10 percent of trips, I use Charge Point or Google Maps to find public charging stations, and sometimes spend an hour or two on the computer in the café as I pick-up 10 to 30 extra miles of range. The 2012 LEAF has a Level 2 Charge of 6.6 kW/hour, double the speed of the Mitsubishi 3.3 kW/hour. For some people, that speed will matter.

The 2012 Nissan LEAF comes standard with both DC Fast Charge (CHAdeMO) and Level 2 Charge ports. The DC Fast Charge is an optional extra on the Mitsubishi and narrows the price difference between the two cars to less than $3,000. With either car, a DC Fast Charge can provide 80 percent range in about 20 minutes. Both cars include a cable so that a 110 volt outlet on a dedicated circuit can be used to trickle charge the car, which turns out to be adequate for most people, as we discovered when we had to wait a few weeks for the installation of our Level 2 garage charger.

Since the average American drives 40 miles per day, the Mitsubishi i will meet the needs of most people. Some will prefer to pay the extra $6,000 for the extra range of the LEAF. Because my wife and I have two cars, range has been no problem in our six months of driving. For longer trips, we use the hybrid and save the LEAF for most days. We are also helped with over 100 public chargers installed in the Bay Area where we live and drive.

If you need one car to meet all your range demands, an electric car may still be the answer if you use car rental, car sharing, and/or transit and rail. Others will be happier with a plug-in hybrid, which stays in electric mode for typical trips and acts like a hybrid for long trips. To extend range, just visit the gas station. The have also been impressed with my test drives of plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in. The 2012 offerings from Ford and Honda are also likely to be impressive.

Nissan LEAF offers more Passenger and Cargo Space

Nissan LEAF trunk baby strollerThe Mitsubishi i has 85 cubic feet of interior space, 13 cubic feet of trunk space, which expands to 50 with the 50/50, split back seats lowered. The Nissan LEAF has 112/8 cubic feet of interior space, 14.5 cubic feet of trunk space, which expands to much more than the Mitsubishi I when 60/40 split back seats are lowered without needing to remove the headrests.

In my LEAF, my wife can load the back for projects at the schools where she is a speech therapist. I can easily fit my bicycle in the LEAF by removing the front wheel of the bike. In the Mitsubishi i, both bicycle wheels would need to be removed and rear seat headrests would need to be removed. If you need to use a rear child seat or two, you will definitely prefer the Nissan LEAF. You will be even happier with the upcoming Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid.

I have been in a Nissan LEAF sitting behind a 6 foot, 4-inch driver, and then had him sit behind me. The car is a roomy compact that can seat 5. The Mitsubishi would be a tight fit for four big adults. To its credit, the USA version is bigger than the iMiEV driven in Japan and Europe. The Mitsubishi has more passenger space than some city cars I have driven like the Smart and the MiniCooper.

Both Electric Cars Get High Marks for Safety

I felt safe in both cars, even when merging into freeway traffic. Some expressway drivers will feel saver in the larger Nissan LEAF, but this Mitsubishi i received a 4-star rating in stringent crash testing performed by Euro NCAP, a multinational vehicle safety-testing consortium in Europe.

Nissan Leaf is the first electric car to earn five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The 100-percent electric Nissan LEAF earned a 5-star overall vehicle rating for safety as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). The Nissan LEAF is the first fully electric vehicle to earn this highest distinction from the program. Starting with 2011 models, NHTSA introduced tougher tests and requirements in order to earn 5-star ratings.

When driving in snow or heavy rains, some will fell safer in the LEAF with its extra 750-plus pounds of weight. If you regularly must deal with snow, ice, and wet roads, you might  do better with an AWD car than in an electric, but you’ll be making regular visits to the gas station.

Both the Mitsubishi i and the Nissan LEAF are wonderful electric cars that are currently being sold faster than they can be made. For some, the choice will be which car they get first. For others, $6,000 will be the deciding factor. After a federal tax credit of $7,500, the entry cost of the Mitsubishi electric car is only $21,625. The savings of no gasoline and little maintenance, save electric car drivers $1,000 to $2,000 per year.

For city drivers fighting for parking spaces, the smaller Mitsubishi i will allow them to fit into spaces that others cannot and save big by avoiding paid parking. The Mitsubishi i is a maneuverable city car that’s fun to drive.

The Nissan LEAF is America’s most popular electric car. It has enough room inside for 5 people and a fair amount of cargo. It has surprising performance and about 15 percent better electric range than the Mitsubishi i. The 2012 LEAF Level 2 charges at twice the speed of the Mitsubishi i. If you need premium features like DC Fast Charging, back-up camera, and hands-free audio, then the price gap between these two cars is less than $3,000.

Select either and you can feel good about helping with our energy security, environment and never being stuck in line for a gas pump. Take a test drive, you’ll enjoy it.

Related Articles

Mitsubishi i Review

Nissan LEAF Review

Top 10 2012 Electric Cars with Lowest U.S. Prices



Electric Cars Compete with Natural Gas and Diesel for Green Car of the Year

Electric Cars Compete with Natural Gas and Diesel for Green Car of the Year

Volt Green Car 2010

The 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas was awarded Green Car of the Year® . The 2012 five finalists include the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, 2012 Mitsubishi i, 2012 Toyota Prius v, 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, and 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI. I have been impressed with my test drives of these cars. All will be available for dealer sales by January 2, 2012.

Last year the Chevrolet Volt was the winner. This year, no plug-in hybrids are finalists, only pure battery-electric. In previous years, turbo diesel cars have won such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and the Audi A3 TDI. Naturally, the classic Prius Liftback was a past winner. This year the larger crossover Prius v is competing for the top spot.

Any of these five could be the best for you depending on where you drive, your space requirements, and availability of local fueling and charging. One choice may be greener for you than another. If you are disturbed that 96 of our transportation fuel comes from petroleum, and most from countries that could shut-off supply, or from deep water drilling with oil spills, or from tar sands, then an electric car may get your vote. Many electric car drivers that I meet use their solar power to charge their electric cars. For them their green choice from the list would be the Ford Focus Electric or the smaller and less expensive Mitsubishi i. If all your electricity is from a coal power plant and you need the room of an SUV crossover, then the Prius v may be a better choice.

2010 Honda Civic If you champion clean air then the Honda Civic Natural Gas may be your choice. Almost 13 million vehicles globally can be fueled with natural gas. If the fuel comes from bio-methane, then lifecycle emissions are quite small. If the natural gas comes from fracking and flames are coming out of your faucet, then you may make a different choice. This 4-door, 5-seat, sedan looks and drives like any other Honda Civic. The trunk has less because the natural gas tank is bigger than a gasoline tank. The Civic Natural Gas has an EPA rating of 28 mpg combined and 5.6 tons of CO2e annual emissions.

VW Passat TDIThe Volkswagen Passat TDI is a roomy 4-door, 5-seat, midsized sedan. In city driving a good hybrid will save at the pump compared with this diesel. If you mainly driving on highways, however, you are likely to enjoy well over 40 mpg due to the wonders of the modern turbo diesel engine. The Volkswagen Passat TDI has an EPA rating of 34 mpg combined and 6.2 tons of CO2e annual emissions. Diesel and Hybrid Comparison.

Toyota Prius VMy test drive of the new Toyota Prius v convinced me that you can get 42 MPG with comfort for 5 people and the flexibility to hold the cargo carried in most SUVs. The Prius v will shake-up the crossover SUV and wagon market when it goes on sale in January for only $3,000 more than the Prius Liftback. Toyota now offers four different cars in the Prius Family.  EPA annual emissions are expected to be 4.7 tons CO2e.  Prius v Crossover SUV test drive and review.

ford focus electricFord Focus Electric is a beautiful new pure battery-electric 5-seat hatchback with a 100-mile range. Ford will soon announce prices, start taking reservations and give the Nissan LEAF head-on competition. My test drive of a prototype showed solid handling, smooth acceleration, and a quiet drive. DOE lifecycle emissions would calculate to 3.7 tons of CO2 with the 50% coal U.S. energy mix (DOE GREET 1.8), half that in a state like California and zero source-to-wheels emissions using renewable energy. Ford Focus Electric test drive and review.

Mitsubishi iMitsubishi I is a fun-to-drive electric car that will save some city drivers a fortune by fitting into parking spaces that leave others heading to the parking garage. This 5-door hatchback comfortably seats 4. This pure battery-electric accelerated fine on the freeway. I even took it up a 16 percent grade that would bring some cars to a stand still. Customers are now out taking test drives in a number of cities and placing orders at up to $6,000 less than the Nissan LEAF. Mitsubishi I test drive and review. DOE lifecycle emissions would calculate to 3.7 tons of CO2 with the 50% coal U.S. energy mix (DOE GREET 1.8),half that in a state like California and zero source-to-wheels emissions using renewable energy.

These five candidates for 2012 Green Car of the Year®, ranging from a city car to a sedan to a roomy crossover demonstrate that we have exciting choices in meeting our needs in driving green and saving greenbacks at the pump.

New 2012 Electric Cars and Hybrid Cars at LA Auto Show

New 2012 Electric Cars and Hybrid Cars at LA Auto Show

LEAF World Car of YearBy John Addison (10/5/11)

As many as ten battery-electric and plug-in hybrid cars selling for under $40,000 will be at this year’s LA Auto Show, open to the public November 18 to 27. The most groundbreaking categories, when it comes to technological advancements, continues to be the hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle categories.

The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were the early movers in the electric car category, but now a whole pack of EV’s are entering production and will be available at dealerships soon. On display will be the Mitsubishi’s all-electric i, which boasts 112 MPGe and has a single-charge range of 85 miles (62 EPA adjusted) starting at $29,125, over $5,000 less than the popular Nissan LEAF. City electric car competitors will also be on display including the Honda Fit Electric, Smart Fortwo ED, Fiat 500EV and the Scion IQ Electric.

BMW will debut two all-new concept vehicles that are part of BMW i sub-brand initiative. The high-tech and futuristic-looking, all-electric i3 Concept is actually close to becoming a reality and it is scheduled to enter production in 2013. The i8 Concept, scheduled for production in 2014, is a plug-in hybrid sports car with dual power sources-the i3’s electric motor over the front axle paired with a high performance three-cylinder combustion engine producing 164 kW/220 horsepower at the rear. Working in tandem, they deliver the performance of a true sports car while achieving up to 62 mpg.

The most popular hybrid vehicle in the world, the Toyota Prius, will showcase its production, plug-in hybrid version, which has a total all-electric range of 15 miles and an expected total range of 475 miles. According to Toyota, the Prius Plug-in will be rated at 112 MPGe.  If you are looking for an all-electric SUV, check out the new Toyota RAV4 EV.

Fisker will debut its all-new sport wagon prototype, the Surf, slated to go on sale in mid-2012. Fisker’s luxury plug-in hybrid sports car, the Karma, will also be at the show. Karma customer deliveries have finally started.

Ford plans to introduce five electric cars over the next three years. Vehicles featured at this year’s Show include Ford’s first all-electric, the 2012 Ford Focus Electric which is now on sale, and the C-MAX Energi Plug-in Hybrid, a 5-seater crossover SUV (2012).

2012 Electric Cars with Lowest U.S. Prices

The entire Prius family of four models will be presented – Prius Liftback, Prius PHV, Prius V Crossover, and fuel economy hybrid champion Prius C. Honda will be going after Toyota with their latest hybrid improvements in the new Civic Hybrid and the more fuel-efficient Insight Hybrid.

A number of exciting turbo diesel cars will be on display that deliver 40 mpg in real world highway driving. Smaller cars with 40 mpg and without the cost of being a hybrid will be on display.

Ten Hybrid Cars with Best Mileage

With 13 million vehicles globally running on natural gas, alt-fuel vehicles will be more visible at the LA Auto Show including the natural gas (CNG) Honda Civic GX. Ford has added CNG versions of light-trucks and the Transit Connect.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles have also been tested in various scenarios for over a decade and several will be featured at this year’s Show. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV), are one of the most promising technologies, and are currently being tested by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, General Motors and Toyota. Hyundai is already testing a third-generation FCEV, the Tucson.

Bright Green Cars at LA Auto Show

Electric Cars

  • BMW i3 Concept
  • CODA Sedan
  • Ford Focus Electric
  • Fiat 500 EV
  • Mitsubishi i
  • Nissan LEAF
  • Smart Fortwo ED
  • Toyota RAV4

Hybrids and Plug-in hybrids

  • BMW i8 Concept
  • BMW ActiveHybrid 7
  • BMW ActiveHybrid X6
  • Buick LaCrosse eAssist
  • Buick Regal eAssist
  • Cadillac Ciel concept
  • Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
  • Chevrolet Malibu Eco
  • Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
  • Chevrolet Volt
  • Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid
  • Ford Fusion Hybrid
  • Fisker Karma
  • Fisker Surf
  • GMC Yukon Hybrid
  • GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid
  • Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid Coupe
  • Honda Civic Hybrid
  • Honda Insight
  • Honda Plug-in Hybrid concept
  • Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
  • Infiniti M35 Hybrid
  • KIA Optima Hybrid
  • Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
  • Lexus CT 200h
  • Lexus GS 450h
  • Lexus LS 600h L
  • Lexus RX 450h
  • Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
  • Porsche Panamara S Hybrid
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • Toyota Prius
  • Toyota Prius v
  • Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
  • Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

40-plus MPG

  • Audi A3 TDI
  • Chevrolet Cruze Eco
  • Chevrolet Sonic
  • Ford Focus SFE
  • Ford Fiesta SFE
  • Honda Civic GX
  • Honda Civic HF
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Hyundai Veloster
  • Kia Rio (2012)
  • Mazda3 SKYACTIV (2012)
  • Smart ForTwo
  • Volkswagen Jetta TDI
  • Volkswagen Jetta SportWagon TDI
  • Volkswagen Passat TDI
  • Volkswagen Golf TDI

Turbo Diesel Cars

  • Audi A3 TDI
  • Audi Q7 TDI
  • BMW 335d Sedan
  • Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC
  • Volkswagen Jetta TDI
  • Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
  • Volkswagen Passat TDI
  • Volkswagen Golf TDI
Electric Cars with Lowest U.S. Prices

Electric Cars with Lowest U.S. Prices

Smart electric drive in car2go

Smart fortwo electric drive can be purchased from dealers in Spring 2013 for $25,000. After a federal tax credit of $7,500, the net cost is only $17,500. There are 300 of these 2-seat all-electric city cars in San Diego’s Car2Go car sharing and more in other cities such as Portland, Oregon. I was impressed with my test drive of the 2013 smart electric drive, now with a larger motor and new lithium battery pack.


2013 Nissan LEAFNissan LEAF is the sales leader of all-electric cars. This 5-door, 5-seat, hatchback has the right size and range for many who drive under 100 miles daily, or for households with more than one car. Nissan is now making the 2013 LEAF in Tennessee for the U.S. market with options that include Level 1 charge, Level 2 charge at 6.6 kW/hour, and 25-minute DC fast charge. The LEAF is the first electric car to earn five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.Nissan delivers great value with the new 2013 price starting at $28,800. LEAF Test drive.


Mitsubishi iMitsubishi i MiEV is an all-electric city car starting at $29,125, before federal tax credit. This fun-to-drive 4-seat 5-door micro-compact will still be able to get those precious city parking spaces that few U.S. cars can take. The more powerful U.S. version has an electric range of EPA adjusted 62 miles with a 16kWh lithium battery.


Pruis Plugin HybridToyota Prius Plug-in starts at $32,000. The Prius Plug-in cost about $7,000 less than the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid with a 40-mile electric range in comparison to the Prius PHV’s 15-mile. After federal tax credits, the difference narrows to only $3,000. The Prius Plug-in costs about $8,500 more than the classic Prius Liftback, but the difference narrows to  $6,000 after Federal Tax Credit. Prius PHV Test Drive and Review


Chevrolet Spark EVChevrolet Spark EV is less than $32,500 and eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. This sleek 4-seat all-electric city car shares much of the drive system design of the best selling and award winning electric Chevrolet Volt. 2013 sales will only be in California, Oregon, and Korea.


Ford C-Max EnergiFord C-MAX Energi, an exciting new Crossover SUV can seat five. C-MAX Energi offers 550 miles of overall driving range using the Sanyo lithium-ion prismatic battery, electric motor, and gasoline engine – more than any other plug-in. Ford offers the passenger room and cargo space of the Prius v. Its 20 miles of electric range beats the Prius Plug-in, but falls short of the Chevrolet Volt. The C-MAX Energi starts at $33,745.  Ford C-MAX Energi


2013 Ford FusionFord Fusion Energi is a beautiful 5-seat sedan with more safety and telematics features than any other car on this list. Drive this plug-in hybrid for 20 miles of electric range, then a small efficient gasoline engine extends your range by hundreds of miles. The Fusion Energi goes on sale in early 2013 starting at $38,700, a big premium over the Fusion Hybrid’s $27,625.


Fiat 500eFiat 500e goes on sale in Spring 2013 and prices have not yet been announced. This 4-seat all-electric version of the popular Fiat 500 city car should have an electric range of 80 miles and be fun to drive.


Honda Fit EVHonda Fit EV looks just like the popular Honda Fit 5-door, 5-seat subcompact hatchback. The 2013 Fit EV officially has an MSRP of $36,625. Only in select pilot programs can it be leased f or $389 per month. The Fit EV Level 2 charges at double the speed of the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi i.  Honda Fit Electric


CODA is $37,500, but discounts of over $14,000,  for an all-electric car with a larger lithium battery than offered by Nissan and Ford. My test drive of the new CODA showed that this new electric car is similar in handling and performance to the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric which I have also driven. CODA has more electric range than the LEAF and Focus Electric which each have 24 kW lithium batteries in comparison to CODA’s 31 kW lithium iron phosphate battery. CODA Review


ford focus electricFord Focus Electric starts at $39,200 with double the charge speed of the LEAF. You can go online and configure your car, select a dealer and place your order. Although Nissan and Chevrolet have been getting most of the electric car media attention, both automakers are worried about Ford who will give customers the widest choice of electric and plug-in hybrid cars and vans. Ford has also partnered with SunPower to offer an affordable rooftop solar system that will allow Focus Electric owners and other electric car drivers to “Drive Green for Life,” and charge with solar. Ford Focus Electric


Chevy VOLTChevrolet Volt was awarded Car of the Year by Motor Trend and Automotive Magazine and awarded Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. General Motors is the current plug-in hybrid leader with the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid with 40 miles of electric range and total range of 400 miles by engaging a small gasoline engine that is coupled with an electric generator. Our Volt Test Drive showed that this is plug-in hybrid is sportier to drive than regular hybrids and a great 4-door, 4-seat sedan for those who want to minimize fill-ups and avoid range anxiety. The Volt starts at $39,145 with nice tax credits or $350 monthly lease.


The above list of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars expected to be selling and/or leasing in the United States in 2013 with the lowest cost. Our apologies to Honda Accord, Tesla, Fisker and others that did not make the price cut.

Future Electric Cars

Small electric city cars are becoming popular in car sharing, campuses, and cities with parking space challenges. The Smart Electric Drive is popular in car2go car sharing in San Diego and Portland. The new Scion iQ-EV was fun to drive, but Toyota is only putting 90 into U.S. car sharing and campus programs. The Mitsubishi i is in car sharing programs and city dwellers are buying this micro-compact. BMW has 70 Active E coupes in DriveNow’s San Francisco car shring program and is preparing for sales of the i3 hatchback.

Nissan, GM, Toyota, Honda, and Ford will all expand the number and variety of electric vehicle offerings. All major automakers are all testing electric cars for 2013 and beyond. Tesla and Fisker are working at more affordable electric cars that fit on this “lower cost” list, although Tesla is selling the Model S with 265 mile electric range for $79,900 as fast as it can make them.

By 2020, Europe with higher fuel prices and fewer oil subsidies is forecast to have more electric cars by 2020 than the United States. Better Place may deliver 100,000 of the Renault Fluence with its switchable battery to Israel, Denmark, and other countries. Volkswagen may teach everyone how to extend range by making vehicles light. The concept Up Light weighs just over 1,500 pounds, but it’s only a concept. We loved test-driving the Volkswagen Golf Blue E-Motion, but don’t plan on buying it in the U.S. before 2014.

For three years, we have read about China’s plans to bring electric cars to the U.S. Although China’s U.S. ambitions have slipped badly, its automakers cannot be ignored. China has over 100 million light electric vehicles, e-bikes and e-scooters in daily use. It’s new 5-year plan calls for 100 million electric charging stations in China by 2020. BYD, with gold-plated investors such as Warren Buffett, has only put a few hundred electric vehicles on the road in China and continues to delay introduction to the United States. Volvo, now owned by China’s Geely has the new C30 Drive E Electric, but the Volvo electric car will be selling only in Europe in the short-term. SAIC, Chery, and hundreds of players are also preparing EVs for China.

Japan and China will not be the only Asian electric car competitors. Hyundai and Kia are now selling impressive hybrids with lithium batteries. In the years ahead, Hyundai plans to offer electric cars and even a hydrogen fuel cell SUVs for under $40,000. India might bring us a Maharinda Reva or Tata EV that under prices everyone, but not by 2012, the basis for this report.

What is certain is that you have a growing selection of electric and plug-in hybrid cars expected to be sold with starting prices between $29,125 and $39,995 in the U.S.

Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive with impressive Tesla Drive System

Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive with impressive Tesla Drive System

Toyota RAV4 EVBy Tom Bartley (4/11/11)

The test drive of the new Toyota RAV4 EV had three people in the car for about four miles and included a variety of uphill, downhill, stop and go, and freeway driving in 4:30 pm traffic around the Torrey Pines – UTC area of San Diego. This electric SUV beat a V8 gasoline pickup going up hill. The 0-60 in 9.0 sec performance was fine. From my test drive experience and the comments from the other media journalists, the results are very encouraging here at the Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar.

The 90 kW motor, inverter, and battery pack systems are all Tesla components. This car has plenty of torque and is heavy on the regen deceleration. The regen was so heavy that I could drive the car with little or no brake pedal. My impression is that the control system is primarily Tesla, but Toyota will probably add some battery management for long life. When this is released for sale, I expect Toyota to smooth out the accelerator drive and regen controls which could be a bit jerky. The regen in the prototype is so heavy that I noticed in the rear view mirror that following drivers seemed to be riding my rear bumper. Then I remembered that without pressing the brake pedal there is no indication that the car is slowing down.  This was severe enough that it could be the subject of a future safety regulation.

Combine a mature Toyota RAV4 chassis and interior with a maturing Tesla electric drive and you have a premium electric vehicle in months not years. With the heads of the two companies agreeing to the joint development in July 2010, there was no room left for protectionism or “not invented here.” There were a few IP (intellectual property) issues to work out, but teamwork quickly produced 31 converted BEV RAV4 prototypes in the hands of the U.S. Toyota advanced sales team by March 2011. I hope other manufacturers take note and this cooperation can be used as a working model for quickly developing needed products elsewhere.

On the passenger visor there was a sign that said that this was a prototype and may not be up to production quality. Other than the finish of a couple of interior panels, nothing was immediately obvious that would identify these cars to be different from the ones to be sold from the dealer’s show room floor. Upon closer inspection, the charging connector is Tesla and has an adapter to make it compatible with the J1772 Standard. The production model will have the J1772 plug and connector.

The RAV4 driver information displays were based on the standard RAV4, right in front of the steering wheel, making them much easier to see while paying attention to the road. The display is superior to the Plug-in Prius display which is mounted in the middle of the dash. In the RAV4 EV, the left side dial was converted to show how much power was being used and regen recovered by the motor/generator. The numbers seemed to be right on for about 90 kW max output and about 45 max kW input.

The PRNDL directional controls are push buttons on the center console. The position of the buttons are in the traditional gear shift pattern similar to the plug-in Prius that puts R (Reverse) forward and D (Drive) back. I would prefer that the controls highlight the new technology and put the buttons in a location to match the direction of motion, D forward and R back. I understand that the push buttons may not survive into the production model. On this prototype, there was a big red button on the dash that I was warned not to push. I think it was a safety switch that disconnected the high voltage battery.

To achieve 100 mile real world range (not just the LA4 urban drive cycle) there are 37 kWh of usable energy storage that would indicate a 370 Wh/mile consumption rate. For most drive cycles, I’m guessing that the efficiency is a bit better, but Toyota wants to offer a real 100 miles range for highway speeds as well as flat stop-and-go commutes. Tesla wouldn’t disclose the total capacity of the pack nor the specific Li-ion chemistry, only that it is small format cells in modules the same as those used in the Tesla Roadster and the new Tesla Model S.

The battery is liquid cooled with a tight temperature management for cell life and performance in all temperature environments. Similar to the other Tesla vehicles, any time that the car is connected to the charger or whenever the car is turned on, the temperature management system is active.

A separate liquid cool loop for the motor and inverter/controller is also planned for the production model, but they are air cooled in these prototypes. The passenger compartment has another liquid cooling loop for the A/C using a design from the Lexus hybrid.

Rumor has it that the price of the new Toyota RAV4 EV will be in the $40,000 range. This is consistent with a 40 kWh battery costing $500/kWh and with a battery pack being half the price of an electric car. With the Tesla S priced starting at $57,400, the RAV4 EV could be the right electric SUV at the right price for both companies. $40K stills seems expensive, but it gets more attractive as gasoline continues it’s climb above $4/gallon.

Toyota RAV4 EV Specs

  • Curb weight – 3942 lbs
  • Storage space – 73 cu ft, same as RAV4 V6
  • Acceleration, 0-60 mph – 9.0 sec, matched to the RAV4 V6
  • Range – 80 to 120 miles measured by actual driving trips (not LA4 drive cycle)
  • Usable battery capacity – 37 kWh
  • 100% SOC charge time
    • 28 hrs @ Level 1 – 110 VAC avg 12 amps
    • 12 hrs @ Level 2 – 220 VAC avg 14 amps
  • Estimated full battery and cost – 41 kWh @ ~$20,000
  • Estimated selling price at 2X battery ~$40,000