2009 Mitsubishi iCar

2009 Mitsubishi iCar

22.12.2009: Road Test by Iain Shankland / Images: Mitsubishi / Gail & Iain Shankland I first saw the iCar at the Toronto Auto Show in February 2009. At the time the president of Mitsubishi Canada was telling the auto journalist crowd that

Road Test by Iain Shankland / Images: Mitsubishi / Gail & Iain Shankland


I first saw the iCar at the Toronto Auto Show in February 2009. At the time the president of Mitsubishi Canada was telling the auto journalist crowd that he was rooting for the iCar and doing everything in his power to convince the powers-that-be in Mitsubishi’s Japanese HQ that it would be a perfect fit for Canada (I wasn’t at the Detroit show, so perhaps the president of Mitsubishi U.S. said the same).

The car we were actually being introduced to at the time was the iMiEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) - an all-electric version of the iCar. The iMiEV will go on sale in the summer of 2009 in Japan, with it projected to arrive on these shores within the next year or so after that. The announcement was interesting and exciting. I for one think there is plenty of room for more electric vehicles in the grid-lock that is a major concern in cities around the world.

People traveling to and from work are the major problem with grid-lock, with probably 95% of the vehicles being occupied by a single-person. Just replacing the large cars and SUV’s with a bunch of shorter vehicles would cut the travel time in half, because everyone would be closer to their destination! (that wouldn’t help though with those morons travelling at 8 km/h that leave enough room between themselves and the car in front for a jumbo jet to land).

I digress.. while dropping off the Mitsubishi Evo, I spotted the iCar inside and asked if it was a vehicle that could be taken out for a road test. It was, and so I booked it for a week to see if it was a vehicle that people could live with or just a novelty car with little use like the Smart Fortwo.


First Impressions


Obviously the first thing you’ll notice is the steering wheel, as in - it’s on the right – not the left. This is actually the Japanese model - right off the boat as it were. I driven in the U.K., so that shouldn’t be a problem. But driving a right-hand drive car on the wrong side of the road – that might be interesting!

To be honest, I had this uncontrollable urge to drive on the wrong side of the street when I first got behind the wheel. After focusing a little harder it became easier and by the time I got home I was quite comfortable driving against the curb side of the road.

Opening the door, I was quite surprised by how large it is – as well as extremely thin (hope no one takes to T-boning me this week!). The interior is just as funky as the exterior – very young and hip. There’s no lumber adjustment in the seat, but it is contoured well and is height-adjustable.

Directly in front of the driver is the very compact but surprisingly detailed instrument panel with a digital read out for the speedometer and a tachometer that rotates around it (see picture). The steering doesn’t tilt or telescope, but I found the driving position very comfortable even on long trips.





With a large Sat-Nav screen incorporating the audio system dominating the centre console, my wife went about trying to adjust the stereo settings. Quite a task when you consider she isn’t Japanese and nothing was in English!

By the time we were almost home she’d adjusted the sound including a graphic EQ and found the hard drive to play the songs that had been stored on it. The satellite part is going to be a bit redundant as the display gave us a nice 3-D view of the east coast of Japan.



Weighing in at 900 kg, the 4-speed automatic is powered by a three-cylinder 660cc turbocharged MiVEC engine with 47 Kw on tap. I try my best to know little or nothing about a vehicle before I take it out for a Road Test because as the saying goes: You only get one chance to make a first impression. I’ve found this serves me well because I have no pre-conceived opinions – good or bad. In the case of the iCar I’d have guesstimated it to be somewhere around 67 Kw – maybe even 82. I was quite shocked to find out it was only 47. Off the line it is surprisingly brisk, keeping up with and even blowing past other cars with ease.

The over-boosted power steering was annoying as I was continually correcting myself after changing lanes and turning corners. I personally would have preferred a manual system. With a car of this size it wouldn’t be an issue with anyone other than Mr. Burns (from the Simpsons). Turning left at traffic lights is a bit odd because the driver is unsighted of on-coming traffic if there’s a car opposite.

Entering the freeway was an all new experience for me. Shod with Dunlop P145/65 R15 tires on the front and 175/55 R 15’s on the rear, the sharp bend of the on ramp made the iCar lean like a motorbike. Straightening the wheel and flooring the throttle all I got was a whole lot of revs and not much else. But… it did get up to 100 km/h fairly quickly and I entered the freeway with room to spare.

This is no snail of a car – if driven properly of course. Keeping up with traffic is not a problem for the car – the main issue was the driver. It’s weird to look in the rear view mirror and see the traffic behind you as the passenger normally would. Changing lanes and avoiding rubberneckers fixated on the car became the only challenge on the freeway. Although the little engine hummed along at 4,000 rpm at 105 km/h, it wasn’t loud or intrusive – more like a constant drone. Probably a lot has to do with it being in the rear under the cargo floor.

Getting up to 115 km/h, the iCar started to change its characteristics just a little. The best way to describe it would be this: remember when you took the training wheels off your bike and went for a ride the very first time? That’s the feeling I got. It wasn’t scary or uneasy… just different. I think it would be best to drive the iCar in the 100 km/h and below lane – not the fast lane. Alternately, if I bought one I’d replace the skinny tires with some low profile ones and that would solve the problem right there.

The iCar is surprisingly well appointed. Like the aforementioned Sat-Nav with a 7” (18 cm) touch screen and 30 GB hard drive, it comes with power windows (auto up and down on the front), heated driver seat, power mirrors, automatic transmission, keyless entry with remote central locking, automatic climate control, iPod Nano connector/slot, Bluetooth and a host of other standard features. Although the SatNav screen was in Japanese, we used the international symbols to move the screen out of the way to reveal a six-disc CD changer.




Cargo capacity is quite good for a car of this size. I measured 940 cm wide x 584 cm deep and 699 cm high with the rear seats in the upright position. With the rear seats folded perfectly flat, the maximum cargo capacity opens up the hatch to a very respectable 1,117 cm x 1,359 cm x 838 cm. Unfortunately the front passenger seat doesn’t flip forward to allow additional space.

Rear seat accommodation was surprisingly generous with passengers commenting that it was more than comfortable back there. They commented that it was quiet and were quite shocked when I told them the engine was located right behind them. Knee room was adequate – I barely touched the front seatback with my knees when testing it out (the seat was all the way back in its track). Foot space is good and hip, shoulder and head room is exceptional.




Safety - The iCar has dual front airbags and also boasts anti-lock brakes and EBD (electronic brake distribution). Some people feel there’s a lack of protection in small cars - particularly with fears for leg injuries with the engine mounted at the rear of the car. The iCars’ special crumple zones offer the driver and passengers plenty of protection in a front-on collision.

Mitsubishi has carried out provisional tests suggesting it will receive a 5-star JNCAP rating, which is the Japanese rating equivalent to the Euro NCAP crash tests. Mitsubishi is going to have to sort out the U.S. side impact tests before it will be considered for sale in the U.S. and Canada.

The Conclusion


It only comes in one trim level and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a fantastic about-town car that offers plenty of room for a small family with room for groceries as well. Probably the perfect commuter vehicle that is useful, good on gas, eco-friendly and doesn’t look like a cows backside.

Without even trying it brings smiles to grumpy faces and causes people to stop and stare. Mouths drop and people point. I think this car would be a big hit on the streets of North America. The electric version is rated at 193 kms and a re-charge would take approximately 7 hours. There is a fast-charge option that would get it down to 30 minutes at 80% capacity.

For more information visit: www.mmnz.co.nz

+ PLUSES:

Small and stylish
Seats 4 with comfort
Far more room inside than you’d imagine from the outside
Coming soon as a plug in electric vehicle!

- MINUSES:

Not available (yet) in North America

Immediate Competition:
MINI, Smart Fortwo, Toyota Yaris

By The Numbers…


Pricing for the 2009 Mitsubishi iCar
Base Price: 1,585,500 Yen ($14,500 U.S.)
U.K. prices are presently in the £9,000 range, with New Zealand prices around NZ $19,000. 
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.

Warranty and Roadside Assistance
Is for 3-years or 100,000 kms – whichever comes first.

Curb Weight:               900 kg
Powertrain:               600 cc MIVEC 3-cylinder turbocharged/intercooled; 4-speed automatic; rear wheel drive
Horsepower (Kw):      47 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (N.m.):            94 @ 3,000 rpm
0-100 km/h:                 12 seconds
Top Speed:                  140 kph
  
Fuel Consumption:

Combined City/Highway: 5.4 L/100 kms
I averaged 9.2 L/100 kms during mostly highway driving - Quite deplorable to be honest.


Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland – www.twitter.com/Road_Test  
This original, copyrighted material may NOT be copied, used in whole or in part in any way, cut and pasted, published or otherwise reproduced in any form or in any medium - which means DO NOT post this on another website or BBS. If you want somebody else to see this, send them a link or post a link to this page.


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22.12.2009 / MaP

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