12/06/2007 00:00

Mitsubishi I review (2007 onwards model)



Christopher Hubbard's biography (© Image © MSN)

  • What – Mitsubishi i
  • Where – Hertfordshire, Dorset, London, UK
  • Price – £9,084
  • Available – July 1
  • Key rivals – Smart ForTwo, Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1/Peugeot 107, Daihatsu Charade, Chevrolet Matiz, Fiat Panda, Ford Ka

Summary

Awarding winning Japanese Kei-car aims to make a splash in the UK city car market. Limited numbers and lots of personality, but is it worth the cash?

  • Likes: the design inside and out, spacious, easy to drive, brilliant in the city and not bad everywhere else, turning circle, environmentally friendly
  • Dislikes: interior plastics, refinement, limited luggage space, auto ‘box slightly clunky, import issues with the radio, limited availability

GALLERY: Mitsubishi i

First impressions

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

Say hello to the Mitsubishi i. You might as well wave – it’s cute enough. And certainly very friendly, as I’ve spent the last few days finding out. Putting sci-fi movie comparisons aside – more Fifth Element, less Judge Dredd, if you must – the significant thing about this tiddler is that it comes to us straight out of Japan’s ‘Kei-car’ segment. This means the i conforms to a particular set of rules designed especially for city living. These govern the length, width, and power output of the vehicle – but haven’t stopped Mitsubishi from thinking a little differently. More on this in a moment.

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

The other reason to wave: you might not be seeing one too often – so make the most of your opportunity. As things currently stand, only 300 i-cars are officially coming our way, at the specific behest of Mitsubishi UK. It’s taken nearly two years to convince Mitsubishi’s Japanese HQ this is a good idea, and we’ll only get more if the first batch proves a success. There’s no European homologation, so each i is subject to Single Vehicle Approval as it rolls off the boat onto our shores. This raises one or two issues, but since we share a preferred steering wheel position with its homeland, no major operational difficulties.

So what is a Kei-car?

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

A Kei-car must be less than 3400mm long, 1480mm wide, with an engine limited to 660cc. There’s nothing to say you can’t strap on a turbocharger – which is exactly what Mitsubishi has done with the all-new three-cylinder unit powering the i – but you aren’t allowed to exceed 64bhp. The i fits comfortably within these constraints – so not only is it considerably narrower than a Toyota Aygo, but actually shorter, too. Despite this, the i still manages four decent-sized doors and an impressive amount of interior room. A neat trick, and for an explanation you just have to open the bonnet.

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

If I was a pedestrian who just had to get hit by a modern car, I think I'd like it to be this one. Everything from the front bumper to the dashboard – which is set further back than first appearances suggest – is effectively a deformable structure. Even the single windscreen wiper is specially squashable. The biggest item under the front panel is actually the battery – because the engine is in the boot, below the floor, just ahead of the rear axle. We might have seen similar things from the two-seat only Smart ForTwo, but for a Kei-car that's a pretty radical relocation.

Marvellously manoeuvrable

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

In something this small, it also makes for better occupant safety – aided by the i’s aluminium spaceframe construction. But what’s really cool about the engine being out of the way is the i’s awesome 9.0m radius turning circle. Combined with a tiny footprint, high seating position, standard four-speed automatic and punchy low speed response, this makes for one easy-going urban driving experience. A 54.6mpg average, and emissions of only 114g/km of CO2 help. It rides well, too, and copes ok with the motorway (even if you do have to be a little strategic about overtaking).

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

Just don’t expect it to be a demon in the corners, as the i feels decidedly top heavy. Fine around town, this does creep up on you during longer, higher speed turns. It’s also noisy – especially for backseat passengers. But then sitting atop 660ccs revving to over 7,000rpm never was going to be super refined. It’s also not especially good for your freezer shopping, as the boot floor gets rather warm. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much space back there, either, but the rear seats do flop forward individually at the press of a lever, leaving a load area that’s usefully flat, if not especially large.

So much for Radio 4

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

Cabin construction seems solid enough for a runabout, and although the plastics are hard none of them are especially nasty. Simple but fun seems to be the interior theme, from the central digital speedo to the properly integrated CD stereo. The radio is an issue, however, since Japanese FM doesn’t entirely correspond with the UK. Fitting a bandwidth expander hadn’t cured the problem on our test i – but since this was done in a lay-by as the cars came off the transporter, it’s hopefully just a temporary blip. Shame, then, the LCD display wasn’t working properly either.

Send the next shipment already?

Mitsubishi I (© Image © Mitsubishi)

Well, the chief salesman of a local Mitsubishi dealership certainly says yes. He drove seven miles just to see the car after one of his customers spotted it by the roadside (I suspect the lurid ‘Light Yellow’ paintjob helped here). He reckons they’ll never have enough to satisfy demand. At first glance, £9,084 on the road seems steep. But the single trim level works out cheaper than comparably equipped rivals and has a better specification. All round electric windows, climate control, remote locking and 15-inch alloys are all included. Metallic paint’s the only option (£300), while three years’ servicing costs just £150.

The MSN Cars verdict: 4/5

Funky, fun, and easy to use, the i’s already a big hit in Japan and Mitsubishi’s Kei-car experiment deserves to do well over here. If you’re shopping for a city car, take a look.

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Ratings out of five: Mitsubishi i (2007)

Performance
****
Ride & handling
****
Interior
***
Safety
****
Price
***
Practicality
****
Fuel economy
****
MSN Cars verdict
****

Need to know

Petrol engine
660cc Turbo
Power (bhp)
57
Torque (lb/ft)
63
0-62 (secs)
14.9
Top speed (mph)
84
Combined mpg
54.6
C02 emissions (g/km)/tax (%)
114 / 15%

Watch the Mitsubishi I in action

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