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February 11th, 2009
07:38 pm
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Auditioning for Top Gear - The Mitsubishi i MiEV
This will be the first, and possibly only, motoring review to grace this journal, but first a bit of background about my actual driving experience. Despite getting my licence at the grand old age of 25 I have driven a fair few different vehicles. These have included the Austin Allegro and the Holden Kingswood stationwagon (notable for being able to fit full sized sheets of plywood in the back) both belonging to my old mate Graham Loftus, Dad's Holden Camira, Dany's Triumph, Holden Torana, Toyota Landcruiser and Range Rover (I had to stop driving his vehicles when I could either see over the bonnet or reach the pedals when doing a hill start, but not both at the same time), my own almost unstoppable Toyota Corolla, the Canterbury University Physics Department Mitsubishi van, and various others. Almost without exception, they have been really big and well over ten years old by the time I got to drive them.
I currently own a motorscooter, and drive a car approximately once every six months.

Coming from this background the i MiEV, Mitsubishi's new electric car seemed very small, shiny, and a bit plasticy, but in a good way, like a high end piece of consumer electronics destined for the Japanese market - bring on the Hello Kitty version. It has 4 seats, 4 doors and would fit four average adults, if they were friendly, had bathed recently, and weren't going very far, although with a maximum range of 160 km, that's probably not going to be a problem. It doesn't have much cargo space with the rear seats up, as much of the back end is taken up with the motor, inverter and charger, so you'd have to choose between taking the kids or the groceries home. The front end is snub-nosed and doesn't contain much of anything at all - reservoirs for wiper and heater fluid as far as I could tell. The battery pack is under the floor of the vehicle.

I was able to drive it only very briefly, taking it out of Civic Square and round a few city streets. It operates just like an automatic - one pedal for stop and one for go. There are selections on the gear lever (does it still get called a gear lever when there are no gears?) for drive and reverse of course, break which engages the regenerative braking, and is the equivalent of using a low gear for engine braking, and economy mode, optimised for conserving battery charge while driving in urban environments. It was very easy and responsive (bearing in mind that this may just be in comparison to the extensive list above) and there was no lack of power. I felt very confident when it came to overtaking, changing lanes and avoiding central-city idiots who found it necessary to double park and have extended conversations with people on the side of the road in front of the library.

The Mitsubishi rep warned me that it was very quiet and to be careful around pedestrians - indeed I was busy signing my life away when the test vehicle returned from it's previous drive and didn't notice it pull up. Inside, it's about as noisy a really nice new vehicle (I have ridden in a few, ok) probably due to wind and road noise. They were right about the pedestrians. It's a bit disturbing when they don't acknowledge your presence behind them, much less get out of your way.

I didn't get to go up any hills (Hello - Wellington? Surely you could have found one!) or on the motorway to see how it performed under those conditions, and I expressed this disappointment to the people running the demonstration. They said - and I paraphrase here - "Good point. Why don't you come back tomorrow and have a longer go. But don't tell anyone, 'cause then they'll all want one."
So I will.
I think these people overestimate my degree of influence within the halls of government.

Current Music: Salmonella Dub - they're among us
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From:wcg
Date:February 11th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. It seems to be similar to a Toyota Prius on low power.
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From:dianavilliers
Date:February 11th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
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It's much, much smaller than a Prius. I've never driven one so I couldn't coment on the power thing.
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From:madshutterbug
Date:February 11th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
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I think you should requisition it for a week-long test drive of South Island. *G*
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From:dianavilliers
Date:February 11th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
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That is exactly the sort of trip that it would be worst at and least designed for. Also, I don't think they've overestimated my influence quite that much.
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From:madshutterbug
Date:February 12th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
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There was some tongue-in-cheek in my comment, hope that came through. Yes, this particular vehicle is designed for urban rather than rural use.

And still, my curiousity is piqued, how well would it cope with some of the mountain passes on South Island. Eventually, similar vehicles may well need to be able to do this.
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From:yo_sarrian
Date:February 11th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
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I think it's kind of funny the "quietness as problem" from a user-perspective. I wonder if they'll do something with it along the same lines as compact digital camera manufacturers have done by "faking" noise so that people will acknowledge it as a car. It would seem to be a pretty good safety idea.
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From:dianavilliers
Date:February 11th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
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Oh I hope not. I turned off all the fake noises on my Lumix as soon as worked out that I could. I want to hear the actual mechanical bits functioning, and a little P&S shouldnt be making mirror flying up noises anyway.
I think in very short order people will get attuned to the noises that it does make, but something user-operated - like the horn but less strident might be a good idea. Sort of the equivalent of a subtle clearing of the throat to ask someone to move.
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From:yo_sarrian
Date:February 11th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
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I really hate the fake camera noises too, but we are talking about something that could RUN SOMEONE OVER. I agree that as you get more electric cars on the road people will become attuned to it, but the first couple are going to have to have SOMETHING to let people know that a vehicle is approaching. It could be just an amplified electric hum or something like that.
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From:dianavilliers
Date:February 11th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
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Mandatory doosh-doosh sound systems perhaps.

FWIW, one of the psychologists in the human factors team agrees with you that having cars make noise provides significant concious and subconcious information to other road users, which helps prevent accidents in both the long and short term, and that noise-makers on almost silent cars would be a Good Idea.
I personally think such things should be kept to an absloute minimum, but would want to see some reasearch done as to what that absolute minimum was.

I might ask the Mitsubishi people what their official thoughts on the matter are. Obviously, they've chosen not to include a noise-maker in these demonstration cars, but I'd be surprised if they haven't done some thinking about the issue.

Edited at 2009-02-11 10:56 pm (UTC)
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