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The i-Car is already based on a good concept. Think stretched wheelbase Smart FourTwo with a four speed auto. The Mitsubishi i-Car shares the same engine layout with the Smart, which strangely enough, makes the i-Car the only current Mitsubishi passenger car with rear wheel drive.
Then again, owners can always tell their friends at the bar that they own a turbocharged mid engined rear wheel drive car…
Better Than a Smart Four Two
Now, the Smart FourTwo is funky, cool looking and drives pretty well while virtually sipping at the world’s fossil fuel supplies, but by growing the concept to accommodate a couple of more people it makes even more sense. In fact the i-car makes the Smart look rather dense.
Japanese Kei Car
The engine in the i-Car is a 48kW MIVEC 660cc three cylinder turbo, designed to fit in with Japan’s Kei car regulations, which mandate a tiny engine as well as a tiny body, and as such it has some questionable Japanese styling.
Most of the rest of the i-Car isn’t bad, either it’s just the front end, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a Koi carp that’s accidentally swallowed a garden gnome. If only the front of the car had the same funky styling as the Smart, it might look just that little bit better.
Rear Engined Car
There are a few compromises involved in the i-Car, the most obvious being the very high boot floor, essential so the engine has somewhere to go. There’s also the prospect of first time owners fumbling at the black vent on the right hand side, mistaking it for the fuel cap. It’s actually the engine air inlet.
Very Efficient Engine
The third compromise is that, thanks to the tiny fuel tank – only 35 litres, just over half the size of a standard fuel tank -the fuel gauge drops remarkably quickly, which could lead many people to believe that the i-Car isn’t all that efficient. In fact the tiny three cylinder engine is a little too efficient, to the point where the heater takes an awfully long time to start operating.
Handling is also affected by the design. Because the car is narrow and tall, the suspension and tyres, just like those of the Smart Four Two, are tuned to introduce understeer early on in the cornering process.
The front tyres are 145/65 R15, while the rears are 175/55 R15. The tyre choice is deliberate, so that grip begins to run out at the front before it does at the rear, just as in the Smart FourTwo. This stabilizes the car and prevents oversteer, but it means the i-car is not exactly the last word in driving fun, especially given the promise of a mid engined rear wheel drive chassis.
The tall shape also doesn’t like side winds. The curved edges of the body allows side winds to alternately grab and then flow around the curves, making the i-car rather wobbly drive at open road speeds on windy days.
Take a step back though, and recognize that this is only intended as a city car, costs just NZ$17,990 and many of the previous criticisms are forgiven.