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Mitsubishi 'i' is electric car for budget-conscious drivers

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Electric cars are upon us, but if you've looked into them you might have gotten a little sticker shock. But the rising cost of gas, now may be the perfect time to look for an electric vehicle.

The Nissan Leaf runs about $35,000 to start. The Chevrolet Volt, with its battery-power plus onboard generator, has a base price of about $40,000. It's the same with Ford's new battery-powered Focus.

But even with the current $7,500 federal tax credit, it's hard to get any of these for under $30,000.

But there one new electric car is more affordable- Mitsubishi's plug-in simply called the "i." It has a base price of just over 29,000, and with the tax credit factored in it's under $22,000.

It might look a little funny, but it is a real car. It can drive anywhere- even the freeway- although anywhere takes on a different meaning when a car relies on battery power.

Range is rated at 62 miles, but that can vary significantly depending on how you drive and whether you use the air conditioner or heater.

As a commuter, the "i" should work fine. However keep in mind though that the low price gets you a small and somewhat down-scale car.

The plastics are pretty low-grade, and even moderately tall drivers will find that the seat doesn't go back nearly far enough. It's also rather narrow, so you'll be cozy with your front passenger. And don't look for a center armrest, because there isn't room for one.

Mitsubishi and the government estimate it will cost you about $550-worth of electricity to drive the car for a year. And it comes with a charger that you can plug into your standard household outlet- but with that voltage it would take 22 hours to charge a completely drained battery.

The solution is to install a quicker charger that runs on 240 volts, but it'll cost you $1,000 or more to install at your home. However, many utilities offer rebates to cover part or all of the cost.

Electric cars are here, and are generally expensive to buy. Mitsubishi's bargain-priced offering isn't perfect, but it is a real car that runs without gas. You'll just have to put up with something that isn't very big, attractive, or luxurious.

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