Mitsubishi i MIVEC Turbo - Casual Review
i stands for Intelligent and Smart

Justin Lee
11 Oct 2006

Mitsubishi’s new “i is simply the most original and stylish little car on the market.

It has been said time and again that cars, no matter who makes them or where they come from, are all beginning to look alike, and to a certain extent it is true. Blame globalization, increasingly connected world, or the fact that car makers today don’t dare stray to far from the tried and tested, but most cars today follow essential a set pattern. The engine is in front, is transversely mounted and drives the front wheels. At the rear, there is a torsion beam axle, or a more complicated multi-link set-up for larger and more expensive cars. Whether it’s a 3-door coupe, a 4-door sedan or even an MPV or SUV, the mechanical components seldom deviate from this formula, apart from certain details and tuning specifications.

Out of this increasingly homogenous environment, Mitsubishi launched the i a couple of months ago, and on almost every count, it is different from anything else on the road. Firstly, the engine is in the back, like a Porsche or Ferrari F430, and although it is just a tiny 3-cylinder 659cc unit, it is fully turbocharged. To ensure the i remains firmly planted to the road, the rear suspension is a sophisticated De Dion rear axle, similar to the set-up found on exotic cars such as the Alfa Romeo 75 or Ferrari Daytona.

Looks-wise, the i is also unlike anything else on the road. The car is cute, in the most positive sense – it looks clean and futuristic, like something from a sci-fi movie. There is almost no front or rear overhang with the entire car sitting within its 2550mm wheelbase. There is no boot, in the conventional sense, either in front or at the rear, instead any luggage is stored on top of the engine!  Instead of having similarly-sized tyres all round, the i’s front ones are narrower than those at the back (145/65 R15 in front, 175/55 R15 at the back), and there isn’t room to for a spare!

If the i is beginning to sound like an impractical exotic car, it isn’t. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Its rear engine layout actually makes the i very space-efficient, giving it a cabin length of a much larger car. The i is unbelievably spacious for such a small car, with generous amounts of both head and legroom. Instead of changing tyres, just like a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz SLK, the i comes equipped with a tyre sealing kit and an electric pump, which is good enough to allow you to get to a tyre shop for a replacement. When was the last time you encountered a puncture anyway.

The i’s cabin design follows the futuristic theme set by the exterior. Firstly, the i has keyless entry, probably the smallest car to have this cool feature. There is no need to physically insert the key – instead, the key is a transponder, and when the car recognizes the key, it allows anyone with the key in his pocket (or her purse) to open the door and turn the ignition on.
Upon getting in, there is a zen-like minimalist dashboard. The three gauges in the instrument binnacle – a speedometer flanked by the smaller fuel and temperature gauges – come together like the silhouette of Mickey Mouse. The seats look like high-end designer showpieces, upholstered in attractive red fabric. Everything has been designed to look and feel fully-integrated, but with a touch of whimsy and fun. The fit and finish matches that of the high-quality design.

It is probably from behind the wheel that the i really delivers a truly original experience. Unlike most cars, which are front wheel driven and pulled, the i is rear wheel driven and pushed. Just like the original VW Beetle, this makes the i very engaging to drive, especially when accelerating from traffic lights. It feels gutsy and eager, even if there is just 64bhp on tap. The engine is free-revving and torquey, and it gets really fun when the turbocharger kicks in. The i just continues accelerating, and seems to enjoy it tremendously. This get-up-and-go, plus its ultra compact size, makes the i just a blast to drive. See a gap in the traffic? Just step on the throttle, the i will rocket immediately forward and slip into it.

The nice thing is that the i sounds wonderful as well, the turbocharger putting out a excited high-tech, high-pitched whine. Its really like having a Porsche or Ferrari, but a pint-sized one. The steering is light though, and low-geared so that it isn’t twitchy and nervous, especially as there is almost no weight over the front wheels. With narrow 145/65 tyres in front, the steering is wonderfully direct and communicative.
Writing that the i is a true original is actually a half truth. In fact, the i gets is unique powertrain and set up from the Smart fortwo, the trendy and iconic two-seater that is a sensation Europe, but no where else. There were plans to bring the Smart fortwo into Singapore, but since it would sell for around the same price as the Toyota Corolla Altis, it was considered too expensive, and thus all plans were scrapped. So for fans of the Smart, the i is practically the same car, except that it is slightly longer and has two extra doors, making it much more practical.

In terms of positioning in the local Mitsubishi range, the i’s sophistication and style makes it an alternative to the Colt instead a cheaper, entry-level model. On the other hand, the i’s personality and charisma is truly special, and for those looking for a car that has character way beyond its size and specs, the i cannot be beat.

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