Andy Keeble plugs into Mitsubishi’s revolutionary i-MiEV

POUND signs at the pumps could be a thing of the past with an electric alternative that’s more about plugging in than filling up.

Mitsubishi’s revolutionary i-MiEV has touched down in North Devon but you won’t have heard it coming.

As the North Devon Gazette discovered during a recent test-drive, it’s certainly not one to blow its own trumpet.

In fact, when you turn the key to start the ignition you’ll probably find the car’s complete silence a little unnerving to begin with. But you’ll soon discover what it lacks in vroom, it more than makes up for in zoom.

The UK’s first full electric vehicle, the i-MiEV is road tax free, congestion charge free and produces zero CO2 tailpipe emissions.

It’s got a 93-mile range on a £2 seven-hour overnight charge, while a 30-minute quick charge will top up 80 per cent of the battery – both from a domestic 240-volt, 13A plug socket.

The kind chaps from the Devonshire Motors dealership at Pottington ensured me that the little beauty had got plenty of juice to enable the Gazette team to spend a day putting it through its paces.

So after cautiously negotiating the speed bumps in Old Station Road without the reassuring brum of an engine, our first point of call was a drive, sorry glide, through Barnstaple town centre.

Days earlier, a jack-knifed articulated lorry had caused gridlock in the High Street but with visualiser Ross Middleton at the wheel, the only obstacles for the i-MiEV were the unsuspecting shoppers we crept up on.

Their surprise soon gave way to puzzled looks as the car zipped along Butchers Row. The i-MiEV certainly turned heads, and after a quick loop around the town, our initial unease soon turned to enjoyment.

Next it was my turn to get behind the wheel, so with one eye on the fuel gauge, sorry charge meter, I headed west along the A39 to Roundswell – and what a fun drive it was.

If electric car makes you think milk float or golf buggy, then think again; the i-MiEV is incredibly nippy and the zero-to-60mph actually felt a lot quicker than the 13 seconds specified in the details I’d been given.

It’s extremely comfortable too. The height adjustable driver’s seat offers a good elevated position and the large windscreen offers excellent visibility.

For a small car there is plenty of leg-room to stretch out and the main dash features a surprising number of toys, including air conditioning, MP3-compatible audio system, USB port, electric folding door mirrors, not to mention the all-important cup holders.

Dipping back into the busy lunchtime traffic, I selected a clever driving mode that recharges the battery when the accelerator is not in use – perfect for the stop-start conditions in the town centre.

The increased regenerative breaking transmission also helped to automatically slow the car in traffic, while giving me a satisfying reminder of the car’s environmental benefits.

It fared very well when loaded with four female colleagues nipping into town on their lunch break, although by the time reporter Tony Gussin returned from a jaunt around the country lanes of Swimbridge and Filleigh, the charge meter was down to its last bar.

Mitsubishi call the i-MiEV a revolution in motion and it’s not hard to see why.

My only question is if Mitsubishi can make electric cars this good, then why aren’t other manufacturers making more of the same?

With the i-MiEV, the chasm of technological advancement between the motor car and the home computer is only now beginning to narrow. And with the cost of fuel putting more of a squeeze on both motorists and the environment, the electric car has a clear part to play.

Adrian Winter, sales manager at Devonshire Motors, said: “I dare say that in 20 years’ time half of our forecourt will consist of electric or hybrid cars.

“While the i-MiEV is perfect for getting around North Devon, charge ports are popping up all over the place and long-distance journeys will no longer be beyond the realms of possibility.

“People will soon be able to pull up to the supermarket and charge their car in a special parking bay while they do their shopping.

“What’s more, the tax and fuel-saving benefits to businesses are obvious.”

The i-MiEV is already the biggest-selling electric car in the UK following its launch to just a handful of dealers in major towns and cities across the UK. Mitsubishi has now rolled out the model to its entire network of dealers around the country and its arrival in North Devon last month is seen as a major ‘first’ for the area.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer a vehicle of this calibre in this part of the world,” added Adrian.

“It’s groundbreaking technology and it’s only going to improve.”