With the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show less than a month away, the few remaining participating automakers are throwing down their cars. Following Subaru and Honda to the table is Mitsubishi, with a new plug-in hybrid crossover called the PX-MiEV and a cargo van version of the i-MiEV electric car.
Looking something like an updated Endeavour with a touch of Land Rover styling, the PX-MiEV is Mitsubishi's centerpiece. Though it may resemble the Endeavour, the PX-MiEV -- which stands for Plug-in hybrid Crossover-Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle -- is actually closer in size to the Outlander, but slightly larger. While the hard, boxy, yet simple styling is a big step forward for Mitsubishi crossovers, the real story is what lies beneath.
The PX-MiEV is powered by Mitsubishi's first hybrid drivetrain. Rather than follow the Toyota and Honda route, Mitsubishi has skipped ahead to a plug-in series hybrid right out of the gate. Under the hood is a 114-hp 1.6L DOHC MIVEC four-cylinder engine with 92 lb-ft of torque that can either power the wheels directly or act as a generator to power the electric motors. Two 60-hp electric motors generating 148 lb-ft of torque each are mounted on the axles and can propel the car by themselves or work in concert with the gasoline engine. Mitsubishi says the combination is good for an impressive 118 mpg.
At low to medium speeds, the front electric motor does most of the work by powering the front wheels. At higher speeds or when more power is needed, the gasoline engine kicks on to either make more electricity to power the electric motors or to help power the wheels directly, depending on which the onboard computer thinks will be more efficient. The rear electric motor only comes on when the front wheels are slipping, under hard acceleration, or under sudden maneuvers to help stabilize the vehicle. The electric motors also act as generators during braking to recharge the battery.
To keep the PX-MiEV as stable and safe as possible, several specially designed onboard systems work together to dole out power to the appropriate wheels as conditions dictate. The E-4WD (Electric four-wheel drive) system controls the torque split front to rear while the S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) system uses its E-AYC (Electric-powered Active Yaw Control) system to determine torque split left to right and regenerative braking and the ABS and Active Stability Control systems to keep the vehicle in check. Unlike the Lancer Evo X's AYC system, though, the E-AYC system uses a differential motor to control the torque split between the rear tires rather than a wet-clutch system for better control and efficiency. An air suspension keeps the ride pleasant and can be height-adjusted from the cabin.
Other flashy technology on the PX-MiEV includes the new Multi-around Monitor system, which is modeled after Infiniti's Around View camera system. Like Infiniti, Mitsubishi has strategically placed cameras around the exterior of the vehicle that give a complete, top-down, panoramic view of the area around the vehicle to aid in parking and other tight situations. The PX-MiEV also includes Japan's Driving Support Safety System, which picks up signals from roadside sensors that warn the vehicle's computers about pedestrians and other vehicles in the area. Also onboard are sensors that track nearby vehicles and warn the driver when they're too close or in a blind spot, and the Dedicated Short Range Communications system for toll collection and vehicle tracking.
The interior of the PX-MiEV is just as impressive as the rest of it. Mitsubishi's cocochi (a play on the Japanese word for "cozy") interior is replete with high-tech, soft-touch materials such as seat upholstery that destroys allergens, kills bacteria, and breaks down odors and volatile organic compounds, all while offering heating and cooling features for all four passengers. Heat-reflecting windows and exterior paint and lots of insulation help regulate the interior temperature and cut energy usage by the automatic climate control system. A Driving Monitor System keeps a camera trained on the driver and watches for signs that his or her alertness is slipping, then sets off audible, visual, and vibration warnings and even releases a "distinct" scent to get the driver's attention.
Matching all of this impressive technology is an equally impressive instrument panel. Mitsubishi has taken a minimalist approach and replaced all the regular user interfaces with slick touchscreens with impressive graphics. With three display screens hanging behind the horseshoe steering wheel and a single screen hanging between the front seats, the controls of the PX-MiEV look straight out of a science-fiction movie. That funky steering wheel also houses buttons and switches that allow the driver to control the stereo, climate controls, navigation, and more without taking their hands off the wheel. Visual alerts on the display screens behind the wheel keep the driver informed about the status of the various onboard systems so they need only look down to the instrument panel to verify then instead of all around the cabin. Rear-seat passengers get their own center console touchscreen for audio, climate, and other controls.
Even with all of that, Mitsubishi has another trick up its sleeve. Thanks to its plug-in hybrid drivetrain, the PX-MiEV can be charged from standard 100- or 200-volt wall sockets or a special quick-charge station, but that's not all. The system can also store energy in the battery then use it to power a household appliance to reduce home energy costs (electricity rates are generally cheaper at night and more expensive during the day). Or, it can be used on a camping trip or in an emergency when the power is out. When the battery is drained below a certain cutoff point, the gasoline engine kicks on to act as a 70 kW generator to provide power.
Also present at the Tokyo show will be a new cargo van-version of Mitsubishi's tiny i-MiEV electric city car. Eschewing the rear doors and seats for a 62 cubic-foot flat-floored cargo area, the i-MiEV Cargo is designed with small businesses in mind. It offers 100-mile range, though it will no doubt be affected by the cargo load, as will the performance of the 63-hp 133 lb-ft electric motor.
While the i-MiEV Cargo is slated for production in Japan, the future of the PX-MiEV isn't known yet. Even if the concept doesn't make it into production, look for the design and technology to make their way into other future Mitsubishi products.