Car Review: Mitsubishi - iCar  Series 07 (3 stars)

The Mitsubishi iCar is a vehicle ahead of its time - it's just no-one knows when that time is

Many objects, no matter how well they're designed, rely on their context to keep them fresh and relevant, for people to understand what they're for. Put a red telephone box in the middle of Antarctica, or a fish and chip shop in Dubai and these things are bound to look incongruous.

The same thing will happen if you take a Japanese icon like a Kei car - built to strict measurements that restrict the width and length of the car but not the height - out of its oriental urban environment and plonk it in rural Berkshire.

The Mitsubishi iCar looks out of place wherever you put it really - its strange looks are designed to stick out even amongst the oddball assorted Japanese machinery that Tokyo's filled with, but then in many ways the car is so right, but mainly on paper...

Its engine is mounted in the boot and powers the rear wheels, enabling the packaging of the rest of the car to be kept as compact as possible. And this car is astoundingly small - not a great deal longer than a Smart Fortwo, it is built to Kei regulations that dictate a maximum of 1.4m width, 3.4m length and a 660cc engine.

However, that engine is now history - the original version of the iCar sold in such low numbers that it is now only available in iMiEV electric vehicle guise. That car offers the same package as in the petrol-powered iCar but with a 20kw electric motor that offers a 100-mile range. That car also probably only makes sense in limited urban conditions, but it's one of a number of landmark cars that show EVs are but a step or two away from the mainstream.

Inside, the iCar feels cheaper than its price suggests it should, but you have to remember that it is still a budget car whatever its high-minded concept might suggest. There is reasonable room for four, which is incredible considering the size of the car. That there is still decent boot space is a minor miracle. The car isn't great over long distances, which is fine in EV guise because you can't make them anyway.

We like the idea of the iMiev, but the price isn't just in the wrong ballpark, it is in the wrong universe. Despite a recent price cut, it is still £5,000 more expensive than the Nissan Leaf, which is a full size electrically driven family car.

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