Mitsubhisi i

The Mitsubishi i is a kei car from Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors, first released in January 2006, twenty eight months after its debut at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show. It is the first four door automobile since the 1960s to employ a “rear midship” setup with the engine behind the passengers, in an attempt to improve safety and interior space without enlarging the overall exterior.

The innovative layout and styling of the i proved an immediate critical and commercial success, exceeding Mitsubishi’s initial sales targets by 20 percent and winning thirteen awards in its first year. Although designed with the Japanese keijidōsha light automobile class in mind, the attention it generated led to its subsequent introduction in right hand drive markets in Asia, Oceania and Europe. It is also used as a basis of the 2009 i-MiEV battery electric vehicle.

A lightweight aluminium space frame structure and a rear-engined layout allowed Mitsubishi to incorporate a larger front crumple zone, in order to meet current safety legislation requirements without compromising interior space. With no powertrain in front of the driver, the designers were able to shorten the front overhang and lengthen the wheelbase to 2,550 millimetres (100.4 in), giving greater legroom for passengers than many comparable kei cars whose wheelbase is typically 130–190 mm (5.1–7.5 in) less. The downside of this design was a reduction in cargo-carrying capacity, which was necessarily compromised by the engine’s location in the rear. The i has a “rear-midship” engine mounted just ahead of the rear axle, a highly unusual configuration in a small car where front-engine design has dominated since the 1970s. The 3B20 three cylinder powerplant has an aluminium cylinder block, a displacement of 659 cubic centimetres, and incorporates double overhead camshafts with MIVEC variable valve timing in the cylinder head. Initially only an intercooled and turbocharged engine was offered, until a naturally aspirated version was introduced for 2007. A four-speed automatic gearbox transmits power to the rear or all four wheels, depending on specification.MacPherson struts are used in the front suspension, and an unusual three-link De Dion tube/Watt’s linkage is used in the rear. Front discs with anti-lock braking (ABS) and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) are standard across the range. In common with many other mid- or rear-engined vehicles its fifteen inch wheels have uneven-sized tires, 145/65 on the fronts and wider 175/55 on the rears, in an effort to minimise the chances of oversteer caused by the rear-biased weight distribution.Three individual models, or grades, were available on the car’s release in 2006; S, M, and G, in ascending order of price. They all shared the same five-door hatchback body style and turbocharged engine, but offered differing levels of options and standard equipment. In 2007 the base S model was given the new naturally aspirated powerplant, and was positioned below the two new grades, L and LX, whose engine it shared.

Mass production began at the company’s Mizushima plant in Kurashiki, Okayama, in December 2005, before it was released for sale on January 24, 2006. Priced from ¥1,281,000 to ¥1,617,000, Mitsubishi initially aimed for 5,000 cars per month within the domestic market, and managed to exceed its target in its first month by over 1,000. By the end of 2006, approximately 37,000 had been sold. The company has already exported the i to Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, where like Japan they drive on the left, and introduced it to the United Kingdom on July 1, 2007, with a price of UK£9,000 and a target of 300 sales per year.

The i won the 2007 Car of the Year award from the Japanese Automotive Researchers and Journalists Conference (RJC), and two other “Car of the Year” awards, from the Carview Corporation website and the Consumer’s Choice. It also won the “Most Advanced Technology” Special Achievement Award at the 2006–07 Japan Car of the Year awards, where it was nominated unsuccessfully in the overall Car of the Year category, and ranked first in the Japan Mini-Car APEAL Study published by J.D. Power Asia Pacific in October 2006, with a higher score than any previous winner.

Aside from the 2006 Good Design Grand Prix, its style won Design Awards from the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame (JAHFA), and the magazines Popeye and Car Styling.

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