It's one thing to drive a prototype on a test track. It's quite another to take it on public roads in a familiar environment. But Mitsubishi's iMiEV impressed.
This is the iCar with the lithium-ion dry cell battery stack and electric motor. It's a wee vehicle that's most at home on city roads, though the standard petrol variant makes a decent fist of motorway speeds if required.
But a brief taster suggests the electric car is better, in every respect.
At first glance it looks the same as the petrol variant. Slide behind the wheel though, and the instruments are different. Flick the ignition, a green 'ready' light appears, and the car is poised to go. Release the handbrake and it'll creep forward.
You don't need to inch into traffic in the iMiEV, despite its additional 180kg weight. Electric motors give their best from basement rpm. The iMiEV has the same 47kW as the standard car, but double the torque, at 180Nm from idle to 8500rpm. That means the iMiEV's strongest pulling from the line, and at round-town speeds.
You drive it as you would any other car. Threading through Wellington traffic, onto the motorway and up the Ngauranga gorge; easily overtaking other road-users; then back into the city, touching 110 during a moment of inattention and risking the first NZ speeding ticket for an electrically-powered vehicle.
Down the waterfront, we then climbed steep Mt Victoria - taking in a hill start - and found the twistiest route back down, selecting 'B' for greater engine braking (and power regeneration) on the steeper bits.
The 'battery level' needle had plunged for the hard-working motorway leg, with six-fourteenths used in 27km. Now it remained static as we returned to city traffic, with power regeneration under braking topping the battery up as we went, and no power drain registering during the next 11km.
Bar the silence - or the odd whine while braking or at speed - this is a typical city car, if perhaps a little brisker than most.
It's a shame, then, that the iMiEV is not yet on sale. Indeed, this evaluation vehicle flies home shortly and meanwhile is on a short leash, with Mitsubishi NZ staff chaperoning it at all times.
Perhaps they're worried we'll take it further than the estimated 160km range. Quick-charging isn't yet available here - it requires a massive charge of current and the equipment therefore costs prohibitively.
The car is simply plugged into a standard socket overnight - the only difference being a longer pin for the earth. Full charge costs around $3.80 at present prices, and Mitsubishi envisages owners plugging in on a timer, to charge the car at cheaper night rates.
Mitsubishi's iMiEV goes into limited production next year, at which time it'll be safety-rated. Meantime trip switches break circuits in a crash; the battery can be isolated while servicing; and the car has passed NCAP-standard frontal crash tests, though as the one we drove is a hand-built prototype it has no official safety rating and is driving under a temporary exemption, as is Meridian's evaluation car.
Both iMiEV vehicles will head home to Japan in two months, but Mitsubishi NZ hopes to have limited numbers on sale within two years. Prices will be high at first, with cars likely to be bought by businesses sending a sustainability message.