Mitsubishi’s i offers the best economy in the U.S. at the lowest price among electric cars, but numbers pertaining to its crash-worthiness could be seen as somewhat less inspiring.

This news came after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tested the electric car and gave it four stars out of five for frontal impact, and just three out of five for side impact. Its rollover score was four stars and NHTSA observed that a rear seat crash dummy’s torso was struck by a door panel suggesting risk of lower back injury as well.

Compared to the two first-to-market major electrified competitors – the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf – the little Mitsu falls short in safety ratings.

In fact, both the Volt and Leaf have done well stacked up against comparable-class gasoline models, and it was observed the extra kinetic energy from their heavy lithium-ion batteries actually served them along with well-designed structures to withstand crash tests.

Last June, the Volt – which is still utilizing the same structural design in 2012 and 2013 – earned from NHTSA a four-star front crash rating, a five-star side crash rating and a five-star rollover rating. The Volt was also bestowed by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) with Top Safety Pick status last April.

Similarly, the 2012 Nissan Leaf received four stars out of five in the frontal crash test, five stars out of five in the side crash test and four stars out of five in the rollover test. And like the Volt, the 2013 model should do similarly, as the design is not due to substantially change, and the Leaf also was praised last year by the IIHS as a Top Safety Pick.

But then, if you need economical urban transport, the Mitsu i undoubtedly is much safer against impacts than would be an unrated Neighborhood Electric Vehicle based on a golf cart, let alone a motorcycle or scooter, and may also compare to other inexpensive small cars. So as the saying goes, you can pay your [less] money and take your chances.

As is becoming the (ethically questionable) norm in the marketing of these incentive-eligible cars, Mitsubishi advertises a low teaser price starting at $21,625 – after deduction of potential tax savings, naturally. Actually, the Mitsubishi starts at just under $30,000 and this compares to the Leaf in the mid-30 range and the Volt at around $40,000 and up – and these cars are also eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and other potential incentives.

But also in the Mitsu’s favor is efficiency. The U.S. EPA ranked the i as the most fuel-efficient car in the U.S. with 126 MPGe in the city and 99 on the highway.

The 2012 Volt offers 94 MPGe and the 2013 Volt due in August is said to garner 98 MPGe. The Volt also can deliver 37 mpg once the gasoline generator picks up where the batteries left off. The all-electric Leaf promises 106 MPGe around town and 92 on the highway.