Driving the Coda Sedan

by Ernie Hernandez on December 30, 2011

Coda SedanA 1990’s sedan for 2012

With the San Diego International Auto Show coming to town, we got an opportunity to get behind the wheel of one true electric vehicle (EV) and a couple of hybrids. Also, recently we had an opportunity to join Car2Go, a car sharing service that operates in San Diego, Austin and Washington, DC (in the US) and uses only smart fortwo electric cars in San Diego. So we took one out for an extended test drive. Over the next several days, we will talk about our experiences in each of these vehicles. Today we will write about the Coda Sedan.

When we first saw it, our thoughts were that it was not an unattractive vehicle – for a late 80’s or early 90’s family sedan. They tried to dress up the front with some light emitting diode (LED) daytime running lights, but it’s still pretty generic looking, and not very up-to-date at that. We hoped for more on the inside, but soon found that are hopes would remain unfulfilled.

The dash was about as plain as it could possibly be.

Coda Sedan dashboardThe old school temperature knobs would look just as at home in a fifteen year old Chevy, Ford or Mazda. Now some cars still use similar knobs, but we feel the same way about them. We’ve come a long way baby… shouldn’t our cars keep up with the times?

One item that we found interesting was the shift knob.

Coda Sedan shift knobOne rotates the knob clockwise to shift from park, to reverse, to neutral, to drive. One thing that we noted was the lack of multiple drive modes. While the Nissan LEAF offers Drive and Eco modes, and the Mitsubishi i adds a third with more aggressive brake regeneration mode, the Coda Sedan makes do with only one forward mode. It really needs more.

So how did it drive? Better than outward appearances would lead you to believe. It had plenty of acceleration, with 221 lb-ft of torque on tap. Speaking of which… it would be wise to not rely on the information provided by auto show ride and drive right front seat hosts. Typically they are sourced locally (or relatively so), get minimal training, and quite often forget most of that. The auto show spokespersons inside the shows actually know a fair amount about the car, but the men and women riding shotgun… not so much. Case in point – when I asked about the power and torque of the electric motor my host hesitated for a moment, then said “it has 134 horsepower and 120 ft-lbs of torque”. While he was right regarding the power, he was short 101 ft-lbs on the torque.

One thing that caught us out when we first got behind the wheel was this – initial brake pedal movement was significantly greater than expected. As we approached the first stop sign of our drive, we kept pressing and pressing until finally we started slowing down. Very disconcerting to say the least. Once used to, probably not a big deal, but not something that I would casually loan out to a friend without making mention of.

The seats were comfortable enough, though overall the interior design matched the dated look of the exterior. There is room for five in this family sedan, and it appeared to be suitable enough for that purpose.

The drive was unfortunately short, but we had an opportunity to accelerate full throttle (brisk – as one would expect), brake (no panic braking, but brakes seemed adequate to the task), evaluate the turning circle (decent). While there was no opportunity to check out the handling, in the little time that we spent in the car, we think it will be fine for the intended audience.

Its claim to fame is that it offers a 36 kilowatt hour battery pack, 50% greater than that of the Nissan LEAF. This large battery will provide a roughly 50% greater range before one runs out of juice. The question is, at $40,795 Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), will anyone be willing to to actually own one to test that claim? Coda has stated that they will be going after fleet business. We sincerely hope that they find some buyers, as additional EV exposure will assist the breed. We have our doubts that many consumers would be willing to shell out the needed cash on an unproven manufacturer, using largely unknown (to the consumer) technology, at a price several thousand dollars more than the Nissan LEAF (which although offers less range, offers greater confidence in the manufacturer).

Speaking of that large battery, Coda chose to use a Lithium iron phosphate chemistry, as opposed to Lithium ion. Charging a battery of this size would take 12 hours in the LEAF using the 240-volt charging dock. It takes half that time in the Coda Sedan, as Coda chose to use a 6.6 kilowatt on-board charger. Nissan is expected to offer the larger charger in the 2013 LEAF, moving up from the current 3.3 kilowatt unit.

The verdict? If it were half the price, we might consider it. But even then, only if this were a vehicle that we did not need to rely on. Unproven quality, unknown technology, and untested safety leave too many unanswered questions for us to feel comfortable recommending this car. Ask us again in five years or so about our thoughts, and we will have a better answer for you.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom K December 31, 2011 at 8:20 am

I just did a panic stop in my LEAF when some idiot pulled out of the wrong way in a parking lot. As I read your well informed article on the CODA, I wonder how it would’ve performed the same quick stop… I keep thinking that sometimes “old school” might be better than the latest tech. As example, I hate how convoluted the heater is to operate in my LEAF. Although I wish CODA well, I’m sticking with my LEAF…

Reply

Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) December 31, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Tom – glad to hear that the brakes worked!

Reply

IndyFlick December 31, 2011 at 10:23 am

Actually, lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) is a type of lithium-ion battery. I’m not sure who manufactures the Coda pack, but A123 Systems uses LiFePO4 chemistry in their batteries.

Reply

Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) December 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Indy – thanks for that. You prompted some additional research on my part, which will be posted soon.

Reply

IndyFlick December 31, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I think the interesting thing is that the Coda will be the first Chinese-made electric car to be sold in the US. Being Chinese-made I would have thought the price would have been lower. As for the design, removing the side moldings would help a lot. Nothing screams mid 90’s like body side moldings. Also, I wonder about the A-pillar on the Coda. I’m not sure how a 90’s designed vehicle could possibly pass modern safety regulations with such an A-pillar. New federal roof-crush standards are scheduled to take effect in September 2012. The new code requires automobile roofs to be at least 3X more rigid for rollover protection.

Reply

Tom K January 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm

It will be interesting to see CODA’s crash test results… If it gets that far…

Reply

Ilya Haykinson January 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm

I’d asked a friend of mine in Beijing to look up prices for a brand new Hafei Saibao, whose body Coda uses for their car. The answer — less than $15K for the top of the line model. While we all know that the battery is the most expensive part of EVs, I can’t help but think that had they bought the Lifan 520 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifan_520), which costs half the money, or spent the exact same money to buy a Geely Gleegle GC7 (http://www.qqycar.com/Products/gleagle/gc7/summarize.html) which in my opinion looks far prettier.

Reply

Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) January 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Ilya – Welcome to Living LEAF. Thank you for pointing us to the source of the body of the Coda Sedan. We knew that it was a Chinese body, but were not familiar with the specifics. Keep in mind, direct comparisons between gasoline and electric vehicles – even when based on the same vehicle – don’t tell the whole story. Just as the very first mobile phones were large, not particularly convenient, and extremely expensive, similar comparisons can be made with the first generation of electric vehicles by all manufacturers. This new technology is paving the way for future electric vehicles that will have greater range and be more competitive from a price standpoint. As we have said many times before, if a current technology electric car is not right for your situation, you shouldn’t buy one. For many though, their purchase of today’s technology electric cars is providing the way for future electric vehicles that will be more suitable to a broad range of driver needs.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: