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.
The 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.
One 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.