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Google's new self-driving car looks like the offspring of a Mini Cooper and an Volkswagen bug.
Debate still rages on thebest way to sell electric cars
. Should automakers be boasting of their environmental credentials? Or should they talk in a language people understand -- money -- and highlight the economic benefits? Maybe it's all about silence and refinement? Rarely mentioned is just how funelectric cars
can be to drive. So we've taken a primal, quantitative measure of driving fun -- the 0 to 60 mph acceleration sprint -- to rank each battery-electric vehicle on sale today, or on sale soon. At the very least, this gallery will serve as a handy list of whichcars
not to try and beat from the next green light.
You probably aren't surprised by this one. The Model S is comfortably the most powerful electriccar
on sale, and while it's also the heaviest, it still offers super-sedan performance. If you like that airliner-on-takeoff feeling on your commute, this is the car to offer it.
Another car with Tesla influence (though not for much longer
) and apparently Tesla-style performance, the RAV4 is a Toyota product. With a 115 kW (154 hp), 220 lb-ft electric motor and a Sport mode, the RAV4 EV will see off most other crossovers andSUVs
at the lights. A 103-mile EPA-rated range isn't bad, either.
BMW's electric city car has attracted attention for its styling more than anything else, but with a 130 kW (170 hp) electric motor driving the rear wheels and a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic chassis, it's also brisk. It's worth noting that the extra weight of the range-extended model does dull performance a little.
The key figure for the Spark EV isn't the 97 kW (130 hp) power output -- though that's not bad for such a small car. No, it's the incredible 400 pounds-feet of torque, more than a Ferrari 458 Italia. Okay, so the Ferrari is still quicker and perhaps a little more attractive too, but the Spark comfortably sees off its combustion counterparts, which is much more interesting.
Mercedes-Benz is pitching itsupcoming B-Class Electric Drive
as a rival to the BMW i3, and pricing is near-identical. It's got a little more interior space, but isn't quite as innovative in its construction and in terms of both acceleration and cornering, the BMW driver will be having more fun.
The best demonstration of the Fit EV we've yet seen hasn't really called for outright acceleration; there's a limit to how much you can usesliding around on a frozen lake
. But 8.5 seconds to 60 mph is still better than most compact cars, let alone subcompacts. And you still get all the other Fit benefits -- an agile chassis and spacious interior.
TheFiat 500E is a hoot to drive
whether you're going in a straight line or zipping around city streets, and a 0-60 dash of 9.1 seconds is similar to that of its gasoline counterparts. But let's be honest, you'd prefer to have that performance with a quiet, clean electric motor, wouldn't you?
Volkswagen's entrant into the electriccompact
sector isn't yet on sale, but it's not too bad a performer. "Around 10 seconds" is VW's estimate for the e-Golf (to 100 km/h, or 62 mph, it's 10.4). More pertinently, it's good over those first few yards too--proving fun to drive around the streets of Berlinon the car's recent launch
Like the Golf and Leaf, few will regularly do a full 0-60 mph sprint on their daily commutes, but the Focus is par for the course for acceleration performance. The Focus's main trump card is handling though -- the gasoline Focus is already widely praised, and the Electric model is also a neat handler.
The Leaf lags its compact rivals here but many owners are content to cruise around using as little energy as possible. Like allelectric vehicles
, it's pretty good over those first few feet anyway -- thank the 80 kW (110 hp) and 210 lb-ft electric motor's instant torque characteristics for that.
We've driven the electric Smart Fortwo on several occasions, andconsistently deem it a better vehicle
than its jerky gasoline siblings. It's also quicker, hitting 60 mph in the same time as the Leaf -- quite an experience in the Fortwo's upright body shape.
If you're a speed freak with a penchant for electricvehicles
, the i-MiEV probably won't be on your shopping list. The 15-second sprint has been bettered by some drivers, but as the official figure that's the one we have to run with, and it does the i-MiEV no favors. Luckily, low lease rates make it one of the cheapest electriccars
to get your hands on.
In a video posted along with its blog post, Google showed how people, from seniors to moms, could benefit from a self-driving car.
In some cases, these new cars could even drive better than some humans, as one couple in the video noted. The car they test "drove" slowed down as it approached a curve and sped up in the curve. The cars themselves resemble a marriage of a Mini Cooper and an Volkswagen bug, only lacking a steering wheel or pedals. [MORE: 13 Amazing Smart Home Gadgets]
Safety is the top concern with the prototypes, and Google has designed them with software and sensors to detect objects and obstacles up to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions. The cars can go no faster than 25 mph, to reduce potential damage should an accident occur.
Those close to Google and the project told Re/Code that the front of the car is built with foam and its windshield is flexible so as to minimize injuries to pedestrians and passengers upon impact.
Simplicity is also key. Each car's interior features just two seats with seatbelts, space for your belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a display that shows your route. These cars are likely to take pre-defined routes, such as from popular transit hubs to shopping malls or tourist attractions -- places that are more likely to see traffic congestion.
You probably won't see these cars on the streets for at least 2 years, since this project is still in an early testing phase. Google intends to starting about 100 prototypes this summer. If that goes well, a small pilot program will run in California in the subsequent years. These are the first working prototypes we've seen since Google announced the self-driving car project in 2010.
Google will need to clear more hurdles with lawmakers regarding the regulations around the use of these vehicles. For now, California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia are the only places where the use of autonomous vehicles have been approved. Plus, considering most Americans are afraid of riding in self-driving cars, Google will likely have a tough time convincing consumers to get on board.
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