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Driving the Nissan EV: We get seat time in a prototype

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0700

We got to fling a prototype of the coming Nissan electric vehicle around the parking lot at Dodger Stadium and, like the Dodgers themselves on Opening Day, it was a winner.

The prototype body was a previous-generation Cube, but the drivetrain of the car was "99 percent there," according to Nissan. So we drove an old car with the new drivetrain.

The first thing we noticed was that it doesn't have traction control, spinning the inside front tire on hard launches. Then we noticed that it launched pretty well, not like a Tesla Roadster or a WrightSpeed electric car, both of which can be downright thrilling, but it got off the line without lollygagging. Zero to 60 mph? Who knows, eight or nine seconds? Just a guess.

It had one of the quietest electric drivetrains we've ever heard, or not heard, too.

Regenerative braking was tuned perfectly for regular consumer use. It slowed the car when we lifted off the gas to recover as much electricity as it could, but it didn't bog it down. More bog would be more efficient in recapturing electricity, but this setting felt like a good compromise for the nonracer/nonphysicist buyer.

The suspension was set up nicely, too, the perfect consumer-level balance of ride and handling. It soaked up the stadium lot's ancient pavement comfortably and leaned only moderately around the traffic cones without transmitting all the bumps into our fillings. Nissan has done a good job of making a car that will be acceptable to a wide audience outside of the science-fair community.

Nissan didn't release any specs for the single-motor AC powerplant. Earlier prototypes made 80 kilowatts, or 107 hp, and this one probably makes that or even a bit more from a new pack of laminated lithium-ion batteries. The batteries weigh 500 pounds, so we're guessing the production car will weigh about 3,000 pounds.

Nissan promises a 100-mile range when production cars enter fleets--and a few retail sales areas--in late 2010. Recharge time is 16 hours on 110 volts, four hours at 220 volts and 26 minutes from empty to 80 percent charge on 480 volts and 50 amps. Buyers will need a $500 charger box in their garages that will cost another $500 to $1,500 to install.

But Nissan also claims operating costs of four cents per mile, less than half what a gasoline car costs. That's 367 mpg equivalent, Nissan said.

The sticker price for the car won't be announced for several months, and then it will be done by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, but we were told to expect it to be aimed at "the fat part of the market." We assume that means midsize sedans, but we don't know whether that price is before or after the $7,500 federal tax credit and the potential $5,000 California state credit. For that, we'll have to wait.

But for now, we like the tune and trim of this little car.




By Mark Vaughn