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Chevrolet Volt
Chevrolet Volt

The Sipping Point Add to ...

The following is a brief overview of some of the more compelling electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) of the modern age—those that have become stars of the electric set and those on the verge of doing likewise.

THE GAME-CHANGERS



The Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 may not be for everybody—its $125,000 base price sealed that deal—but it helped pave the way for mass appeal by dispelling the notion that an EV is just an over-grown golf cart. In fact, the Tesla is a very serious sports car that handles beautifully and, in its Sport 2.5 configuration, rockets from 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds. (Just for the record, this is quicker than all but the most expensive exotic cars on the planet.)

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All of this performance is accomplished without the usual sports car sound and fury—no rumbling engine (just a persistent whir), no earth-shaking gear changes (a single fixed-gear transmission launches the car forward) and, more pointedly, no tailpipe emissions whatsoever.

The Tesla utilizes a lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged via either a 110- or 220-volt line; the latter will do the trick in just 3.5 hours. On a full charge and driven sensibly, the car can achieve a range of close to 400 km, a very impressive figure for a modern EV.

The Roadster is not being built anymore, due to the end of a production agreement with carmaker Lotus, and it’s now sold out in North America. Still, the car warrants mention because—in terms of sheer excitement—it’s the pacesetter of the modern EV fleet.



Seemingly out of nowhere, the Nissan LEAF has become the first mass-produced EV for the 21st century. Well, not exactly nowhere: The Japanese manufacturer has been dabbling in electrification since 1947. The result of all that hard work: the award for World Car of the Year, which was given to the LEAF in April 2011.

While this compact car is an odd-looking duck—2D photos don’t accurately reflect its collection of bizarre angles—it’s also vastly superior to the ungainly “commuter car” EVs that have struggled for acceptance since the 1970s. The main reason: real-world readiness. The LEAF is a five-door hatchback with seating for five passengers, a range of some 160 km and virtually all the features one would expect in a traditional compact car.

The LEAF doesn’t offer lightning-like performance, but it does accelerate to 100 km/h in just over 10 seconds. The space-age cabin also impresses; it includes a computer mouse-like shifter, LCD dashboard and a navigation system with a dizzying amount of data on how far you can drive before more juice is needed. (With the optional fast-charging system, the battery pack can achieve 80% of full charge in just 30 minutes.)



The Chevrolet Volt is not a pure EV; rather, it’s a more advanced form of hybrid, a series PHEV that GM calls an “extended range” electric vehicle. Equipped with a 1.4-litre gasoline engine that drives a generator when the car’s battery pack runs dry, the Volt is, therefore, saddled with some emissions, but counters this by eliminating the so-called ”range anxiety” that hinders the 100% electric vehicle.

The Volt only achieves a range of 65 km or so on battery power alone, but it promises superior fuel efficiency to any other hybrid, with initial estimates ringing in at around 2.5 L/100 km (112 mpg). While this car falls short of full EV status, it does nevertheless represent an eco-friendly and anxiety-free way to get around town—or get out of town.

The Chevrolet Volt has received numerous awards over the past year, including being named the 2011 North American Car of the Year and 2011 World Green Car. To top it off, this is a very stylish EV, one that looks not only high-tech, but sleek and confident at the same time.



THE NEW WAVE



The smart fortwo electric drive (ED) —the subject of pilot projects in Lon-don (since 2007) and Berlin (since late 2009)—makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons, the main one being that its sole purpose is to be an urban commuter car, nothing more and nothing less.

The smart electric is fitted with a 41-horsepower electric motor, which has been slotted into the void at the back where the gas engine once resided. A lithium-ion battery pack is mounted under the floor between the rear wheels, taking the space formerly occupied by the fuel tank. The motor and battery pack are so neatly pack-aged, passenger and cargo space for the electric vehicle (EV) is identical to that of the gas-powered smart—minimal, but identical.

Like all electric vehicles, the smart produces maximum torque for acceleration right from the get-go, so it feels quicker than its forebearer. While the battery pack is fairly heavy (at some 140 kg), the added weight is surprisingly beneficial; this EV handles pothole-strewn streets better than its gas-powered counterpart and feels far more stable to boot. (Score another point for electrification.)



With a drive system similar to that of the Volt, the Fisker Karma is a drop-dead gorgeous plug-in hybrid supercar that promises all-electric operation and some 400 horsepower. One difference, though: The 2.0-litre range-extending gasoline engine in the Karma is not connected to the drive wheels and instead serves only to recharge the dual electric motors of the EVer drive system.

The Karma has an estimated all-electric range of just 80 km, but the gas engine boosts this figure by a further 400 km. The solar panel glass roof, the largest ever for a production vehicle, adds to the visual and environ-mental impact by providing an additional 322 km of range per year, depending on the weather, free of charge. As with other plug-in vehicles, the Fisker can be recharged using a standard 110-volt outlet or a specially installed 220-volt charging station.

As stunning as the exterior design is, the interior is equally impressive—it utilizes reclaimed materials such as wood salvaged from fires to create a mesmerizing and luxurious effect.



The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a compact five-door hatchback all-electric vehicle with an innovative look that has resonated with the eco-minded motorist. Introduced in various markets in the summer of 2009, the car has since gone on to record over 17,000 in sales around the world.

Newly introduced to Canada late last year, the i-MiEV features a 47-kW electric motor mounted behind the passenger cabin and a lithium-ion battery pack in the floor. The car has a top speed of 130 km/h and an expected range of about 130 km. The combined fuel economy equivalent rating for the i-MiEV is a stunningly low 2.1 L/100 km.

While the Mitsubishi has the quirky looks of a true EV, it also boasts a wealth of “regular-car” amenities, including a premium package with a top-line audio system, navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.



THE NEXT, NEXT GENERATION



Within the next two years, there will be a flood of new EVs and plug-in hybrids from major manufacturers hitting the Canadian market. These vehicles will range from compact cars (BMW i3, Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500 EV, Ford Focus Electric, Scion iQ EV) to sporty cars (Audi e-tron, BMW i8, Tesla Model S) and from transit vans (Ford Transit Connect Electric) to crossovers and family cars (Ford C-Max Energi, Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 EV, Volvo XC60 Plug-in Hybrid).



While they may differ in terms of purpose and performance, this collection of EVs and PHEVs will give the Canadian consumer much greater choice when it comes to their next purchase decision. Plus, given the pace of technology these days, they may well force the original game-changers to up their game.

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