Opening up the Volt: EV dragstrip shootout (plus a supercar for good measure)
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Electric Vehicles (EVs) are here. While overall sales are still relatively small, the future of motoring does include EVs and like them or not – and there will be haters for some time yet – they’re growing, and in some countries like New Zealand, the infrastructure is expanding to make EVs realistic viable vehicles for short, medium and longer drives.
There are currently 19 Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) models, aka pure electric, sold in NZ, while last year it was 16. And next year, there will be more. So while the total sales of 1881 last year represented just 1.2 percent of total new vehicle sales, we can certainly expect to see more, not as a replacement for petrol cars – obviously and thankfully – but an alternative.
But are EVs fun? Of course they are, if you do them right. Let’s (largely) forget about range and pros and cons vs petrol or other alternatives for a moment, and focus on what we, as car enthusiasts crave most: speed.
We hand-picked three prominent BEVs of the moment: Kia’s long-range Niro, Mini’s funky Electric hatch and the newest entry, MG’s inexpensive ZS EV, the first new BEV to price under $50k.
Of course, some other petrol-loving rev-head from the DRIVEN stable tried to muscle in on our shoot with a vintage Audi RS4, but soon found out that a supercar comparison was on the cards, leading to our ultimate EV shootout race, with the Hampton Downs Huracan track car taking on our brace of electric Teslas.
To make it more every-person relevant, we also brought in the most common form of BEV sold in NZ, with tens-of-thousands sold: the eScooter. With thousands of rental eScooters roaming the streets and sold privately, they represent the most popular electric “vehicle” in NZ.
But while it may frequently win the CBD rush-hour races, it’s hardly fair to race an eScooter against a car, so we brought out an electric radio-control car, a Tamiya TT02 Mercedes-AMG GT, a popular “one-make” class in NZ RC car racing.
Once that race was won, we turned our attention to the full-size cars. We’ll save the races and results for the video, but we’ve prepared a rundown of the rivals, and specs of the competitors of DRIVEN’s first EV shootout. Scroll to the gallery below for the full specification table.
Tamiya TT02 Mercedes-AMG
A relatively inexpensive Tamiya TT02 is a fun and easy RC car to get started and hop-up.
With all-wheel drive, it runs an electronic speed controller and a “Torque Tuned” electric motor that free-revs a little over 20,000rpm, producing, depending on gear ratios, top speed around 35km/h.
Batteries are LithiumPolymer (LiPo), they run slicks and offer a “range” anywhere between 10-30 minutes depending on the “changeable” battery pack. There are RC tracks around the country (Auckland, Hawkes Bay) that run the TT02 class, as a fun way to drive an electric vehicle, and with battery and radio gear, it’s well under $500 also making it affordable EV fun.
Xaomi Mi M365 Pro e-scooter
If you’re going to be a motorist in the future, you need to get your head around the concept of “e-mobility” – using different methods of EV transport for different parts of a single journey.
That’s what foldable e-scooters are about. They fit into a car boot or can be carried on public transport, for the “first mile, last mile” of a journey.
The Xaomi Mi M365 Pro is pretty typical of an entry-level eScooter. The 474Wh “super long range” battery is good for 45km, with a choice of maximum speed via three drive modes: Pedestrian (5km/h), Standard (20km/h) or Sports (25km/h). Yep, Sports.
Anti-lock brakes and cruise control are standard. Some eScooters have solid tyres, but the Mi rides on pneumatic rubber (its only form of suspension). The latest model has an upgraded KERS system, adjusted through the Mi Home app on a smartphone.
At less than $1k and 14kg, the Mi M365 Pro is about as affordable and portable as eScooters can get. But how fast is it down the quarter-mile, and could we be bothered waiting…?
MG ZS EV
The MG ZS electric vehicle is a landmark plug-in car for NZ in many ways. It’s officially the country’s cheapest BEV… and has been getting cheaper as the months roll on. There was a special pre-order launch price of $49,990, but then the actual retail price was trimmed back to $48,990.
The ZS is part of a new wave of mainstream cars from China really starting to challenge the established brands from Japan and Korea. Even the standard petrol SUV models are appealing, but the ZS EV takes things to the next level; which shouldn’t surprise, as BEVs are becoming core business for the Chinese motor industry.
It’s fun to drive in the city, leaping off the line with a chirp of the front wheels. The WLTP range of 263km is good for a car of this type and more to the point, based on our week with the ZS EV in all kinds of driving, that’s a number you can take seriously. It will really do that day-to-day.
The elephant in the room is the price difference between the ZS EV and lesser petrol models. It’s more than twice the price of the entry ZS 1.0l petrol for example… and looks pretty similar.
But the ZS EV is a whole different thing with a whole lot more technology: not just the battery powertrain, but also fully loaded with MG Pilot driver-assistance features. It’s a great BEV and a neat little compact-SUV to boot.
It’s also the only BEV here with a regen-adjustment switch labeled “KERS”. But how quick is it compared to the others?
Mini Electric hatch
Easily the coolest looking of the “affordable” three, the Mini electric launched in Miami earlier this year, and offers strong range (233km) with city-focused use, and eager acceleration. Mini claims 7.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, but we recorded a best of 7.0 seconds. Plus there’s all the Mini style inside, with a mix of retro and classic dials and switchgear.
Like the others here, it has different modes, but extra ones too: Green, Green+, Mid and Sport, and all things considered, it’s reasonable value at $59,900.
And it has yellow bits! Typical quirky Mini touches includes yellow accents dotted around the car to identify it as the Electric, down to those very quirky design wheels. A Mini Electric is not for shrinking violets.
On paper, it’s got all the ingredients to put the other two to bed, and looks good doing it. Does the Mini Electric hatch hold enough to top the trio of this test?
When it comes to selling points of a BEV, range ranks right up there. Kia has nailed this with the Niro EV, a mid-sized SUV rated up to 455km from a single charge.
Out of the non-Tesla EVs we had at the track, the Niro was the most expensive, starting from $77,990 for the EX model, but it offers a lot of tech and practicality. Like the similarly priced Hyundai Kona, it combines emission-free motoring with the safety and usefulness of a high-riding SUV.
It comes with three levels of regenerative braking, giving the driver the option to drive with just one pedal. The offset of the big 64kWh battery means that charge times are still on the high side from normal home mains power, though owners of all EVs are likely to fit a home charger, with which the charging time drops rapidly.
Tesla Model 3
When it comes to electric vehicles on the drag strip, the Tesla Model 3 feels right at home. Over the years, Tesla owners have been putting V8s to shame with their eye-opening times. While the larger Model S sedan is a far more common sight on the strip, after spending a day with the Model 3 at Meremere, it’s fair to say it also holds its own.
Tesla’s Model 3 comes in three guises; Standard Range Plus, Long Range, and Performance. It is also NZ’s most popular BEV, outselling the second-place Hyundai Kona by more than two-to-one.
The $92,900 Long Range has a dual-motor, all-wheel drive powertrain. Not only does this Model 3 get a significant range increase to 650km, it’s also where things get speedy, with 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds.
At the top of the Model 3 tree sits the Performance, at $101,900, but it comes with some serious pace. This family-friendly sedan sprints 0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds and still offers 628km range.
But can either Model 3 see off a Lamborghini Huracan over the quarter-mile?
Owned by Hampton Downs for hot laps and ride experiences, the Huracan is all-wheel drive and running a mid-engined 5.2-litre V10, producing a fearsome 470kW and 600Nm through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and as good as 0-100km/h in 3.2 seconds and hitting 230km/h at Hampton Downs.
But is this petrol-powered supercar fast enough to beat all our BEVs? While Sam Wallace would say a huge YES, find out in our video. And to grab a hot lap in this car for $169, go to the Hampton Downs website.