2011 Tesla Roadster Final Edition, photograph copyright Damon Lavrinc / AOLEnlarge Photo
If you've not yet driven an electric car, we think you're really missing out.
Even if you consider yourself an electric car cynic, it's worth having a drive in one, experiencing the smoothness and silence, and the surprising acceleration available even in less powerful models.
Whether you're a cynic or a fan feeling left out, we think there are four electric cars--and to mix things up, one electric bicycle--that you should really try and have a go in. Who knows, maybe it'll inspire your next purchase to be an electric car?
You probably knew this one would be on the list. While the Roadster is no longer on sale, it's absolutely a car you need to get a go in, if you're in any way interested in electric propulsion.
In standing start acceleration it performs like few other cars, and that means regular, gasoline-fed supercars too--sub 4-second 0-60mph times are the preserve of only a handful of vehicles. It looks dramatic too, possibly even better than the Lotus Elise with which it shares a chassis--and with all that carbon fiber bodywork, it's certainly exotic. If you know anyone who drives one, or ever get offered a go--take the chance without hesitation.
Okay, so there's some debate as to just how electric the Volt is, but the fact is that plenty of owners barely ever use a drop of gas, and for many it lets them avoid having to buy a separate gasoline car for those extra journeys.
The real reason you should drive the Volt is to experience GM's first electric vehicle since the ill-fated EV1, and see just what the General is capable of when given a clean sheet of paper. The Volt drives well, has plenty of power, and gets you around 40 miles on electric power alone. That's enough for the average commute, and we're sure you'll see the appeal if you get behind the wheel yourself.
Hundreds of people have now tried out the Model S themselves at events held around the country, and we suggest you do your best to have a go too. Possibly an even more significant car than the Tesla Roadster, it's the company's first ground-up design, seats seven, and with the top, 85 kWh battery, could be good for up to 300 miles--though it's rated at 265 miles by the EPA.
If the sleek styling isn't enough to draw you in, then the luxurious interior might, with its 17-inch touchscreen filling the dash. And like the Roadster, performance is startling--you'll never be short of freeway acceleration with the Model S.
While the Telsa Model S fills the top of the electric car market at the moment, Nissan's Leaf is considerably more humble--but significant too, as one of the first true production electric cars on sale. It's rated at 99 MPG-equivalent from the EPA, and in ideal conditions, owners say it'll do up to 100 miles--though usually a little less.
You should try and get a go in the Leaf, because you'll be amazed at how quiet and refined a compact car can be--and it'll put you off regular, internally-combusted compacts for life. Not many cars offer Rolls-Royce levels of smoothness and certainly not at around $35,000 before incentives, so it needs to be experienced to be believed.
The four cars above are all definitely worth driving, but Smart's eBike occupies the opposite end of the electric vehicle spectrum. Electric two-wheelers have been around for years, and are very common in countries like China and India where even regular gasoline cars may be out of reach of many.
The Smart is a 'Pedelec', meaning a pedal-electric hybrid--you still get some exercise, as we found out on our first ride, but the electric motor assists your pedaling, giving you a welcome boost of speed. Top speed is limited to 15mph to avoid licensing issues, and you can pick varying levels of assistance. Ironic that in a company known for its city cars, the eBike might be its best method of city transport yet.