Writers over at Car and Driver magazine had the chance to get behind the wheel of the 2011 Dodge Circuit EV.  Their review, though mostly positive, also points out a few drawbacks associated with converting an existing model to a full EV.

The ride of the concept car took place at the Chrysler Proving Ground in Chelsea, Michigan.  Though concept vehicles are rarely turned over to journalists for ride and drives, Chrysler was more than willing to show off this one.

The Dodge Circuit is based off of the Lotus Europa which is not sold in the states.  The Europa is very similar to a vehicle that is sold here, the Lotus Elise.  The Circuit replaces the gasoline engine with a 268 hp and 295 lb-ft. of torque electric motor linked to a 35 kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack.

The Circuit is similar in layout and design to the Tesla Roadster which is built on a modified Lotus Elise platform.  Comparisons between the two cars are inevitable due to their similarity.

The Circuit uses a fully electric powertrain which offers extremely efficient motoring.  According to research, and electric motor is nearly 90% efficient whereas a gasoline engine is only 30% efficient.  The Circuit is expected to return a gasoline equivalent of 100 plus mpgs.  Its range is expected to come in around 150 miles on a full charge.

Onto the driving experience.  Stepping over the wide and low sills present a problem for even nimble drivers.  Once inside, space of this two seater is tight, storage area small, and the cockpit is snug.

Underway, the vehicle exhibits tight and accurate steering and responses.  The front of the vehicle has a light feel to it due to the additional weight added by the battery pack near the rear of the vehicle.  Additional body roll and less precise motions also result from the additional weight.

But the powerful electric motor makes up for most downsides.  It provides instant torque anywhere in the rpm range, but is severely hampered by computer programming that limits torque at take off to avoid wheel spin.  The vehicle is further hampered by tuning which limits the amount of torque available under such circumstances as exiting a corner under full acceleration.  Its unknown if these predetermined limits will be removed in production models if and when they come to market, but for now, the limitations greatly reduced the fun to drive quotient for the reviewer.

Once underway, the Circuit can be pushed to the max.  The limits are removed when no chance of wheel spin exists and the vehicle delivers a "realistic rendition of a gut-contorting sucker punch."  It pulls to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and accelerates briskly from there until the lack of gear in the transmission causes the acceleration to drop off dramatically.

In closing Car and Driver believes that driving this EV dilutes the car driving experience much less than hybrid models do.  At times, they could not even tell that they were behind the wheel of an electric vehicle.  The instant acceleration, strong brake pedal feel, and linear power delivery is all reminiscent of a traditional gasoline powered vehicle and enlightening to those concerned about the driving dynamics of EVs.

The Dodge Circuit EV is a winning combination, now we must wait until they build it, if they build it.  A word to Dodge, if Car and Driver is satisfied with a vehicle not carrying the BMW logo, you should build the car.

Source:  Car and Driver August 2009