We've been closely following the progress of Gordon Murray's T25 and T27 minicars for some time now, and like many green vehicles of recent years, they've often seemed so near and yet so far away.
However, unlike some of the more recent startups, Gordon Murray has been keeping his cards close to his chest. There have been no projected sales figures, no promises of mass production, nor any scary development cost figures released.
In fact, all we've really seen are little morsels of information, from initial ideas, through prototypes, and eventually to near-production models. British magazine Autocar has now driven both the gasoline-powered T25 and electric T27, and they've heaped plenty of praise on the concepts.
The concept of the T25 is fairly simple. It's a basic, three-seat minicar, with an engine mounted in the back, driving the rear wheels. A hinged roof and front end allows entry and egress, the driver sits ahead of the two rear passengers, and there's more space in the trunk--and indeed the cabin itself--than in a Smart ForTwo.
The engine itself is actually cribbed from the ForTwo, as is the transmission. Both have been revised--the engine to reduce internal friction, and the transmission to reduce the Smart's large, disruptive pauses between gearchanges.
Autocar praises the tiny turning circle, panoramic vision, and nimble handling aided by a waif-like 1,267 lb weight at the curb. Murray has even worked hard to ensure it remains safe, and crash standards apparently match those of B-segment cars, i.e. Ford Fiestas and MINIs.
Just as we found when driving the narrow Renault Twizy, the T25's diminutive size also makes it incredibly easy to drive around congested European cities, such as London in this instance. There's enough power--51 horsepower--for a top speed of around 90mph, and 60mph arrives in 16.2 seconds.
Overall, the test praises all the characteristics you'd expect of something so single-mindedly designed to work in the city. However, that suggests the T25's brother might be even better...
The Future Car Challenge-winning T27, designed in conjunction with electric hardware specialists Zytek, is essentially an electric version of the T25.
There's less power, at 34 horsepower (still twice that of a Renault Twizy), and a limited top speed of 65mph. A four-hour charge of the lithium-ion battery pack delivers enough juice for around 100 miles of driving.
Autocar describes the acceleration as being a little quicker initially than the gasoline-powered T25, as we've come to expect from EVs. Ride quality is described as being "on the supple side of sporty", which implies a better ride than the stiffly-sprung Smart ForTwo Electric Drive and Renault Twizy, its closest natural rivals.
Will they be built?
Clever though both cars may be, their immediate future is unknown.
One thing is clear--Murray doesn't intend to build the cars himself, preferring to license the cars and his incredibly lean 'iStream' production technology to a buyer, who would then produce the cars in larger numbers--or develop entirely different vehicles using iStream to reduce costs.
With no confirmation of production, that also means the T25 and T27 are unlikely to find homes in the U.S, unless one of Murray's buyers is prepared to adapt Murray's ideas into something U.S.-friendly, and more suited to U.S. tastes--with the cars' unusual styling, can already forsee the "clown car" comments below...
As ever though, the one thing both cars confirm is that clever engineering and low weight are still the best way of reducing emissions, improving efficiency and still ensuring cars are fun to drive.