2012 Coda Sedan: First Drive

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2012 Coda Sedan

2012 Coda Sedan

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It's been a long time coming, but the 2012 Coda Sedan is now on sale at a handful of dealers in California.

Six months after the very first Coda compact electric cars were delivered to buyers, the company is gearing up a major publicity push to sell the electric sedan--which we've now driven.

Our bottom line is that the Coda Sedan is a practical electric car with 100 miles of real-world range in mixed use.

Its interior is attractive, if short on features, and the floorpan location of the battery pack gives it not only a sizable trunk but the ability to fold down its rear seats to carry large items.

On the other hand, the Coda still needs a lot of fine-tuning before it can come close to competing head-to-head with plug-in electric cars from global automakers like Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, and Ford.

And the company faces a long uphill climb to get name recognition for a plain-Jane sedan without the design flash or audacious claims of plug-in vehicles from the two other electric-car startups, Tesla Motors or Fisker Automotive.

95 miles of real-world range

To kick off its marketing effort, Coda Automotive held its first-ever traditional press launch this week in Santa Monica, California.

We drove a silver 2012 Coda Sedan 81 miles through urban stop-and-go traffic, up and down winding canyon roads, and in LA's fast-moving 70-mph-plus freeway traffic. At the end of our trip, we had an indicated 14 miles of range left, with 17 miles of "maximum range" indicated.

That means the Coda is the second electric car on the market--after the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV crossover utility--to offer real-world range of around 100 miles and cost less than the Tesla Model S, which starts at $57,400.

Invisible electric car?

From the outside, the Coda Sedan could be the invisible electric car. Not a single person paid a whit of attention to it on the road, obviously seeing it as a generic compact four-door sedan.

The lines date back a decade, to a Mitsubishi-developed vehicle more recently built and sold in China as the Hafei Saibao. A heavily modified version of that car serves as the basis for the Coda.

2012 Coda Sedan

2012 Coda Sedan

Enlarge Photo

Rolling Coda Sedans minus their running gear are assembled by Hafei in China and shipped to the U.S., where electric-drive components are added at a facility in Benicia, California.

That makes the Coda a "U.S.-built car" even though both the "glider" rolling vehicle and the lithium-iron-phosphate cells for its battery pack are built in China.

The pack contains 31 kilowatt-hours of usable energy, and the EPA rates the 2012 Coda Sedan at 88 miles of range.

Eye of the beholder

We think Coda's basic shape is fine, if forgettable. Some will dislike it, just as others find the extreme lines of the Nissan Leaf to be unappealing.

It's somewhat slab-sided, and a few details don't really gel: the front blanking panel isn't particularly graceful, and the amazingly low-profile tires on 17-inch alloy wheels look lost in wheelwells obviously designed for much taller tires.

The chrome Coda symbol on the trunk lid is huge and out of place, resembling a chromed lug nut from a railroad locomotive.

Inside the car, Coda has made the most of simple materials: pale-grey and black hard dashboard plastics, separated by a semi-gloss horizontal band of silver trim.

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