Los Angeles—First, the good news about the Wheego LiFe, an all-electric car that will be coming out in the next few months.
The car does what it is supposed to do. It holds its own in traffic. It gets you from point A to point B in one piece. If you push the accelerator, you can get ahead of other cars: see how we passed a Mercedes. (Click here for links to test drives of Volvo, Nissan, Mitsubishi and GM electrics.)
The company also designed a two-seater subcompact, which makes quite a bit of sense for an electric car. Subcompacts weigh less, which increases the vehicle's range and mileage, and by their nature, these small cars tend to get used as commuter and city cars. Two-seater Smart Cars have been rising in popularity in the U.S.: it’s a wonder that Wheego remains one of the few to follow Smart in this space.
Unfortunately, when driving, you can tell this car was not assembled or designed by a major, established manufacturer. When you hit the accelerator, there is a pause before the car starts up: it is reminiscent of how electric golf carts take off. The Wheego drives fine when up to speed, but you do have a slight pause, even in performance mode.
The brakes at the initial touch feel a little mushy. The interior is Spartan with a capital S.
The car, however, will sell for $32,995, or about the same as the more finished, roomier and faster Nissan Leaf and $3,000 more than next year’s Mitsubishi i. Since orders for the Leaf already exceed Nissan’s production figures, consumers that simply have to have an electric in 2011 will likely look at the Wheego. (Delivery and fleet customers should -- street performance is less of an issue for them.) The LiFe beats the low-speed car Wheego has built for military bases and retirement homes, but the car is below the bar set by the established car makers.
Consumers will feel engineering trade-offs in this initial version. Final grade: C to C-.