Coda sedan has range but lacks refinement
LOS ANGELES -- Coda Automotive Inc.'s electric Coda sedan looks dated and is based on an aging Mitsubishi platform. But it offers a few surprises, such as good range and acceleration.
The basics: The car is mostly assembled in China, based on Hafei Motor Co.'s interpretation of a 1990s Mitsubishi Lancer platform. The battery pack is made in China by Coda's joint venture with Tianjin Lishen Battery Joint-Stock Co. The vehicle body, battery pack and motor are then shipped to Benicia, Calif., where they are assembled by Coda.
Although the official EPA range on one charge is 88 miles, Coda says real-world range is closer to 125 miles.
The 31 kilowatt-hour battery pack is made up of 624 cells. Coda claims its battery will suffer only an 8 percent loss of capacity over 100,000 miles, compared with 16 percent for standard lithium ion batteries.
Notable features: Standard features include air conditioning, 17-inch wheels, a 7-inch telematics screen, anti-theft immobilizer, iPod/USB/Bluetooth connectivity, and seat fabric made from 42 percent recycled material.
In 240-volt charging mode, recovering full range takes six hours, Coda says. But a standard 110-volt wall plug requires 30 hours.
Freeway driving is the enemy of electric vehicles, and the Coda is no exception. Just 33 highway miles drained the Coda battery's charge from 62 percent to 24 percent in a recent press event here.
On the plus side, the regenerative braking feel while coasting between 25 and 60 mph was quite refined. Coda calculates that, by dividing sticker prices by driving ranges, the Coda costs comparatively less to buy than the Nissan Leaf or the Ford Focus Electric.
What Coda says: "The Coda can do 0 to 60 in 9.5 seconds. The Leaf is 11," said Thomas Hausch, senior vice president of sales, marketing and aftersales, at the event. "And our 30-to-70 acceleration is three seconds faster than the Leaf."
Shortcomings and compromises: The build quality and materials of the Coda EVs provided to reporters were substandard. Interior plastics, for instance, looked and felt cheap. Several doors required extra effort to open because of sticky exterior handles. The battery pack's low center of gravity wasn't enough to keep the platform and jouncy suspension from understeering through corners.
The brakes were overly touchy, resulting in choppy stop-and-go driving. At freeway speed, loud road noise was worsened by the shrill whine of the electric motor. The dial for gear changes is similar to that of a Jaguar, but rotating it quickly made the transmission default to neutral when trying a quick three-point turn.
The market: Coda lacks a captive finance company or a lease deal. The company predicts sales volume on par with the Nissan Leaf, around 10,000 units a year. But EV sales are on the wane, and Ford, Toyota and Honda have given conservative sales estimates for their EVs. Coda's sales target for its EV may be ambitious unless gasoline prices soar.
The skinny: With the Coda's indifferent build quality, Coda faces a challenge convincing customers that its car is the equal of the Leaf, Honda Fit and Ford Focus EVs, regardless of its mileage and performance claims.
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