A cool convertible for a fraction of the price

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

Though the automobile has over a century of history and progress under its belt, the past decade has proven to be a tough time for the industry. From climate change to the faltered economy, it's clear that something needs to change. Automakers from around the world have kicked their research departments into high gear to come up with a solution to the conventional gasoline engine. The answer many companies are turning towards is electric power.

While electric cars are slowly beginning to trickle onto the market, the choice offered to consumers is limited, and pricing is out of reach for most. Tesla's sporty Roadster, for instance offers electric driving fun, but runs a six-figure pricetag.

One company, E-Z-GO, seeks to provide an answer to this problem; its newest model aims to offer electric motoring to the masses at a fraction of the price. We managed to snag its latest sports car model for test, the head-turning '57 Chevy Convertible, and tested it rigorously during the media preview days at the 2010 Canadian International AutoShow.

Simply walk in, sit down and drive!

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

All E-Z-GO models have an open-air concept with the driver and front seat passenger sitting upright and close to the action, affording that increasingly rare close-to-nature experience. In reducing weight, the heater and air conditioning has been excluded, leaving the climate control to the discretion of the driver and their attire.

Ingress and egress are, however, exemplary. In more than two decades of testing vehicles I have never come across anything so easy to get into or out of. With no doors or roof to hinder access and a low step-in height, you simply walk in, sit down and drive! Thanks to a bench seat and a perfectly flat floor, it's possible to enter the car from either side; just plop yourself down, and slide over.

See more photos of the world's most-affordable electric commuter car!

Visibility is also unmatched - without any pillars, your view is uninterrupted 360 degrees, so there's no need for costly parking sensors or blind-spot warning systems.

Retro-inspired simplicity

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

Instrumentation also follows the minimalist theme - there isn't any. The carbon-effect dash is adorned with the bare essentials, an ignition switch, light switch and turn signals, but nothing else to distract from the pure thrill of driving an open-top electric car!

In keeping with the retro-themed body, the interior is upholstered in heavy-duty, two-tone vinyl, which is easy to keep clean and wipe down - perfect for when those pesky rain showers hit. One note of criticism: the lack of lateral support in the seats. Were it not for the side-mounted grab handles, one of the riders would have nearly fallen out during our aggressive indoor cornering testing!

Unlike most sporty convertibles, the '57 Chevy has easy access to its back seats. The rearward-facing bench is mounted out in the open; and, as with the front seats, passengers can walk up and sit down without having to fumble with a door. One downside is a lack of cargo space; with rear passengers on board, capacity is minimal. But without passengers, there's more than enough room to take home a brand new 37-inch flat-screen LCD TV ... or for two full sets of golf clubs.

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

Though E-Z-GO put emphasis on keeping costs low, the '57 Chevy model still has a few neat details. Its pedals, for instance are chromed, and it has not one, but two lockable gloveboxes for secure storage. A personal favourite was the optional alloy-finish steering wheel from Stretch Plastics; though it juts out at a bus-like angle (unfortunately, it neither tilts nor telescopes), its small diameter and slim rim offer perfect control over the precise rack-and-pinion steering.

That said, these are minor flaws in an otherwise attractive vehicle. Overall, the design of E-Z-GO's latest is a crowd hit, garnering attention from spectators of all ages - especially the younger generation. Parked in your driveway (and about six of the vehicles can fit in a one-car garage), it's sure to have your neighbours turning green with envy.

Mini Cooper, you've been warned!

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

Compared to conventional vehicles, electric cars such as this one feature a drivetrain positioned at the very bottom of the vehicle for a low centre of gravity. This is a characteristic in common with many race cars to maximize cornering ability.

And boy can you feel it - it handles like a go-kart! With heavy-duty hydraulic shock absorbers and wide 205/50-10 Carlisle Tour Max low-profile tires, the '57 Chevy corners as if on rails. And despite not having power steering, it was effortless to drive at speed and easy to manoeuvre around the many display vehicles on the show's crowded floor. One downside is a slightly choppy ride, due in part to the leaf-sprung suspension and short wheelbase. Nevertheless, this nimble little drop-top is a true and unexpected joy to drive.

Plenty of power, zero emissions

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

Now to the heart of the matter: the drivetrain. Our E-Z-GO convertible features the tried and true lead acid battery pack, mated to six six-volt batteries and a shunt-wound 36-volt motor driving the rear wheels. With an estimated 410-kg curb weight, our tester offered terrific off-the-line acceleration. It did peter out pretty quickly though once cruising speed was reached - an estimated 30 km/h, making it ideal for commuting on bicycle paths. However, we couldn't confirm the exact speed due to a lack of a speedometer.

Those expecting the rumble of a small-block V8 may be disappointed; despite its hot-rod looks, our tester was virtually silent. That said, never underestimate the usefulness (or entertainment value) of being able to sneak up on unsuspecting pedestrians and startling them with cheeky-sounding horn - it's always good for a laugh or two.

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy(Photo: Neil Dimock)

While total range was not disclosed for this model, we failed to drain its batteries after driving around all day. Best of all, it doesn't require a fancy power charging station - it can be plugged into a standard household power outlet.

With a lightweight, simplistic design and proven technology, the E-Z-GO '57 Chevy is a modern marvel that delivers zero-emissions driving, without forgetting about the fun in motoring. But is this modern marvel the car of the future? We can't say for sure, but given the attention it garnered, it just might catch on ... that is, if every day were April Fool's Day! Gotcha!

E-Z-GO '57 Chevy
Price (suggested retail): $8,350
Type of vehicle: RWD, sports convertible
Engine: 36-volt, shunt-wound DC
Power (est.): 4.4 hp
Transmission: Direct drive
0-30 km/h (est.): 5.0 seconds
Fuel consumption: 0 L/100 km
Competitors: Pair of converse All-Star, Schwinn Coffee three-speed, Radio-Flyer wagon, Segway PT

REVIEW SUMMARY

PROS
- Retro-inspired look
- Light-weight design
- Impressive handling characteristics

CONS
- Instruments would be handy
- Front seats in dire need of support
- A few issues pertaining to practicality

Many thanks to our friends at Bennett Golf Cars. For more information on the '57 Chevy and other carts, visit bennettgolfcars.ca.