Review: 2009 WheeGo Whip NEV -- Challenge To Smart ForTwo? Page 2

June 5, 2009

The cabin is exceptionally roomy and I can't imagine anyone feeling cramped, regardless of their size. The seating position is surprisingly high, making it easy to get into and out of. Visibility is excellent. The sizable steel doors have frameless windows with rubber seals, and close with a reassuring feeling that isn't typical for a NEV ... many of which don't even have doors. Cargo room is likewise large. The glass hatch flips up and a steel tailgate folds down. I found it curious that the seats have pockets ... these must be units pulled from other vehicles Shuanghuan produces.

The WheeGo Whip Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) offers plenty of cargo room -- much more than a smart fortwo.

The WheeGo Whip Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) offers plenty of cargo room -- much more than a smart fortwo.

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Driving Impressions: First, the Whip NEV; what impressed me most about the NEV was how smoothly and well integrated the powertrain felt. Unlike an electric golf cart, the Whip's system fully incorporates regen braking. The transition between acceleration, coasting, regenerative braking, and braking through the physical braking system is exceptionally smooth and refined. Power is adequate for an around-town car with a limited top speed. Acceleration is quick enough to get you across a street without worrying about cross traffic, but you won't win any drag races. The steering is electrically assisted and has good effort but not any feel.

The prototype high-speed version I drove felt much the same way, just faster. At higher speeds, wind noise wasn't an issue, demonstrating effective door and window sealing. Road noise did increase with speed, but not to an objectionable level. Over 50 mph, the Whip HSV continued to feel like a real car. This is not an insignificant observation for a vehicle with such humble origins.

Unfortunately, both versions of the Whip suffered from under-developed suspension tuning. Each felt too soft, and would benefit from more refining. The cars were too bouncy. Additionally, this softness limits the car's feeling of refinement, something even NEVs must exhibit to be considered as a household's second or third vehicle.

Technically speaking, understeer ruins the fun. The understeer is surprising given the Whip's large radial tires that measure P195/50R15. With these tires, the Whip has plenty of mechanical grip and should feel sportier than it does.

Conclusion: The low-speed Whip goes on sale later this year at an expected price of under $20,000. This is real-car money. Representatives from WheeGo know that buyers could buy a smart fortwo (or almost two Nissan Versas) for the cost of one Whip NEV. As a company, Whip believes that the 1000 NEVs they expect to sell will go to a group of buyers who want to drive an electric vehicle and nothing else.

WheeGo hasn't announced pricing for the high-speed version of the Whip (due next year after crash certification is achieved), but after figuring in a $7500 Federal Tax Credit, they hope to have an out the door price in the low $20,000 range.

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