Dodge Circuit EV electric car (2009) review

Published:12 March 2009

Dodge Circuit EV (2009) CAR review
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The Dodge Circuit is the first of a new breed of alternative fuel Chrysler products to be tested by anyone outside the American firm. Admirably, electric propulsion means it’ll have zero emissions. Its claimed range is between 150 and 200 miles so it’s practical. And it should get sports car fans excited by accelerating from standstill to 60mph in less than five seconds. That this car is not a Dodge at all but actually a Lotus Europa shows just how our desire to drive without killing the planet has caught the American firm napping.

No shame in hijacking a Lotus. The Dodge Circuit EV should be pretty special to drive?

Indeed it is. Quick is the best word to sum the Circuit up. The electric engine has power equal to 268 internal combustion horses. There are no gears and as electric engines deliver maximum torque throughout the power band, you feel a sizeable shove whatever speed you’re doing below 100mph. But the most eery thing is the complete lack of engine noise. There’s a gentle whirring that’s a cross between a milk float and something science fiction and then as the engine moves into the second of its two phases a turbo-like whistle becomes the accompaniment.

How about the fabled Lotus handling?

Dodge has had neither the time and resources nor, sensibly, the inclination to tinker with anything other than the powertrain. Therefore the suspension is the fully independent Lotus set-up as the British firm intended. Our test track didn’t have an enormous variation of corners but several things became apparent. The silence of the electric engine amplifies the amount of wind and road noise you get in a Europa. The steering is as direct as you’d expect of a Lotus and despite the rearwards weight bias increasing by 5% to 67%, the Circuit is nimble and rewarding.

So how does the Dodge Circuit EV differ from a Lotus Europa?

Dodge has exchanged the front valance for its own grille and the rear end is different too, largely because there’s no exhaust pipe. Otherwise, externally, it’s identical. Internally it’s the same story with just three buttons in place of the gear lever hinting at quite how busy the American engineers have been underneath. The Europa’s petrol engine has been replaced with a 200kW electric unit over the rear axle and lithium-ion batteries between it and the seats. Obviously its range depends on how it’s driven, but Dodge engineers say it’ll take about seven hours to recharge from the mains.

>> Click 'Next' to read more of CAR's first drive review of the Dodge Circuit EV

Of all the cars in all the world, why did Dodge choose this one?

It wanted a battery-powered sports car that would be quick to engineer and therefore relatively cheap to get up and running. Dodge also needed a performance car to help lift its profile while the firm works on its own bespoke electric model. And, hey, whoever complained about a free bit of eco-tech positive PR at a time when the company is fighting for its very survival?

Being mid-engined helped because of where the batteries must sit – and the Europa’s light starting weight was an advantage because electric engines and batteries tend to pile on the pounds. Lotus’s bountiful experience of working with other companies was the icing on the cake.

Verdict

Dodge has only been working on the Circuit for a year so its policy of developing the propulsion mechanism and buying in everything that goes around it would seem to be a sensible direction. It has after all allowed the firm to create a fun but – on paper – viable sports car with zero tailpipe emissions. Of course, there are still the age-old arguments about where the electricity used to recharge actually comes from, but that's a question mark hanging over all electric cars – and one that desperately needs a government-led solution.

If the price advantage Dodge believes it could eventually offer over the £90k Tesla comes to fruition, developing an electric Europa could be a smart move.

>> A cheap PR stunt? Or a short cut to an electric sports car? Click 'Add your comment' and let us know

Specs

Price when new: £55,000
On sale in the UK: 2011
Engine: 200kW AC electric motor
Transmission: Single-speed, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.8sec 0-62mph, 120mph, 0g/km
Weight / material: 1040kg
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3900/1714/1150

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  • Dodge Circuit EV (2009) CAR review
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  • Dodge Circuit EV (2009) CAR review
  • Dodge Circuit EV (2009) CAR review
  • Dodge Circuit EV (2009) CAR review
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