Matt Prior: Will EVs bring a return to the streamliner age?

98 mercedes eqxx mission accomplished ride 2022 side pan

Small, streamlined and light cars are still Prior’s preferred ones

Mercedes EQXX concept is a promising hint that aero efficiency will drive a design rethink

If you own an electric vehicle, there’s a good chance you’re enjoying the extra range that springtime weather brings over winter.

With temperatures regularly now in the high teens, I’m getting a good 10% more distance between charges from the Polestar 2 I’m running than I was two chillier months ago.

EVs are, in a way, victims of their own thermal efficiency. An internally combusted car’s range doesn’t vary like this because an engine generates so much heat and noise that its power is almost a by-product. There’s heat going spare so it’s easy for it to get itself into its most efficient – or least inefficient – state.

Not so much with an EV. They get so much out of every drop of energy you put into them – and it takes so long to put it in there – that every additional bit of efficiency you can get will make a discernible difference to its range, and perhaps to how well your day runs if there’s not much I downtime in which to charge.

Which keeps me thinking of the Mercedes-Benz EQXX concept car, some of the tech from which will go into production, Mercedes-Benz confirmed in March. The EQXX is so sleek that it has a drag coefficient of just 0.18; it runs at around 6.2 miles per kWh – double that of the EQS luxury car; and it weighs only 1750kg, giving it a “real-world range of more than 620 miles”. Some drivers will want that much, but for those of us who don’t, the same tech will mean smaller, lighter cars that drive more nicely than the clunky two-plus-tonners of today.

It’s a shame, though, that some of these efficiencies haven’t been embraced during the past few decades when we’ve just been building bigger, heavier and bluffer cars as the mainstream, while vehicles like the Honda Insight and Volkswagen XL1 have passed by as mere novelties. Small, streamlined and light cars are still my preferred ones. We’d have done less burning with them, and I think we’d have had a bit more fun, too.

On the subject, I told Gordon Murray at the Autocar Awards that I’ve recently bought a Hillman Imp, for him to remind me that he has one as well. I have seen it and had forgotten. He has a great collection of more than 30 mostly small cars.

Lovely, then, to hear him talk about how great an Imp is; mostly because of how brilliantly it’s packaged, with its lightweight, rear-cooled aluminium alloy engine mounted longitudinally under the rear deck, canted by 45deg so it fits and driving the rear wheels. An Imp is only 3.5 metres long but still has four seats, and an opening rear hatch with a fold-flat rear seat. Murray also rates the visibility, and even the way his very original model drives, given the swing axle and lightly loaded front end.

Imps have a reputation for understeer. The testers in its 1963 Autocar road test also noted it, I discovered yesterday. I keep getting told how people’s Imp-owning dads would put a bag of cement in the front boot to remedy the handling, by balancing out the weight. My longer-term plan is to move the cooling and battery forwards to even up the weight distribution, but for this summer I’ll just keep running it to make the most of it – particularly now I’ve remembered it’s rated by the bloke who designed the McLaren F1.

Source: Autocar

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