Automotive startup Electra Meccanica’s first electric car is called the “Solo” because there’s only room on board for one person, in the single, central driver’s seat, and that’s only the first weird thing about it. I was recently able to get behind the wheel of a preproduction example and get a feel for the ultralight EV.
The Solo is an ultracompact electric commuter car that marries an inverted-trike configuration — two wheels up front and one at the rear — with an enclosed passenger cabin. It steers and controls with a regular car steering wheel. It also has pedals and feels a lot like a normal, albeit wee, automobile.
The narrow rear end is where the electric motor puts 82 horsepower and 94 pound-feet of torque to the road through a single wheel. That doesn’t sound like a lot of grunt, but consider that the Solo weighs just 1,380 pounds (about 1,000 less than a 2016 Mazda Miata) and that its electric torque delivery is instantaneous and responsive. Acceleration is not at all unpleasant or underpowered.
Juice comes from a 16.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the Solo’s floor where it also adds a bit of stability to this lightweight and extremely narrow chassis by keeping the center of mass nice and low to the ground. Charging from flat to full takes about 3 hours at a level 2 station and grants the Solo an optimal cruising range of about 100 miles.
On the road (rather, around the wet parking lot where I was able to test the EV for a few hours), the Solo isn’t the whisper-quiet ride that I expected it to be. There’s a lot of mechanical whine from the electric motor and its single-speed reduction gear, as well as a good deal of road noise coming up from below the poorly insulated, lightweight composite cabin. Were there actually room for a second soul aboard, you’d have to shout to talk.
The Solo also lacks power steering, which gives the handling a very direct feel when moving, but also requires a bit of muscle to turn when parking or reversing. Also, this not-quite-a-car configuration means that the Solo gets by without an airbag — an omission that would give me pause considering this half-a-car has to share the road with crossovers and SUVs.
So, this is bare-bones transportation — basically just a seat, an e-motor and a steering wheel — but the Solo isn’t without creature comforts. There’s a total of 10 cubic feet of storage between its front and rear trunks and standard features include Bluetooth connectivity via a single-DIN car stereo, a reversing camera that shares a display with the digital instrument cluster as well as a heated seat. You’ll have to pay extra, however, for air conditioning.
The Solo has a top speed of 137 mph, but the production model will be limited to just 82 mph. After a few hours behind the wheel, “just 82 mph” sounds to me like a terrifying prospect.
In fairness, Electra Meccanica’s little EV isn’t designed for extended highway hauls. It’s a city car for the vast majority of trips under 25 miles that most drivers make every year. The Solo is designed to be exactly as much car as one person needs to grab a few bags of groceries or for a short commute. The compact size makes it easily parkable on dense urban streets and the electric drivetrain means it’s pretty green.
At around $15,500, it also costs about half as much as most new electric cars and Electra Meccanica hopes that EV enthusiasts will snap the Solo up as a second or third car. Then again, a certified 2013 Nissan Leaf only runs about $13,000 these days, offers more comfort as well as utility and is not that much harder to park, making the quirky Solo a tough sell even for frugal motorists.
Those interested can preorder the Electra Meccanica Solo with a $250 refundable deposit with delivery expected by early 2018.