Ride One: Take a spin in the Eli ZERO not-a-car electric car

It’s not every day that you get the chance to do a few laps in a funky new mini electric car. But when fate calls, you answer. And that’s exactly what I did recently on a trip to Milan when the Eli team nervously let me borrow their one prototype vehicle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Eli ZERO, but I came away excited for the future of these fun little runabouts.

The Eli ZERO is a small, lightweight four-wheeled electric vehicle. It’s not technically a car as it fits the definition of a quadricycle in Europe. Essentially, that means it’s shaped like a car, but it’s more like a cross between a motorcycle and an enclosed vehicle in terms of performance and safety.

It’s not as regulated as a real car, but it also doesn’t cost as much as a real car.

I received a two minute briefing on how to use the ZERO, although it was in Italian and not one of the two languages ​​I claim to have a basic level of control over. But with enough finger-pointing and pantomime between the two of us, I pretty much got the gist of the controls. Let’s face it: it’s not a complicated vehicle.

In fact, this is the bare minimum you would need to be a vehicle. It has four wheels, two seats and two doors (three if you count the rear hatch).

It’s simple, but therein lies the beauty.

Although I didn’t have a chance to take it out on open roads due to the minor fact that it wasn’t technically street legal yet, I still did a few parking loops and then drove it. Drove straight into the middle of a trade show to get him back to his booth before I could arouse too much suspicion.

You can check it out in the brief video below.

The Eli ZERO may not technically be a “car” in the legal sense, but it has most of what you need to feel like you’re in a car.

It’s powered by a 4kW motor, which is just north of five horsepower. It’s not crazy powerful, but it’s also a mere 40kph (25mph) vehicle, so it’s not meant to blast doors.

It is indeed an urban vehicle. It puts the “neighborhood” in the neighborhood electric vehicle. But while light on performance, the Eli ZERO is heavy on design. You really feel like you’re in a real car.

The steering wheel and the LCD screen are much more like a car than a golf cart. The tailgate and cargo area offer real utility (although my big travel backpack pretty much filled it) and the seats are actually quite comfortable bucket seats, not a cheap foam bench.

I couldn’t go too fast or far, but the 5.8kWh battery means I’d probably get close to 50 miles (80km) of range if I had the room to run.

There are even comfort features like optional air conditioning that make the vehicle enjoyable in the hot summer sun. I was testing in the cold Italian winter so that wasn’t really an issue for me, but the large windows surrounding the ZERO meant it could become a bit of a greenhouse in the sun, so the air conditioning seems like a nice feature for have.

I haven’t tried charging it, but apparently there’s a built-in charger on board. That should make it nice and easy to charge since you can just plug it straight into an extension cord.

With Europe’s convenient 220VAC grid, a charge comes fairly quickly (compared to the slower Level 1 110VAC charge in the US), so a charge takes about 2.5 hours.

Last I heard, Eli expects to sell these things for around US$12,000, more or less. It’s a decent sized check, although you get a lot of vehicle for your money. Figuratively, of course. The ZERO is tiny. You can touch all interior surfaces from your position in the driver’s seat. But you still get a lot here.

The fact is that you also miss a lot, as in the functionality of a real car. If you were to drive faster than 40 km/h (25 mph) then you are out of luck and should look at other vehicles.

But if you’re looking for a small, urban-only vehicle to zip around your neighborhood in style, the Eli ZERO is a great little non-car for work.

Hopefully we get the chance to do a longer test of the Eli ZERO on real roads once the cars are ready for full testing. Until then, let’s hear your thoughts on this unique little four-wheeler. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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