BLADE S ELECTRIC VEHICLE REVIEW
What's hot: It's recycled, it's electric, and Australian made. If it was any greener it would be made of grass; 200km of commuting a week costs $2.40.
What's not: It's recycled – with a second-hand Hyundai Getz body for new-car money.
X-FACTOR: Silent running and instant torque are nice, but thumbing your nose at the oil companies is the real attraction.
Vehicle style: Five-door city-car hatch.
Price: Blade S - $45,000 (tested), for Blade R - $28,000
Engine/trans: 55kW Electric motor, lithium iron phosphate batteries
Fuel consumption: Zero. Uses 3kWh of power for 100km (roughly 40c)
The Blade S is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, and a credit to the entrepreneurial, ethical spirit of its creator, Ross Blade.
Blade has been building, and selling, electric cars in Australia since 2006.
The fact that you've never heard of him tells you all you need to know about what a hard road that's been.
And how, while hundreds of millions of ‘green’ dollars found their way into car manufacturers’ coffers through ‘the green car innovation fund’ in the past decade, how little found its way to Blade cars. The one local manufacturer that is truly green.
Ross Blade believes - with an almost religious fervour - that small city cars should be electric.
His Electric Vehicle Corporation has been taking second-hand Hyundai Getzes, ditching their fossil-fuelled engines and re-imagining them as punchy, economical, green-friendly electric cars.
The Blade uses lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, specially developed at the University of Wollongong to cope with use in hotter climates.
He also offers an option of a larger battery, which boosts power to 75kW (the original Getz power output, coincidentally) and extends the range to 200km.
While the exterior looks dated and the interior feels second-hand, the driving experience is a glimpse of the EV world of tomorrow.
Power is plentiful and instantaneous off the line and the regenerative engine braking, while disturbing at first, allows you to approach driving in a whole new way.
The highlight, though, is the running costs. Blade keeps a jar in his house into which he dumps the small change his Blade R costs him each week.
His average seven-day commute is 200km. The cost? Just $2.40 worth of electricity.
That, and the fact that you're basically buying a recycled car, makes this an intriguing offer for anyone who likes to think green.
THE INTERIOR I
Quality: This is not the Blade's best selling point. Blade can't afford to buy new Hyundais, like an i20, so he starts out with the best second-hand Getzes he can find, but you can feel the wear of those kays in the cabin.
Blade is looking at various ways to improve the interior ambience, replacing plastics and fitting leather seats, but for now it's just something the buyer has to put up with.
You could say it adds a certain ‘retro air’ to the experience, but that would be generous.
Comfort: The Blade S has seats, but they're a lesson in both how much design has improved in this area, and by how much foam, springs and stuffing can compress over time.
It's not an awful place to sit, but it's a long way from luxurious. Just acceptable for a city commuter. Just.
But it's very quiet, and you really notice the lack of vibration.
Equipment: It's got seatbelts and power windows, which is a plus, and the inclusion of air conditioning is a pleasant surprise.
Other than that it's pretty basic, and by basic we mean what was basic a decade ago. You do however get an amp meter on the dash though, which is a unique talking point.
Storage: Not overly generous, but there's space for your phone in the dash, and quite sizeable doorbins.
ON THE ROAD I
Driveability: This is where the Blade S really starts to shine. Electric vehicles provide all of their torque effectively from zero rpm, so you can really surprise other cars in traffic by leaping off the line.
There's plenty of mid-range punch as well, and with no gears to shift between (EVs have only one, and reverse is achieved by simply spinning the electric motor in the other direction) acceleration feels seamless and surprisingly strong, right up about 120km/h on the freeway.
Top speed is a claimed 155km/h, but we didn’t stretch it to verify it.
What's really fun to play with is the regenerative engine braking. You can turn this off with the touch of a button, and when you do the Blade S really does feel like just a normal micro city car - albeit a powerfully punchy one.
But Ross tells us owners love the feature, and often ask for it to be tuned to be as aggressive as possible. We can see why.
The system feels jerky at first, pulling the car up as soon as you get off the throttle.
But once you learn to be smooth with it - and pre-empt its engagement - you can use it like a secondary braking system (meaning you barely need to touch the brakes).
On a winding country road, you can slow the car nicely into corners with just a lift of your right foot.
There's no need to dive the nose, the way jabbing the brakes does, which means you can corner in a whole new way. It really is a surprising amount of fun.
Refinement: The steering system is an after-market set-up, so there's none of the wobbliness or windy-ness you might expect from an old Getz. It feels solid, and new-car like.
The way the electric motor develops its power is similarly smooth, and the brakes are more than adequate, so the actual driving experience feels far more refined than your second-hand surroundings would suggest.
Ride and handling: The batteries are positioned in such a way that the weight distribution is similar to the original Getz, a nifty little handler in its time.
There is just a little more weight over the rear wheels and a little less over the front (overall weight is just 45kg heavier than the donor Hyundai, at 1185kg).
The result is that it actually handles slightly better than it did as an internal-combustion car.
The ride is fairly standard for a car of this size, not overly crashy but firm. And it really is a lot of fun to throw into corners.
Braking: You get a double hit here thanks to the powerful engine braking from the regen system.
Some regenerative systems make the brake pedal feel like it's being pushed into a bucket of steel-wool, but the set-up here feels much more natural.
Stopping power is ample for such a small car, even with two boofy blokes on board.
ANCAP rating: The Blade is unrated, however a Getz now rates just 1-Star under ANCAP testing.
Safety features: Dual front airbags, ABS, side airbags offered "when available"
Warranty and servicing: Three year warranty. First service free then capped at $95 for two years.
HOW IT COMPARES I
There are only two obvious competitors here and both of them are streets ahead in terms of refinement and cabin ambience.
But the Blade S is offering the twin feel-good factors of being Australian made and recycled.
Mitsubishi iMiEV - $48,800: With its stumpy styling and the feeling that it is - much like the Blade S - the result of a donor car being turned into an EV, rather than a clean-sheet design, the Mitsubishi has failed to set the world on fire.
Perhaps because it feels like not a lot of car for the money. Still, it is whisper quiet and running costs are an advantage. The regen systems feel harsher than those in the Blade S, however, which is a credit to the Australian company. (see iMiEV reviews)
Nissan Leaf - $46,900: This EV - and the distantly related Renault Zoe, which may never go on sale here - is the benchmark so far for electric cars. Designed from the ground up to be an EV, it feels special and futuristic, with a clean and classy interior and a just left-of-centre design ethic.
The game you can play on the dash of building trees with all the power you're saving is strangely addictive, the cabin is quiet and classy and the whole experience is future tech at its best.
On the downside, the claimed range and the real-world one seem to be a fair distance apart (Blade claims this is because the figures were set using the Japanese standard, which assumes an average speed of just 26km/h - realistic in their conditions, but not in ours). (see Leaf reviews)
Still, for the money it beats the hell out of a repackaged Getz, or an iMiEV.
TMR VERDICT I OVERALL
What Ross Blade has achieved with his Blade S should be better recognised. He deserves far wider acclaim for this capable electric car than he's received.
The initial impression you get from looking at, and sitting in, an essentially second-hand vehicle is soon forgotten once you take it for a drive.
We drove the Blade S in city traffic, along a freeway and then took it for a hard punt along a favourite winding road and yet, even in these hard-working, EV-challenging conditions, we saw a genuine 100km range.
No other city-car EV I’ve driven can pull that off.
Yes, the Blade S looks expensive on paper, considering the brown-paper bag its advanced tech comes wrapped in, but the payoff is in being able to drive past service stations forever more.
A 200km weekly commute will cost you around $2 - yes, $2 for the whole week - even at our current extreme electricity prices.
Ross Blade keeps a little jar in his house into which he throws 40c a day to represent his fuel costs.
It’s so little it’s laughable. But if a few more people were to snap up his locally fettled cars, they would also be laughing.
And Ross Blade would be selling enough cars to find the economies of scale he needs to lower his costs, and the price of entry.
There are Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs in Government fleets up and down the country. You have to wonder why more of those are not Blades.