About a year ago Bertel, Ed and I ended up in Los Angeles for a PR meet/dine with Coda. No automotive event would be complete without a drive and our electrifying dinner was no different. Bertel and Ed wisely chose to leave the driving to me (although they did toss me in the trunk and close the lid later that evening). Since that night I have struggled to erase the Coda from my mind when today it all came flooding back. Coda has filed for chapter 11 protection. I know it’s bad form to speak ill of the departed, but this is TTAC so let’s have a review style requiem for the worst EV ever made.
If you ordered your car by the inch, the Coda is what 176 inches of generic sedan would look like. Since Coda was a small California company without the deep pockets of Elon Musk, they did what any start-up with a screw loose would do: turn to China. Hafei was crazy enough to be smoking the same thing Coda’s dudes were, so they offered up their Saibo sedan as a donor car. Plain hardly begins to describe the Saibo. It looks like a cross between a 1990s Corolla and a 2000 Civic with some 1980s Geo tossed in. No problem, just call in a design firm. Sounds good right? They hired Pininfarina. Sounds even better, right?? Yea, except look what they came up with. Ouch. The result was a grille-free beige something that was so boring we failed to take a side-profile shot of it. You didn’t miss much.
The Saibo was based on a last-century Mitsubishi Lancer, sort of. Knowing this, I feared that the 2012 Chinese car would still be sporting a 1990s interior. Oh how I wish that were true. Instead, they attempted to “modernize” things by creating an interior that even Benz/Cerberus era Chrysler would have rejected. That’s fine when the Chinese version costs about $15,000, but with a starting price of $37,250, “bad” doesn’t begin to describe what’s happening here. The dashboard in the “production” vehicle we drove rattled and squeaked non-stop, the radio was a Best Buy special with no Coda customization, and the only “feature” touted was the leather wrapped steering wheel. In truth, the tiller was fairly pleasant to hold, except that when you moved it you were reminded it was attached to a Coda. Toss in the cheesiest gauges I have ever seen and an imitation Jaguar Drive Selector gear shifter that looked bad and felt worse and the cabin was complete. I think recalling the horror within is bringing back my PTSD, I need to sit down.
Seriously, they just used an aftermarket double-din radio. Check out Crutchfield for the review on that.
Under the not-sexy-at-all hood of the Coda beat a 130 horsepower electric motor capable of delivering a stout 220 lb-ft of twist from zero to whenever it hit its redline (we weren’t told) through a single speed transmission. If that sounds OK, trust me, it’s perfectly fine. In fact, the drivetrain of the Coda was innovative and had nothing to do with their failure. Powering the motor was a custom designed lithium ion iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery that sported square rather than round cells for greater energy density and better cooling. The power pack under the floor was rated at 31kWh (larger than the Leaf) but because of the Coda’s weight, range was barely better than the Nissan. Unlike the competition, Coda installed an active thermal management system to keep the cells at the optimum temperature at all times to prevent the same sort of battery failures we saw on the Leaf in the Arizona desert.
So far, the Coda sounds like a boring little car with a bland interior, high-tech drivetrain with an advanced battery pack. In truth, the Coda sounded like a reasonable argument on paper and it looked like something you could live with in person… until you drove it. The Coda’s motor management software that had all the refinement of a science project. An elementary school science project. Acceleration was brisk but wasn’t in tune with the sloppy bumper-car pedal. As with most EVs, the Coda had regenerative braking but the system was bipolar providing either too little assist or way to much. Press the brake pedal down 10%, nothing. 20 %, nothing. 30% was where the “magic” started with the slightest resistance to forward progress. Between 31 and 40% things were peachy-keen but soggy. Press the stopper to 41% and everyone in the car will be dialing a whiplash injury lawyer.
Steering feel was horrid, but so is the feel in the Prius. Not much to say here.
So far everything I have described could have been lived with, you know, if someone gave you a Coda and you were unable to sell it. What absolutely could not be lived with was the ride. No 1990s Mitsubishi had a terribly polished ride to begin with, add Chinese tinkering, tinkering by a company that had never built a car before and 728 battery cells and you have a recipe for disaster. To compensate for the added weight, Coda jammed stiffer springs on all four corners and did nothing else. Crashy doesn’t begin to describe what my vertebrae felt on our 50 mile drive. If you think adding passengers would have improved things, we tried, there here were four of us in the car and we are all “American sized”.
Adding insult to injury, the EPA rated the Coda sedan the least efficient EV in modern history. No wonder they failed. Still, I’m sad to see Coda Automotive go because there will be one less voice in the EV conversation and auto journalists will have one less car to complain about. When you gathered writers together, someone will proclaim “there is no such thing as a bad car anymore.” Then somebody would remember Coda and we’d all have a good laugh before we moved back to complaining about the Prius. Now Coda is a fading memory, unless you are unfortunate enough to have one in your garage, then you won’t be able to forget. Or get it fixed. My condolences.
Coda gave me a free T-shirt at the Coda store, I still have it.