By on November 24, 2008

“So you want to drive the speed demon, huh?” The local eco-dealership was empty save for a salesman spinning laps around electric cars and trucks in a Zap Zappy, a sort of poor man’s Segway. “You know the ZX40 won’t do more than 25 miles per hour, right?” asks the sales manager. She looks as if this revelation typically scares off twenty-somethings like myself. “Sure,” I say. How bad could it be?

As we walk through the dealership, the Miles ZX40S instantly stands out from its competitors thanks to the fact that it actually looks like a car. This is no coincidence. While the Zap Xebras that crowd the lot are little more than tarted-up scooters -a fact readily admitted to by the surprisingly forthright sales manager- the Miles is based on a Chinese license-built Daihatsu Move. This means four wheels, four doors, trunk space and “real” suspension- features which make this model so popular among EV early-adaptors.

In fact, the Miles ZX40S is so popular that I was only able to test drive the outgoing model. Its DC motor offers less hill-climbing ability and lacks the regenerative braking that makes its AC-powered replacement model fly off the lots. But a brand-new ZX40S is listed at $20k (if you can find one before it sells), while this outgoing model is on “internet special” for $14,999. For that money you get such “real car” amenities as a CD player and foglamps.

But it doesn’t take long to realize that as “real cars” go, Chinese-built Daihatsu Moves barely pass muster. The body is remarkably like a smaller (yep!) Mk1 Scion xB, with room for four adults and a surprising sense of spaciousness. Inside though, “cheap-and-cheerful” doesn’t begin to describe the Wal-Mart-grade upholstery and interior materials.

The “straight out of Tianjin” impressions continue as you struggle to make your seatbelt work and jiggle the ignition switch endlessly. The surprisingly unembarrassed sales manager had just concluded that she had grabbed the wrong key when the toylike LCD display finally lit up.

Any of the ZX40S’s similarities to a “real car” are quickly proven coincidental by its performance. Though its internals can haul it to 45 mph, federal legislation electronically limits the Miles to a sedate 25 mph. Flip the dash-mounted toggle switch transmission to its single “forward” gear and mash the throttle, and the ZX40S pulls away from the dealership with the urgency of a well-laden golf cart.

On quiet residential roads, the ZX40S is in its element. Roll down the window, crank up whale songs on your CD player and you could cruise for hours (well, 50 miles if you’re lucky), blanketing the neighborhood with zero-emission smug. There’s plenty of throttle travel to ease comfortably into the 17.6 peak kilowatts, and additional passengers eliminate any chance of a snappy power response.

When egged on by the sales manager to “open ‘er up” on Portland’s Sandy Boulevard, the I got the ZX40S to hit a federal-law-flouting 28 mph. This prompted a round of jokes about Justice Department investigations and the dangers of high speeds, not all coming from me. My minder expressed frustration at the onerous Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) laws, pointing out that states are repealing them. When asked about the federal laws which trump state deregulation, all I got was a vague “Miles is working on that.” Questions about a planned $30k, highway-capable EV sedan get the same answer.

But despite the ZX40S’s many shortcomings and the wide variety of far more capable vehicles available for $15-20k, the Miles is selling. While Xebras sit, unloved and unloveable. If the speed regulator and weak-sauce range aren’t enough to turn you away, the Miles does everything an LSV should. It’s got a flexible design with space for a small family, and it exudes an undeniable quirky charm.

But take care not to take on the ZX40S’s eco-friendly compromises too lightly. Buy one and you will be constantly reminded of your dedication to environmental sustainability. Like, whenever you try to buckle your seatbelt. Or spend five minutes trying to start the thing. Or watch your interior rattle itself apart at 25 mph.

The bottom line is that it will never match similarly-priced (or cheaper) “real cars” like the Fit or Yaris in quality, performance or usability. If your mantra is “earth first” rather than “pocketbook first,” the ZX40S may be your best bet.

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24 Comments on “2007 Miles ZX40S EV...”

  • avatar

    This sounds like it deserves 0 stars. $15-20k for a vehicle that can’t go over 25mph? I’d rather ride my bicycle or buy a used Civic and a bunch of carbon offsets

  • avatar

    Ahh… Sandy Boulevard. Where I saw my first Lamborghini Countach. I had NO idea what it was, but it was the coolest car I’d ever seen. Had to turn around and pull into the lot where it was parked and slowly walk around it about three times. mmm…

    There also used to be a river somewhere down Sandy Boulevard. It was out in the country back then. Last time I was there, I couldn’t find it tho. I think it got buried by urbania.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these once. It was going down the freeway @ about 60 MPH and burning fuel at about 8 MPG.

    “Zero All Electric Pollution Vehicle”? WTF?


  • avatar

    Bicycle indeed, I can top 25 on my road bike if I work out a bit. If I train a bit I could easily exceed the 50 mile range too, fueled by Gatorade and granola bars.

    What a piece of utter crap. I can’t believe how gullible and dense the hardcore greenheads are. But I shouldn’t be surprised, they swallow any environmental shock story wholeheartedly without bothering to fact check or, you know, look at the science. Ergo they will probably shell out to buy the first shitbox that has zero emissions without actually making an informed decision or attempting to be anything other than a smug, hemp chewing, masochistic little jerk.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    As a car it deserves zero stars, but judged against its peers (LSVs) it’s a solid two-star effort. Without the federally-mandated limiter, this could be a quasi-successful vehicle. Of course, without LSV laws, there would be much more competition in the segment, so it’s kind of a moot point.

  • avatar

    …lacks the regenerative braking…

    I have to ask this: why would you sell an electric car without regen-braking? And how would be insane enough to buy it? I’m all for electric cars, but unless you have a really good reason to skip either a) public transit or b) a velomobile, these are pretty silly.

    On a related note, I got some seat time in one of bluevelo’s imports, back when I was in good shape. I could easily hit 35km/h sustained, and could burst higher. And it was stable enough for winter and bad-weather use. The upper-trim ones can take cargo and have lighting, signals and horns. Unless I lived in San Francisco and had to contend with hills, it’d be a totally valid form of transport.

  • avatar

    NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) belong in two places, and two places alone:

    1) The Junkyard
    2) Gated Retirement Communities, where everything is availible in a 5-mile geriatric radius

    Other than those exceptions, I see no reason for anyone to buy any NEV over even a lowly Aveo. Unless you were hell-bent on getting an Electric vehicle NOW; there is really no practical reason to own one.

    By limiting the vehicle to 25 mph, they are classified as NEVs and thus are exempt from laws requiring airbags and other safety features. The whole idea is basically, “How much damage can you do at 25 mph?” I know Washington State allows NEVs to go 35 mph legally.

    I’ll be holding out for my electric car…

  • avatar

    I forgot the name of the car that is the same size as this and it’s so popular in Boston.

    The Zap I think.

  • avatar

    So Usain Bolt will beat this in the quarter? That’s just funny.

  • avatar

    Miles who ?
    Mitsubishi just delivered its first i MiEVs to Californian utility companies:

    A birth watch section, please ?

  • avatar

    ZAP rhymes with crap. They have been peddling their grey market EV snake-oil for 15 plus years now. This is $5k worth of NEV wrapped up in feel good green rhetoric and environmentalist hysteria. This thing sounds like Harbor Freight Merchandise at Craftsman prices.

    You can get a nice Global Electric Motorcar for $9-15k. They have been around for some time and work well in their niche.

    Or to go all out you cold purchase a bater 2WD Tacoma or S-10 sans engine and have it professionally converted to an EV for $10-15k.

  • avatar

    The fact that this half-baked vehicle is selling should be indicitive of the pent-up demand for this tech – there will be a bright future for EV commuters as ‘first cars’ for lots of people. Not a shining panacea (until electricity becomes “green” istelf), but a step in the necessary (if not ‘right’ by enthusiast standards) direction.

  • avatar

    For all the naysayers, there is indeed a unique use for this car.

    Suppose you are driving in a tunnel or in a building, then you have to use a battery car. A Honda Fit just won’t do. Also, what if you need to carry 200 pounds of bulky stuff, then you cannot do it with a bicycle.

  • avatar

    For $20,000 I’d rather have a Malibu.

    If you put alternative energy into a Malibu, it could be an excellent car while being a 0-emitter.

  • avatar

    Imagine if you could run on batteries in town and once you get on the freeway you could extend a pantograph to draw power from the grid.

  • avatar

    Ed, are you in portland? I know that exact dealership you’re talking about, I got served a coffee by a dude on a segway one drunken morning. (I was kind of hung over, and thought it was just a coffee shop, which it at least used to have built-in). Not very car related, but the second voodoo donuts just opened across the street. I highly recommend you all come visit Portland, and see our wonderfully progressive coffee shop and electric vehicle combo ;)

  • avatar

    I could ALMOST see it at some lower price with a 50 mph top speed. My commute takes me down a 55 mph country road for a few miles. The rest is 15-45 mph and easily within the range of that little car.

    Saw a GEM running down the 55 mph stretch. He was out of his element.

  • avatar

    Jeez, JEC, quit chewing handfuls of nuts and bolts and take a deep breath, will ya? Most car buyers are easily swayed consumers,not racer scientists, and sure, the ZAP’s crap–but its sales figures and eco-posturing WILL turn heads.

    There’s a diaper service up here that sports two Xebras. The irony, oh, my head bleeds….

  • avatar

    I actually drove this car as a sort of frame-of-reference for the ZENN review that should pop up in a couple months on this site. In Seattle, the laws allow such cars to get up to 35 miles per hour, and the newest breed of these cars are more than capable of exceeding that speed with some “aftermarket upgrades” recommended by the dealer. The Miles may not be ready for the consumer market, but as a short-distance business utility vehicle they set a new benchmark (although the preceding benchmark was pretty low).

  • avatar

    But…but…You Coulda Had a V8!!!!

    Couldn’t resist, sory.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe how gullible and dense the hardcore greenheads are. But I shouldn’t be surprised, they swallow any environmental shock story wholeheartedly without bothering to fact check or, you know, look at the science.

    This level of gullibility and density is typical of a certain percentage of H. sapiens of all sorts, green, brown, left, right, and nothing special to those of us who are green.

    When I was younger (teens, 20s and 30s) I could easily go as fast as this thing on my bicycle.

  • avatar
    Casual Observer

    I have a John Deere Gator that can go 30 mph. Five gallons of diesel will run it for about 12 hours. It can haul a half-ton, plow the driveway, and go anywhere you point it. And it costs less than 10 grand.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    20k for a car-based golf cart? Why would any greenie buy this when they could get a used Prius, their favorite “green”-mobile? Hell, I have a ’99 Civic that I got for $5300, and the remaining $14,700 could be used in fuel for the next five or six years.

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