America’s Best Against Europe’s Favorites
Words & Photos Ezekiel C. Wheeler
Dwell on Design is a national gathering at the Los Angeles Convention Center, hosting some of the biggest breakthroughs in furniture, architecture and product design. For the second year, they incorporated a new feature: partnering with Green Car Journal, Dwell on Design invited us to test-drive one of the newest American alternative energy vehicles, the Fisker Karma, as well an Audi A3 e-tron, Passat TDI and Mercedes B-Series F-Cell.
My first experience was a 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE. A quick look around the car and you can pick up the family design features like the strong shoulder line and evolving LED headlight sculptures. Inside, it’s gigantic ¬– back seat passengers will enjoy plenty of legroom along with comfortable leather seats. Not to mention the oversized luggage you can pack into the truck easily.
The Passat’s impressive 46mpg provides confidence for drivers planning a long road trip. One couple even set a world record, logging nearly 84mpg and traveling over 1500 miles on a single tank! As a precaution, I have to mention results may vary. Most high mpg cars lack the get-up-and-go most of us are used to, but the TDI was peppy and spirited during acceleration.
I set off on a brisk drive through downtown LA with my VW rep. Driving a well-equipped mid-size sedan you’d normally be searching for thresholds; acceleration, braking, seating position, etc. The Passat eliminates all these pre-flight checks and makes piloting the vehicle effortless and intuitive. LA isn’t know for having the best roads in America so this gave the Passat a chance to show me what it’s suspension could do. I was surprised as how smooth the car felt even in some construction zones.
Overall the Passat is a very well equipped vehicle for around $30,000 (as tested). The 2012 Passat TDI SE provides plenty of room but I wish it had a more unique road presence.
My second drive was hard to pass up. While snapping photos of the car, a representative approached and asked if I wanted to take it for a spin. Without hesitating, “YES!” leaped from my tongue.
Fisker is a young company, yet its designers, engineers and top brass are some of the most celebrated in the industry. Executive Chairman, Chief Design & Brand Officer, Heinrik Fisker, is an accomplished automotive designer, having created iconic vehicles like the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin DB9.
Heinrik penned the provocative lines of the Karma with the vision to create a vehicle offering zero sacrifice when it comes to choosing a plug-in hybrid vehicle. This includes acceleration, interior options and overall sex appeal.
While the Karma is considered an American vehicle, it incorporates decades of European automotive influence, making it the most Euro-American production car in the world.
The cockpit has plush, bolstered seats that hold you without much adjustment. However, the backseats are small. I’d equate it to sitting in the back of a Honda CR-X and is probably best suited to small children. The rather large center console houses the batteries used in the vehicle, almost creating a wall between the driver’s side and passenger side. A Push button drive system protrudes from the console like the edge of a diamond ready to be plucked; providing a unique experience to the driver.
Where the Fisker shines is on the road. Fisker’s Director of Corporate Communications, Russell Datz encouraged me to experience the driving functions like Sport and Hill settings. I couldn’t help but mash the pedal on our first straightaway to discover the acceleration from the electric motor. Sport mode resulted in good throttle response and sharp steering commands. Having driven a Tesla Roadster, I can report the same acceleration applies to the Fisker Karma.
Hill mode operated the regenerative braking system, creating optimum ascent and descent speeds while recharging the batteries. Considering it’s a heavyweight at 5300 lbs. on standard 21” wheels, this mode makes the Karma feel effortless in any setting.
Next on the list was the Audi A3 e-Tron, but because the car was a prototype they wouldn’t let me drive it. Insert sad face emoticon here.
What I can report is that the car felt smooth and had several settings to generate or preserve power while maintaining maximum range. Some settings even help braking when your foot is off the accelerator in order to produce regenerative power. Hopefully, Audi will eventually let us drive more than the 100ft-assisted U-Turn I experienced.
The Mercedes B Series F-Cell is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle, which is available for a 38000-mile lease in the United States. While that might not seem like much, you won’t have to worry about maintenance when commuting in a hydrogen fuel cell car daily.
When getting into the car a “Mind the Gap” sticker would be helpful. The sandwich engineered platform housing all the components for the fuel cell drivetrain make entry seem like jumping into a Big-Rig.
Once underway, the car was silent and refined but refueling is one of the biggest concerns. There are enough stations in California to make it possible to drive on a daily basis. Elsewhere, however, you better plan refueling accordingly.
The B-Class was responsive and produced an aquatic aroma as we drove on, which almost felt like I was swimming all day. Its performance was nimble like a small car should be but the seating position felt too high. I was looking down on the road with my feet flat on the floorboard about 2 feet above the road. Awkward would be an appropriate word to describe my overall impression of the Mercedes.