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Citroen C-Zero

The Future Begins

The first pure EVs of the latest generation are starting to sell in France. We present you one of them. It is Citroen’s Paris Motor Show star, C-Zero, the twin sister of Peugeot iOn and Mitsubishi MiEV.


This year’s Motor Show in Paris was marked by electric and hybrid cars. A total failure, some skeptics would say, particularly because of the fact that most of the show cars are still under development. On the other hand, the existing ones are too expensive, offering insufficient range, which is enough to chase away potentially interested buyers. Citroen is one of the few manufacturers who led their projects into the commercialization phase, so we had a chance to drive C-Zero through the streets of Malmo, Sweden.

Before expressing my observations, I would like to give you a short tutorial to show you how to use a pure electric vehicle, because its purpose and concept significantly differs from the standard cars.

1. What is essentually changed?
With the exception of our “trio”, Nissan Leaf and a pair of exclusive vehicles like Venturi Fetish, all electric cars are based on current models, which have been basically developed with conventional engines. The batteries were added afterwards, significantly changing the mass distribution. This requires chassis readjustment, because the electro motors are pretty light. Unlike them, C-Zero was designed and constructed as an electric vehicle, which initially brought a considerable advantage. The result is better organized space and better handling.

     
 

2. How does it feel to drive them?
It’s easy, like driving a scooter. There is no clutch pedal, no manual transmission lever… Driving an EV is much easier than driving a standard car. You just have to put it in the “Drive” mode. There is only one gear. The car accelerates rapidly thanks to the immediately available torque. It is fun, but you have to get used to the “brutal” slowdown every time you lift your foot off the accelerator. The breaking energy recovery system decelerates the vehicle much stronger than when powered by internal combustion engine.

3. What is C-Zero’s range?
The first production electric cars “boast” a range of 120 – 160 km. Attention: These are official figures and are valid in ideal conditions, without the use of air conditioners or (God forbid!) heating etc. Who needs the indicated mileage should better open the window or wear something to keep him warm, because any use of heating can cut the range in half. Wondering why? To put it simply, the cars with internal combustion engines release a lot of heat (as by-product), while EVs need additional electric heaters which consume a lot of energy. Therefore it is necessary to save electricity. It can be achieved through moderate acceleration and more engine braking. Anyway, there is a consumption indicator, something like a trip computer that shows you whether the ride is efficient or not.

     
 

4. Where can you recharge EVs?
For starters, you can do it in you garage with standard 220/230 V (16A) connection. It takes between 8 and 12 hours to fully recharge batteries depending on a model. However, a certain number of quick charging (400 V 50 A, even 125 A) public EV stations are being installed in some EU countries, sometimes in cooperation with interested companies. It takes only 30 minutes to fill 80% of the battery in this way. The problem is that these devices are extremely expensive (the figure of 15-20 euros is mentioned). That is the reason why they don’t even exist in France. Some companies have announced that they will place the standard ports for their workers and clients in private parking lots, which may already be found in modern underground car parks. As a matter of fact, there is no problem with standard connection, but when it comes to those for fast charging, you can have some problems. Manufacturers and politicians have not yet made an agreement regarding standards, which means that different electric cars have different adapters. Specifically speaking, in the tested C-Zero it is located at the rear on the left side (three-phase circular connector with four prongs), while the right one is for 220 V connections.

5. How to maintain them and how much does it cost?
All manufacturers who produce electric cars began with staff training. Since those cars are simpler there won’t be any major problems. In fact, there are no moving parts like pistons, camshafts, valves, etc. There are no starters, clutches, and cooling systems either. Electric motors are reliable and compact, while estimated battery life lasts 8 years. So, why are they so expensive?

     
 

The reason is in the latest generation lithium batteries, which comprise about 60 – 70% of the total cost. The EVs price is around 30-35 thousand euros, which means that the profitability of these vehicles is illusive. Although you need just 1-2 euros for one charge, the difference in price (compared to standard cars) is so high that it would take tens of years in service or at least 300-400 thousand kilometers to balance the costs. For this reason, Peugeot and Citroen offer to their customers some form of five years lease with the cost of 460 euros per month (maintenance and insurance included), but even this option does not look too interesting.

Secondly, the question is whether the customers will be hit with tax on electricity for vehicles. Everyone probably knows that 2/3 of the state’s budget are directly related to the tax on fossil fuels. There are few countries which can afford the luxury of renouncing of the steady income. For the time being, at least in France, you get a subsidy of 5000 euros for an electric car, and free vehicle registration. The questions are: Have EVs really “matured” to be on the market, and what do they offer for their price? We tried to check it out in our short test drive, but expect the longer one very soon, when we will deal with daily use and the practical aspect.

There is always a first time
I admit, this was my first time with an EV. I was very curious when I found myself behind the steering wheel of this egg-shaped Citroen. The imposed forms are in order to achieve the best possible Aerodynamics (read: better fuel economy), and that is reflected in the driver’s position, which is pretty high, for the simple reason that the batteries are placed in the floor of the vehicle (some 250 kg). Inside, I am very surprised by the classical concept of the dashboard, which is in my opinion somehow inappropriate for the vehicle of tomorrow. With the exception of futuristic instruments, the interior organization and the quality of materials are identical to any other city car. However, C-Zero is equipped with all possible high-tech details like automatic air conditioner, ESP, six airbags, radio/CD MP3 with Bluetooth connection… There is enough space for four adults while the trunk has capacity of 180 dm³. The truth is that the bottom of the trunk is very high (again due to the batteries) but its volume is still superior to 40 dm³of C1 sister. Not bad for a toy car less than 3.5 m long (14 cm less than the aforementioned C1).

However, it is enough to turn the ignition key to make sure that C-Zero is not like other superminis. Silence reigns. Only “ready” light on the instrument panel signals that the engine is running actually. OK, we are in the “first” gear and guess what! Without any noise and vibration our Citroen accelerates like a bullet!

     
 

It’s no surprise since electric cars maximum torque is available immediately. We have 180 Nm (from 0-2000 rpm) under foot, ie 64 bhp (3500-8000 rpm). It is not bad, especially if we consider that C-Zero weighs 1 120 kg. So, here we are reaching 100 km/h in about 15 seconds. C-Zero’s max speed is 130 km/h if we are to believe Citroen. So we drive in complete silence, only the noises of wind and rolling wheels can be heard. It is very interesting, but also dangerous because pedestrians and bicyclists can’t hear us. Otherwise, the car is very agile and offers good visibility. It’s quite safe, I would say, considering the rear-wheel drive which could cause some unexpected surprises in the wet…

Wondering about the range? The batteries were about halfway through after fifty kilometers (nearly two-hour drive), which means that there is no problem to go to work and back home. You must find some “socket” if you want to make some longer journey. Briefly, although I was quite skeptical before this ride, I find that C-Zero has the quality and meaning. The only obstacle (really huge) remains the price of 30 000 euros (5000 euros of subsidy included). Citroen is convinced that the price will be progressively falling down proportionally to the number of vehicles sold, but we will wait to see what time has to say on this issue.

Text and photos: Citroen, Perica Rajković
Translated by Pavle Barta
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