What a difference a decade makes. 10 years ago, electric cars existed on the fringes of the motoring cosmos, typified by the small, fragile and frightening Reva G-Wiz. Indeed it was exactly a decade ago, in April 2007, that Top Gear got hold of a G-Wiz and flung it at a crash test barrier at 40mph. The results made it plain that G-Wiz occupants sat in the middle of a bumper-to-bumper crumple zone.
Fragility is not a word that springs to mind when viewing the latest crop of EV concepts, revealed at the Shanghai Motor Show this week. The VW Group alone revealed a trio of battery powered 4x4s that each look as if they could roll right over a G-Wiz without noticing.
The Volkswagen ID Crozz previews an electric crossover, due to go on sale in 2020. It is built on top of an adaptable platform that VW has developed called MEB, a modular toolkit that will underpin a variety of future EVs, including the roughly Golf-shaped ID hatchback previewed at last September’s Paris Motor Show.
MEB’s layout is built around a large battery, as opposed to squeezing cells into a chassis designed primarily for internal combustion engines, as is the case with the current e-Golf.
MEB follows the lead of Tesla by shaping the heavy battery into a flat, wide, oblong package carried low-down between the axles. Motors power the front and rear axles independently, allowing rear-wheel drive as well as 4x4 operation when both motors work together.
This layout yields a low centre of gravity, even weight distribution and concentrates mass at the centre of the vehicle, all of which are helpful for agile handling.
The lithium-ion cells are liquid cooled and contain 83kWh of energy when fully charged – in the same ballpark as a mid-range Tesla Model S. VW quotes a driving range between recharges of 500km (310 miles) under the NEDC test, which is likely to translate to around 250 miles on real roads.
CCS charging will be supported, with DC supplied at up to 150kW allowing an 80% charge in 30 minutes – where rapid chargers capable of delivering that torrent of power have been installed, at least. There aren’t many around at present.
The platform has a rear-drive bias, so the ID Crozz will feature a 150kW (200bhp) electric motor at the back and a 75kW (100bhp) motor at the front. The two combined offer a sum of 225kW (300bhp) and all-wheel drive. In use, the front motor is unlikely to contribute except under hard acceleration or in slippery conditions, or when the car is set to 4x4 mode for travelling over mud or snow.
The front motor will, however, earn its keep by doing the bulk of regenerative braking, feeding energy back into the battery whenever the car slows down.
The ID Crozz is roughly the same size and shape as Jaguar’s upcoming I-Pace electric car – the VW is just a few centimetres shorter and taller than the Jag.
The ID Crozz rides on large 21-inch diameter alloys, made to look larger still in concept form due to custom tyres shaped and coloured to match the matt-finish alloy wheels.
The Shanghai show also saw the debut of Skoda’s Vision E, another crossover based on the MEB platform.
It’s likely to go on sale in roughly the same 2020 timeframe as the ID Crozz – Skoda has a plug-in hybrid version of its Superb saloon scheduled to arrive in 2019, and a product based on the Vision E concept would arrive after that. The brand aims to have five different pure EV offerings in its range by 2025.
The electric motors and battery of the Vision E match those of the VW, providing the same power and 4x4 capability as well as yielding the same 310-mile range under the NEDC test.
The flexibility of the underlying kit of parts is revealed by the differing measurements of the Skoda and VW. The Vision E is 63mm longer than the ID Crozz, with an extra 78mm between its axles.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Skoda also has a slightly lower roofline than the VW, though both share a dramatic fastback rear end, giving a fashionable coupé-like outline despite a relatively practical five-door layout.
Naturally the Skoda also explores its own design theme that’s quite distinct from the more futuristic VW. The chiselled Czech car features a virtual grille at the front, created by moulding the shape of a conventional radiator shroud into the smooth plastic of the nose. That’s another trick borrowed from Tesla, which controversially created a duck-billed look for its Model 3 by outlining the shape of a grille in its front bumper.
Lastly Audi also used the Shanghai show to reveal its E-tron Sportback concept – another fastback five-door crossover EV. It’s due to arrive in production guise in 2019.
While similar in outline to the VW and Skoda, the Audi is the biggest of the three – at 4.9 metres the E-tron Sportback is more than 200mm longer than the Skoda, with about 80mm extra in the wheelbase.
The extra dimensions are not just a further stretch of the MEB toolkit. The upcoming electric Audi sits on a different platform, sharing components with the Porsche Mission E rather than with more lowly VWs and Skodas.
The E-tron Sportback is also closely related to the E-tron Quattro concept EV shown off in 2015 – the two are essentially crossover and SUV versions of the same car.
Like the Skoda and VW, the Sportback promises a 310-mile driving range, although it depends on a slightly larger 95kWh battery to push along what will be a bigger, heavier car.
Under its skin the Audi will use three electric motors – two at the back and one at the front, with a combined potential of 320kW (430bhp) for sustained periods or up to 370kW (496bhp) in short bursts.
Despite an expected weight of about 2.2 tonnes, the Audi should be able to sprint to 62mph in about 4.5 seconds.