17 September 2010

Video: Top Gear drives the Citroen Survolt

A £1.5 million, 160mph pre-production electric racing car concept, you say? Yes please…

You know all those grumpy old gits who live right next to a racing circuit and then spend all their lives complaining about the noise? Well, it turns out Citroen might have found a cure - the Survolt is an entirely silent racing car.

Why? It's powered by only electricity, and the sensation this gives from the driver's seat is seriously weird.

See more pics of the Citroen Survolt

For starters, there are no gears - you simply push the accelerator and away you go in one constant, addictive, thrust of torque. 0-62mph is over and done with with in just under 5.0 seconds. Because there are no gearchanges to interrupt the power, you feel like you could keep accelerating forever. Not that we can do that today - this exact car, the only one in the world and valued at £1,500,000, is the star of Citroen's stand at the Paris Motor Show in two weeks. No pressure then.

Especially as there's none of the normal engine braking you get in an ordinary car. Lift off and you've only got the wind resistance slowing you down - you can't heel and toe down the gearbox, there's just the firm brake pedal. Incidentally, this needs to be pressed with your left foot because the cabin is so tight there's no room to drag your right foot across. Like a go-kart.

The second thing that strikes me is the amount of noise there is in the cabin. Sure, from the outside, the Survolt simply whirrs past, but from inside there's a real turbine whine from the gearbox. Compared to most racing cars, it's still pretty quiet, but it's certainly a long way from being silent - talking to a passenger requires a raised voice. Especially if the door pops open, as it did on my lap.

Ignore that though. This is a pre-production concept car - things don't get much more undeveloped than that - and it's been put together in only three months. For it to drive as well as it does is some achievement. It rides really well, grip levels are great and there's no lumpy handling characteristics despite it having two socking great batteries. One is mounted between the driver's feet and the front wheels, while the other is behind your head.

But perhaps the greatest thing this Survolt offers is potential. It's a long way from being a properly sorted racing car, but Citroen is driving its electric tech forward with this vehicle. Previously, manufacturers used F1 as a test bed for improvements to road cars, but maybe electric road car improvements will come from the likes of the Survolt and the one-make racing series it will hopefully spawn. If that's the case, it can only be good news.

Piers Ward

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