Xebra Test drive

by Noel Adams


On a recent visit to Santa Rosa I met up with Gary Star at the ZAP corporate offices and he gave me the opportunity to test drive a Zebra Striped white Xebra.


First I took a look at the Xebras in the ZAP showroom.  They had two of the four door sedans and the prototype pickup truck.  I was able to compare the production model sedan with the prototype truck and the quality differences were very noticeable.  While the Xebraís fit and finish isnít going to make Toyota shake in their shoes I found that the production vehicles were better than expected for a Chinese built car, and were as good as most NEVs I have driven.


From the showroom Gary gave me a ride to ZAPís warehouse in one of their Americanized Smarts.   The warehouse was packed full of Xebras undergoing final quality control checks and having their Altrax Controllers and batteries installed.  Several of the Xebras were marked as having parts that needed repair which indicates to me that ZAP are doing a careful job of screening the cars to make sure that they work when they get into the hands of their dealer network.


I was then passed along to Keith who took me to the car that he is currently using as a test vehicle.  He drove me out to a quiet location and switched places with me so that I could take a drive.  Surprisingly, for such a small car, there is a lot of room in both the front and back seat.  I had to pull the front seat forward to get comfortable with the pedals.  The two pedals are set a little farther apart than I am used to and seemed awkward when I first sat in the drivers seat but when I started to drive the car I didnít notice any difference from any other car. 


Start up procedure is a little more complex than the average car but not too dissimilar.  Like any automatic you first step on the brake.  Keith explained to me that the car doesnít have much rolling resistance and unlike more expensive electric vehicles it also doesnít have built in creep when you take your foot off the brake.  The car will roll backwards if you are facing uphill so you have to be careful.  Next you pull out the big red button located under the driverís seat.  This is the emergency disconnect that servers to isolate the battery pack.  Next, turn the key two clicks counterclockwise then select the direction you want to go, forward or reverse, using a switch on the dash.  If you want to go into a reverse there is a further button to push which turns on the reverse warning beeper and allows you to select reverse.  Finally you release the emergency brake making sure it is all the way down.  Three small red lights below the voltmeter go off when the brake is fully released.


I pressed the accelerator gently and the car took off without any noise.  This car isnít going to blow off mustangs when the lights change but takes off quite nicely, about what you would expect from your average sub-compact.  Driving along it will easily keep up with city traffic and as speed increases you get that low whine which is characteristic of most EVs I have driven.


The car can best be described as minimalist.  Keith explained that it isnít meant for long trips but to be driven on short in-town hops of fifteen or so minutes.  The seats are quite thin, to allow for more head room, and felt hard, almost like sitting on a solid bench.  The front seat belts are the normal three point lap and shoulder belts that you would find in any subcompact car.  The Xebra doesnít have power anything so you have to push quite hard on the brakes to bring the car to a stop.  This feels a little weird coming from a drive in my Prius, but you adjust quickly and I never felt nervous about their stopping power.  There didnít appear to be any regenerative braking that I could detect. 


There is also no power steering on the Xebra but the car is pretty light even with the batteries so steering the car never felt really hard.  I think the single front wheel also helps in that respect.  The car handled pretty well and itís easy to forget that this is a three wheel car.  There was never any indication of misbehavior during my test drive although I never really had the opportunity to try and corner hard in the car.


The indicators on the Xebra are controlled by a stick on the left side of the column exactly where I expected it to be.  They are also self-canceling which is an improvement on many of the NEVs I have driven where you have to remember to cancel the signal manually.


The ride was a little bumpy especially when we crossed some railroad tracks.  It felt like a couple of fillings were jarred loose.  The dashboard had been loosened on this car so that Keith could connect his multi-meter to measure performance as we moved along and because it was loose I couldnít really tell if the car would rattle or not but I suspect that there would be some rattling because of the rough ride. 


The car comes equipped with a heater but no AC.  Gary told me that he is looking at the possibility of adding an AC option to the Xebra but so far hasnít found a unit that he likes.  The car also comes with a radio and CD player.  I didnít try the radio so I canít comment on how well it works.  Auxiliary systems are powered by a DC-DC converter from the main traction pack and there is a separate 12V auxiliary battery reservoir system. 


The Chinese made charger runs from a standard 110V outlet.  ZAP also offers and optional 220V charger.


When we returned to the warehouse at the end of my test drive Gary showed me another of the Xebras that had the leather seats option.  From my brief inspection the seats looked really well put together and the car had that opulent leather smell. 




The Xebra is obviously not a freeway capable car, it is meant to provide zero emission transportation for those short commutes and running errands around town.  It is an excellent alternative to a NEV for those that are uncomfortable with the 25mph speed limit of the NEV or need to drive on roads that are posted at more than 35 mph. 


The ride is a bit bumpy but no worse than most of the NEVs I have driven.  The lack of power brakes and power steering may be a problem for some people but I found that both the stopping power of the disk brakes and the steering to be quite acceptable after spending a few moments getting used to them.  If you are concerned a test drive should allow you to determine if this would be a problem for you. 


With a starting price of just under $10,000 this is a good buy for those looking for a city class car for a round trip commute of 30 miles or less  


More Xebra Photos


About EVFinder   EVents Calendar    FAQ    EV Selector   Links    The EV Finder Archive