Review of the 2011 Think City

A Household with multiple Electric Vehicles (EVs) – The 2011 Th!nk City in a 2012 LEAF Home

by: Dave Glotfelty

I have two new drivers in my family, and four drivers total.  We recently purchased a 2012 Nissan LEAF (“Leaf”), which we love, but with other cars failing and new drivers in the house, it was time for another new car.

The 2012 Leaf that we bought in December 2011 has spoiled me.  Although I am a big guy – six foot tall – I am still generally comfortable with small cars.  The Leaf is bigger than a small car, and is technically in the midsize class – it’s very roomy, and I find it very comfortable and relaxing to drive.   The Bluetooth, Navigation system, Charging Station Locator, and backup camera are all very useful tools and fun to play with.  And best of all – there is NO GAS!  I pay only about three cents per mile for electricity.

My family drives many miles and could really use a second EV, but another $30K for a second Leaf or a Chevy Volt was not in the cards.  Fortunately, National Plug-In Day made me aware of a great alternative – The Th!nk City (“Think”)!  The Think is a two-seater with a very roomy square hatchback area. The Think originally retailed at $33K, but the European parent company has been in and out of bankruptcy.  As a result, the price on the 2011 Think has been cut to a fire-sale price of $23K, including tags.  I live in Maryland, which has an excise (sales) tax credit waiving up to $2000 in sales tax on EVs.  There is also the Federal tax credit of up to $7500.  The bottom line is that after the fire-sale price and federal and state tax credits, a brand new 2011 Think cost me only $15,500! Fortunately, the Think U.S. subsidiary is still in business, and currently covering warranty issues. We decided that the low price made it worth the risk on manufacturer support.

Here is my review of the 2011 Think, with occasional comparisons to my 2012 Leaf.

Car Type – The Think is a two-seater subcompact with a very nice hatchback cargo area – 27 cubic ft.  The hatchback area is large and very open, and has a large clear back window as the hatch.  It is small outside, but very roomy inside. The car weighs 2350 lbs., with an added passenger/cargo payload of up to 445 lb.  It is 10′ long, and has a 15′ turning radius on 14” alloy wheels. I find it a blast to drive; however, it is not a Japanese comfort vehicle like the Leaf.

Exterior – The shell is made of ABS matte plastic in nice colors – very distinctive, durable, and eco-friendly with built-in color.  One of my favorite aspects about the Think is that it is scratch and dent resistant; I can pound on the car with no damage!  I wish that all of my cars were made of this stuff, it’s very tough.  I picked a red Think, and it has a Fisher-Price look which is fun. Other available colors include Light Blue and Black. The styling is European, which you may or may not like, but I prefer it compared to the Smart EV two-seater.  The Think stands out in a fun way, and you will frequently find yourself answering questions at vehicle stops.

Interior – The interior of the Think is simple, attractive, functional, and colored in black. The steering wheel and seats are adjustable, and entry and exit is very easy.  The overall interior look and feel is European, and reminiscent of IKEA– plain with easy to use controls, a parking brake, and a shifter.  The car includes AC and a heater.   Driving position is comfortable, with decent visibility.  The large rear glass hatch provides excellent rearward visibility.  Upward visibility is slightly restricted, and taller people such as myself may have difficulty seeing stoplights at a stop.  To alleviate this problem, many owners are adding a small Fresnel lens stick on at the top of the windshield.  Window switches are in the center front, which is unusual but reminiscent of other European makers such as SAAB.  The cup holder placement is a bit strange but works OK. The unique keys (two are provided) have a built in remote for locking, unlocking, and popping the rear hatch.

Console and Displays – The console has gauges but no fancy electronics.  There is a battery capacity gauge, which shows the percentage of battery capacity remaining and available for use.  Another gauge indicates the amount of real-time energy used when driving, or recaptured during regenerative braking.  There is no onboard Navigation unit, so I added a Garmin GPS.  There is no charging station locator, but most phones can run a charging station locator app (such as PlugShare) to find plug-in stations.  The Think stereo is a Sony CDXGT700HD with CD, HD radio and a USB plug for iPods or other USB-based music devices. Unfortunately, there is no glovebox, but in its place there is an incidentals tray, and good access to fuses.  The rear cargo bay has nets on the sides and an under floor compartment for keeping valuables out of sight.

Compared to the Think, the Leaf has much more detailed information regarding a variety of metrics, including power output, energy captured during regeneration, estimated range (which is usually a bit – sometimes wildly – off), and miles per kWh.  I prefer the Leaf instantaneous power bubble display (power output / recaptured) to the Think needle gauge, which has a small display range.  The Leaf has a built-in Navigation system with a charging station locator.  The Leaf also includes a nice graphic of Eco-trees that grows as you drive, indicating how much CO2 you have saved by driving electric.  However, for estimating range, I find that the Think capacity gauge, combined with my experience, is just as useful.  In summary, the lack of a full Navigation unit and entertainment system in the Think is not really an issue – especially for $15,500.

Driving – Like the Leaf, the Think was designed as an electric vehicle from the beginning, and it shows in a good way.   Weight is concentrated in the low center of the vehicle, for a great center of gravity.  The ride is a little rough, owing to the short wheelbase.  The steering has a tight European feel with little power assist, like a German vehicle.  The car corners well and is extremely easy to parallel park.  The Think uses a simple drive/eco/reverse gearbox with a center shifter and transmission fluid, compared to no transmission in the Leaf.  The Think is not as quick as the Leaf, especially in the high end. Going from 0-30 mpg is still zippy, like all electrics. If you are coming from a gasoline car, the Think will seem quite peppy around the city. Acceleration up to 50 mph feels like a typical econobox.  Above 50 mph, the Think is slow and really needs to be in Drive mode, not Eco mode, to get up to its top speed of about 65-70mph.  However, overall I find it quite acceptable.  The Think is very fun around town.   I really smile driving the Think, and my other family members like it too. It’s a favorite!

Regenerative braking – Regenerative braking (“regen”) on the Think is a bit different than on the Leaf. For those who are new to electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, regen is the slowing down of the vehicle by feeding the force of the speeding car into a generator in order to slow down. The generator may be the motor in a different electrical configuration. This arrangement saves the brake pads, and converts the kinetic energy of the car back into electric energy in the battery.  In any power conversion there is always a loss of energy, but it is still better to recapture this energy for future use instead of wearing down the brake pads.  I like the Think regen system better than that of the Leaf, although it does take some time to learn. In the Think, the brakes don’t do the regen – just letting off the gas completely puts you in regen mode.  Regen is stronger in Eco mode than in Drive mode, but in any case regen will slow down the car at a non-panic speed.  The braking force can be increased by using the ABS brakes.  By lightly feathering the accelerator, you are able to coast the vehicle, so that no energy is used.  With practice, you can get quite good at reclaiming energy by using regen when slowing down for stoplights.

Range – The range of the Think is about 80 miles; perhaps 4-5 miles more than my Leaf. This range handles almost all of my daily needs and is great for commuting.  For many trips, a small two-passenger EV makes a lot of sense.  Any one-way commute of 30 miles or less will be within range, even if charging at work is not available and even when using the heater.  The Think will save me about $1500 in fuel costs per year compared to most internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles; this savings alone will completely pay for the car in ten years!

Safety – Brakes are front disc and rear drum, with ABS.  The headlights are not LED, and have replaceable bulbs. There are twin airbags and side-impact reinforcing bars on the doors. There are no recent US crash test results that I am aware of, but the Think did receive good marks in European safety crash testing.

Charging – The Think and the Leaf have a similar 24 kWh (kiloWatt-hour) battery.  The Think comes with a portable Clipper Creek 120V charging unit that adds four miles of range per hour charging, or about 32 miles over the course of an eight hour workday.   When charging at 240V, about twelve miles of range is added per hour charging.  These charging rates at 120V and 240V are similar to those of the Leaf.  Most public charging stations are 240V, and a home 240V charging station costs about $1000-$2000 to purchase and install.

Problems – The only issue I’m aware of so far is a heater problem.  The heater can fail unpredictably, causing the electronics to freeze up.  I have not experienced this problem, but am still planning for a replacement.  Th!nk North America has been responsive in addressing this issue and fixing the heater, so that despite previous bankruptcies in the parent company, the warranty is still being honored.  In addition, some people have reported problems with radio reception, but mine has always worked fine and the HD radio reception is good near me in Washington, DC.

** Update – The Think USA maintenance team as scheduled came through and did a great job upgrading the heater and replacing all the parts needed under warranty. Heater works great and  subjectively seems less of a drain than the Leaf heater. Great support Think North America! **

Conclusion – So, if I did not already own an electric car, would I have considered the Think for my only electric?  Yes, indeed!  The Think has the same economy and range as the Leaf for $15K less, which is very tempting.  As with any small company, the Think warranty is a bit of a gamble given the issues, but so far Think North America has come through when needed for service and warranty work, albeit slowly.  The build quality on my car is good, and I believe that owners will find solutions to maintenance problems regardless of the company’s health, as with other small brand vehicles.  Notably, the Think uses many Ford parts, which should help for long-term parts replacement.

In summary, when going with the Think, you do have to go in with eyes wide open that warranty and maintenance could a long-term problem. It will be interesting to compare the Think to the new Smart Electric Drive, which starts at $25,000. However for now, if you are looking for a new electric vehicle delivered under $16,000, the Think is the only answer.

10 thoughts on “Review of the 2011 Think City

  1. I learned some new things from this review even though I own a 2011 Think City. It’s interesting to learn that the Think may have a tiny bit more range than a Nissan Leaf in some circumstances.

    • Yes, it’s small amount of range but noticeable. in the Leaf’s defense it is a larger car with 3354 lbs ( 1521kg ) vs 2350 lbs ( 1066kg ). So really we should see even more range. It may be the Think basic gear box with transmission fluid vs the Leaf direct drive coming into play. Sadly it so far seems no new model years of Thinks will be made. If Think had the chance to incorporate some of the improvements out there combined with a proven basic design of the Think City ’11 – as Nissan has been improving the Leaf – just imagine.

  2. Thanks for the write-up on your Think!. Was fascinated with this car, when finding it at the Downtown DC event this past Autumn and learning that these were being sold locally by Eurostar in the Baltimore, MD area. It is … very tempting, but owning one European car whose business has folded gives me reason to question buying another.

    • No argument – as you know there is risk, despite Think NA’s initially good efforts. I sure enjoy my 15,500 electric though.

      Dave

  3. Hey, in 2012, I paid $16,000 for a new Think City when they were getting rid of the very last ones in Portland, Oregon. Net of the tax credit, it cost $8,500. It was God’s own no-brainer. I brought it up to Seattle, and have put 3,500 miles on it around town since then, which is about 200 miles a month.

    It’s a lot of fun to drive, a perfect in-town runabout. I like the tight steering, solid feel, and maneuverability on Seattle’s cramped streets. The acceleration in “E” mode is sufficient for 95% of my driving. There are one or two steep hills near my house where I’ll use “D,” but that’s it. Most of the time, “D” actually winds up being too powerful, so I’m glad to have “E.”

    I am constantly amazed at how much stuff I can jam into my Think. The seating is comfortable but tight because of how small the car is, but the cargo area is gigantic for such a small car. I got mine after they’d replaced all the heaters, so I never had that problem.

    In fact, the heater in my Think is the quickest and most powerful heater of any car I’ve owned. Once I’ve been driving for five minutes, or ten at most, I hardly ever have the dial past 1. But stick it on 4, and the front window is defogged in about 30 seconds.

    I installed a 240v “Level 2” charger at home. I typically draw it down to 20%-25%, and it’ll take six or six and a half hours to refill, at a rate of 3 kWh/hour using a Leviton charger. I also bought a WattsUp 240v appliance meter to track electricity use, so I have a whole bunch of statistics. I’ll give them here, with some explanations at the end.

    AVERAGE FUEL ECONOMY

    Year-’round: 0.35 kWh/mi — 2.82 mi/kWh — 98 “MPGe” (see below)
    Winter: 0.41 kWh/mi — 2.45 mi/kWh — 85 “MPGe”
    Summer: 0.32 kWh/mi — 3.17 mi/kWh — 110 “MPGe”

    AVERAGE FULL RANGE (Full to empty)/80% RANGE (Full to 20% left)

    Year-’round: 71/56
    Winter: 61/49
    Summer: 79/63

    FUEL COST AT SEATTLE ELECTRIC RATE (10.8 cents/kWh) vs AVERAGE GAS COST FOR EQUIVALENT CAR

    Year-’round: 3.8 cents/13.1 cents
    Winter: 4.4 cents/11.6 cents
    Summer: 3.4 cents/13.6 cents

    NOTES:

    1. I live at the top of one of Seattle’s tallest hills. It extracts a 15%-20% fuel economy penalty for gas cars. The Think’s fuel economy and range would probably be 15% better on flat ground.

    2. “MPGe” means “miles per gallon equivalent.” This is based on a U.S. Dept. of Energy formula that says a gallon of gas contains the equivalent of 34.02 kWh of energy. To that, I’ve added 0.78 kWh to reflect a research project I did on how much electricity is used to refine gasoline. Turned out to be 0.78 kWh per gallon, which is less than what a lot of EV advocates believe. I am very, VERY confident of that estimate, and can provide backup detail to any “interested nerds” out there.

    4. Fuel costs include gas tax on the gasoline side, but do not include WA State’s $100 annual EV road use tax. On a per-mile basis, this would vary (of course) based on how much you drive. I’m retired and don’t drive much in the city, so my tax cost per mile is 4 cents (grrrrrrrr), but the average EV is driven 8,000 miles a year and its road use tax would be 1.25 cents/mile.

    5. The “equivalent gas car” used to compare costs is a Scion iQ, which is almost exactly the same size and weight as a Think City. Scion has an electric version of the car, but like the Think City, it flopped in the market due to the high cost of the battery.

  4. Your review has one significant error. There is NOT a gearbox, nor transmission fluid in a Th!nk. The shifter is just to make it more familiar for drivers used to an ICE car, but the ‘gears’ are all electric motor modes. There is NOT a transmission.

    • Just received notification of this comment ( late moderation or website issue? ) from 2014. Just to not leave a possible maintenance misinformation standing on this review, there is indeed a gearbox requiring SAE-PD 75W85 Qty: 0,75 liters at replacement. Think maintenance manual C rev. 11.04.15. Page 44 of 53. For anyone googling further info is available: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/think_ev/info .

      • David is correct. I was in error declaring that there is no gearbox or gear lubricant. There is indeed a gearbox containing gear oil or ATF. There is not, however a transmission which changes gears or provides a reverse gear. All forward and reverse drive modes are accomplished through electronic motor controls. Thank you for the correction, David.

  5. Well,

    I love my little red think too, however I just had a $1400 repair job at less than 7,000 miles on poor internal soldering in the electrical system which caused it to not charge. It’s all good now; excepting one thing; the warranty is not being honored anymore and I was stuck with the bill. Anyone having any luck getting warranty work done on their Thinks?

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