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Auto review: Hammer down in the Chinese-made, all-electric Mullen GT sportscar

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

PASADENA, California — The electric Qiantu K50 lives.

In the parking lot of Santa Anita Park horse track. On an autocross course. On a Tuesday afternoon. Like a thoroughbred from a starting gate, I exploded out from under a pop-up tent into a tunnel of pylons. ZOT! I was in top of the first turn in an instant.

Boy, wish I had this kind of torque when I autocrossed go-karts in West Virginia parking lots as an 11-year-old.

The last time I saw the Qiantu (pronounced Shan-too) was in the lobby of the 2019 New York Auto Show. Heady times. The electric supercar was one of a wave of Chinese autos that were due to the U.S. market in 2020, including the BYD shown at that year’s Detroit auto show and the Byton M-Byte displayed at the Los Angeles show. None of them made it.

But the Qiantu was striking, turning heads in the Big Apple with its sleek lines, unique black lamb chops, and low nose. Mullen Automotive, the car’s U.S. distributor, still believes and has rebadged it the Mullen GT — a halo car for its electric stable of EVs that includes the Bollinger B1 pickup and B2 pickup, Mullen One (rebadged Class One cargo van made by China’s Wuling Motors), Mullen Three (rebadged Class 3 vehicle made by China's largest automaker, SAIC Motor), and the home-brewed Mullen 5 and 5RS SUVs. Think of Mullen as the Island of Misfit Electric Toys.

Gathering the explosive GT up like a wild stallion, I pulled the reins back (the steering wheel still bears the Qiantu dragonfly logo) and brushed the brakes into a looong carousel turn on the makeshift parking lot course. At around 180 degrees in radius, carousels are half-skid pads that are wonderful tests of a car’s balance. The Mullen pushed off the entry to the turn, but a brief lift transferred weight to the front and brought the rear end around. Back on throttle, I felt the all-wheel-drive system’s tenacious grip as I exited the corner and immediately entered a long right hander.

 

Oh, man, this sports car is heavy.

The quick change in direction challenged the supercar’s balance and exposed the biggest issue facing electric performance cars: battery mass. EVs like the Mullen GT are rocket ships in a straight line — a Tesla P90 briefly made me dizzy the first time I tested it 2.3-second 0-60 mph hole shot — but the same battery mass that spins electric motors to crazy torque numbers is the enemy at high g-loads.

It's why Formula E has struggled to match the dynamism of gas-powered series like IndyCar and why race series owners like Roger Penske have written off electrics as feasible race series (not to mention the other battery bug-a-boo of range-sucking speed).

Even with an aluminum chassis and carbon-fiber skin, the AWD Mullen GT tips the scales at 4,300 pounds — or a bit more than my Tesla Model 3 Performance sedan. Oof. It’s also why few established supercar manufacturers have gone all-electric, choosing hybrid formats instead where smaller battery packs complement the gas engine with low-end torque like a supercharger. Think the Corvette E-Ray.

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