Many of the world’s top automakers have found themselves playing catch-up in regard to battery-electric vehicles. Companies like General Motors, Nissan, and Volkswagen have only had one electric vehicle in their lineups for the past five years or so, and none of them have been particularly hot sellers here in Canada. This presents an opportunity for China’s countless EV companies to swoop in and potentially steal some customers from underneath some Western brands’ noses, which is essentially how we found ourselves behind the wheel of the 2021 Imperium SEV.
The Imperium SEV is a battery-electric mid-sized crossover manufactured by the newly established automotive arm of a Shenzhen-based electronics company called Skyworth Group. Imperium Canada, which is based in Surrey, B.C., and already sells a series of electric scooters and e-bikes, will soon begin to import these vehicles into Canada and sell them through a network of brick-and-mortar dealerships – the first of which is set to open in Quebec early next year.
24 Hours in Shenzhen
Our brief 24-hour test drive of the Imperium SEV was spent behind the wheel of a prototype model, so we were told by Imperium Motor Canada’s president Christian Dubois to take our impressions with a small grain of salt. The infotainment screen menus were not in English due to the vehicle’s early build status, for example, so we couldn’t really test out how the navigation system worked around our suburban Toronto neighbourhood. Apart from this, our test vehicle was virtually identical to the model we’ll receive here in Canada starting in 2022.
The SEV, which is marketed in China as the Skywell ET5 / Skyworth EV6, is powered by a single front-mounted electric motor producing a claimed 204 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. This motor gives the SEV a surprising amount of straight-line performance for its size and provides the kind of immediate acceleration that many EV buyers are looking for – although it won’t be inducing fits of laughter like your neighbour’s Tesla.
The power delivery is somewhat unrefined, inducing heavy torque steer and a significant amount of wheelspin when applying full throttle from lower speeds, but we imagine most efficiency-minded EV buyers won’t be flooring it very often. The traction control also seemed rather crude when driving on snow-covered roads, electing to cut power almost completely rather than using torque-vectoring to mimic the performance of a front differential. These problems may be solved with tweaked tuning or better tires, as our tester had a set of rather low-quality all-seasons on it.
How About That Battery?
Our test vehicle was a Premium trim level model, which includes high-end options like a large 12.3-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, front fog lamps, and, most importantly, a larger 72-kWh battery pack that delivers a claimed 520 km of range on the very generous and not always realistic European test cycle (NEDC).
The fleet management company watching over the vehicle forgot to plug it in the night before we picked it up, so our 24-hour test drive began with the battery sitting at around 35 per cent capacity, and about 150 km of indicated range on the digital instrument cluster. The predicted range was mostly accurate to the real-world distance travelled, in our observation, although the 6.6-kW onboard charger was extremely slow, barely adding 20 per cent of range when plugged in overnight for a 10-hour period, though this is quite typical for onboard chargers from other automakers as well. We’d suggest any future Imperium buyers (and all EV drivers, actually) to buy a Level 2 charger for their home if they don’t live near a convenient or affordable fast charging station. Imperium says the SEV can fast charge at a rate of 70 kWh, which can fill 50 per cent of range in around 30 minutes.
Not Flashy, But Functional
The exterior and interior styling of the Imperium SEV can best be described as inoffensive and straightforward, but while the design of the vehicle isn’t noteworthy, the build quality is worth mentioning. Forget any preconceived notions you may have had about a car that’s built in China – the Imperium SEV is built to a very similar standard as many other budget-friendly cars on sale here today. The touchscreen is also responsive to inputs, while the digital instrument cluster is crisp, clear, and easy to read. The back-up camera is a major disappointment, however, relaying a blurred and choppy feed to the 12.3-inch touchscreen that makes it hard to use.
Other aspects of the cabin are also impressive. The seats are comfortable and well-bolstered, the rotary dial gear selector is responsive, and the stitched leather steering wheel has a very nice look and feel. A spacious backseat (rear legroom is hugely important to many car shoppers in China) and a massive cargo space behind the second row ensure the SEV has lots of space to take the family along, too.
Pricing and Availability
The standard Comfort trim level, which carries a base price of $40,195 including destination, comes standard with a smaller eight-inch display screen and a 55-kWh battery pack with 410 km of claimed NEDC range.
This Premium trim, by comparison, will be priced from $47,170 including destination. This pricing structure is similar to other battery-powered crossovers like the Hyundai Kona Electric and Chevrolet Bolt EUV, but the Imperium SEV is a segment above those two models and offers more passenger and cargo space.
These prices do not factor in federal and provincial incentives, either. In Quebec, where the SEV would qualify for both the $5,000 federal and $8,000 provincial EV incentives, an Imperium SEV Premium would cost a reasonable $35,000 pre-tax and after government incentives.
The first two Imperium dealerships will open in Laval and Quebec City in January 2022, with more storefronts to be announced at a later date. The company hopes to eventually expand into British Columbia, Ontario, and other Canadian provinces, but seeing as Quebec buys the bulk of EVs here in Canada, it makes sense for Imperium to focus its efforts there first. Dubois expects Imperium to receive around 1,200 examples of the SEV for the 2022 model year.
We encourage Canadian EV shoppers to look past any preconceptions they may have about lesser-known automotive brands such as this and, if they have the means, test drive the Imperium SEV. This is a well-built, comfortable, and relatively affordable family EV that is arriving to market at pretty much the perfect time. It’s also backed by an encouraging eight-year / 160,000-kilometre battery warranty and five-year / 160,000-km powertrain warranty, which should help alleviate any concerns they may have about buying an EV from a new automaker. At the very least, the SEV is an interesting addition to the Canadian automotive market that just may put more established automakers on notice.
Pricing and Specifications: 2022 Imperium SEV
Price as Tested
Single, front-mounted electric motor
55 kWh (Comfort)
70 kWh (Premium)
410 km NEDC estimated (Comfort)
520 km NEDC estimated (Premium)