This Car Is FWD or RWD Depending on How Much You Pay
Just another interesting quirk of the Chinese car market.
I grew up on the internet in the era when manufacturers were still hotting up economy cars like the Pontiac Vibe or Honda Civic and allowing journalists to fling them around country roads at the speed of sound. These cars were, and still are, very fun, but at the end of the day, they’re front-wheel-drive economy cars. One of the first things auto journalists and their commentariat will utter is, “this was cool, but I wish it were rear-wheel drive.” This typical commitment to one or the other is what makes the Letin Mengo so interesting. This car gives you a choice. Depending on how much you’ll pay, the Mengo can be FWD or RWD.
Now, I’m probably the only weirdo obsessed with super-cheap Chinese mini electric cars, but if you’ve paid attention to the news, you might know that the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, is the highest-selling EV in China, beating the Tesla Model 3. Made in part by General Motors (GM), the little cube box is just enough vehicle to legally be classified as a car, unlike say, Jason Torchinsky’s Changli, which isn’t a car and is increasingly becoming illegal in many Chinese cities. No doubt, other manufacturers have wanted to get in on that action.
Some are basically copycats, like the Chery QQ Ice Cream, while others like the Mengo are a bit different. About the same size as a Chevy Spark, the Mengo sports four doors and a battery pack that claims anywhere from a piddly 11 kWh all the way up to 29 kWh. Letin claims the Mengo can go up to 208 miles, but that’s using the notoriously softball NEDC testing.
The Mengo is offered in four trims: Happy, Joyful, Smart, and…Chinese Restaurant. Uh, okay, kind of an odd name for the topmost trim, but I’ll allow it.
Things get a little weird, though. According to the specifications, the Mengo shifts from front-drive to rear-drive on its topmost Smart and Chinese Restaurant trims. There’s little incentive for a small Chinese manufacturer to maintain a well-translated English website for a car that costs about $4,000 and has a top speed of 65 mph, so I chalked it up to a translation error until I found myself at Auto Sohu looking at detailed photos of the latest variant of the Mengo, the Mengo Pro.
Well, I’ll be damned. This was no translation error, the Mengo is either front-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive, depending on the trim. The lower Happy trim and Joyful models have very simple solid axles, with a 33-horsepower motor that feeds directly into the kind of primitive rear pumpkin. It’s not unlike what you’d find on a cheap side by side, (or a Changli.) It’s definitely a cheap setup back there.
The front-wheel-drive model looks to keep a lot of the basic suspension geometry but replaces the rear axle and differential with a big stick, complete with a Panhard rod axle locator. It’s a completely dependent solid axle. Between the front Macpherson, struts sit a 46-horsepower electric motor.
I’m not the only person to give a heck about the Mengo; overseas at Fully Charged, the presenter Elliott Richards picked one up, and attempted to make it a track toy.
I can’t help but wonder, could the Mengo handle both motors? A 79 horsepower AWD dual-motor electric vehicle might be more interesting than you’d think.