The Venturi America, an open-top, two-seat, battery-powered off-road sports car named for a place it isn’t sold, is weird and wonderful and perhaps the most thoroughly French car since the nutty Matra Murena.

Fascinating Cars of 2014

Editor Matthew Phenix and deputy editor Jonathan Schultz revisited the most fascinating cars of the year. Click here for more honorees.

The French-founded boutique carmaker, headquartered in the Principality of Monaco since 2000, has gained fame of late for its ongoing pursuit of a world land-speed record for electric vehicles and for its participation – with some A-list visibility via team co-founder Leonardo DiCaprio – in the Formula E open-wheel racing series. But Venturi also happens to build (in very small numbers) some genuinely innovative road cars, including a solar-powered tandem two-seater called the Astrolab and a jaunty resort car with photovoltaic cells and a rooftop wind turbine (!) called the Eclectic.

A refreshed version of the two-year-old America appeared at the Paris motor show in October, and its revisions – headlined by an extra 100 horsepower – transform the off-roadster from . The 3,100lb dune buggy’s electric motor drive produces a more than ample 403hp and 354 pound-feet of torque, fed by a 53kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack and delivered to the rear wheels. Selectable modes – Cruising, Sport and Super Sport – allow the driver to prioritise range (up to 155 miles on a charge) or performance (zero to 60mph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 137mph) as required.

Venturi speaks of an “elite buyer” for the America, a Continental bon vivant who will buy the car as an accessory for a home in Monte Carlo or a villa on St Barthélemy. The company plans to build just 25 examples of the America for 2015, priced at a cool 370,000 euros (about $463,000). But the car’s exclusivity may belie its influence. In form and function, this potent electric roadster stands to inspire a new breed of all-road sporting vehicles – cars that prove, once and for all, that environmental friendliness and motoring pleasure are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Second Opinion: Nimbus Concept e-Car

The Weinermobile by way of Jules Verne, this ovoid conveyance springs from the frothy imagination of Brazilian industrial designer Eduardo Galvani.The Nimbus Concept e-Car emerged in June as a design study for a four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid, and a design study it has remained. Though it would be natural to lament the Nimbus’ limbo – who wouldn’t want to load friends and bicycles and furry companions into such a thing? – perhaps it’s best to leave some dreams on the hard drive, where the diktats of commerce and crumple zones do not intrude on the fantasy. Still, were the wheels of progress to turn, we wouldn’t hesitate to climb aboard this magic bus. – Jonathan Schultz

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