We've all seen them. The first time we see them, we usually do a double-take. "Is that cart going along all by itself?" we ask. Yes, yes it is. The cart is driving itself, the owner a few paces behind, strolling along the fairway without a care in the world (nor a bag over his shoulders).
At only 28 years of age, I must admit to having mixed feelings over electronic carts. I longed to have the freedom to walk without carrying a bag, yet I didn't know if I could tolerate the "old man" jokes I felt certain would accompany the use of an electronic cart.
After spending some time with a Sun Mountain Speed E Cart, I can assure you that I suffered no such jokes - only curiosity - and I found the pleasure of walking a golf course without the weight of a bag on my back all I thought it would be.
Design and Technology
The Sun Mountain Speed Cart (sans "E") has been one of the most popular push carts since its introduction a few years back. The Speed E Cart builds upon the success of the venerable Speed Cart by adding the "E" functionality - a battery and a motor to drive the cart.
The E Cart is powered by a 24-volt DC motor embedded in the front wheel. The battery (see image below), which rests in the center of the chassis and between the rear legs, provides enough power for 36 holes of golf (though Sun Mountain recommends recharging every 18 holes to lengthen battery life). The noiseless motor also features "cruise control" functionality and soft electric braking that can regulate speed to remain constant, even when going up and down hills. Should the battery somehow fail (or should you forget it at home, as I did once), the E Cart can be pushed almost as easily as the Speed Cart.
The front wheel can be adjusted with a #6 allen wrench and all wheels feature shock-absorbing pneumatic tires. The rear wheels have aluminum spokes. When collapsed, the Speed E Cart measures only 36½" x 16" x 16".
The Speed E Cart is made from durable metal components, including die-cast aluminum, steel stampings, and aluminum tubing. It weighs 31 pounds (without the battery, which weighs about ten pounds), and comes standard with a battery charger and battery, a grass seed/sand bottle, an umbrella holder, a mesh catch-all, an air pump, and a console with a drink holder, storage area, ball marker, and more.
The Speed E Cart can be braked manually, just like the Speed Cart, and uses flexible, adjustable brackets to hold the bag in position without straps, bungees, or velcro. The Speed E Cart comes with a standard one-year warranty.
The Speed E Cart is rather small when folded - again, roughly three feet tall and 16 inches square (width and depth). To unfold the Speed E Cart, you unscrew a triangular twist knob near the lower wheel and rotate it 180 degrees into place and tighten the same twist knob. Then you unscrew a top twist knob, and pull the handle up and into place, which also spreads the two rear wheels. The top handle hinge is toothed, so you can lock the handle in at a variety of comfortable heights.
Amazingly, total setup or collapse time is under thirty seconds. A friend of mine has one of the old-school power carts, and he spends at least five minutes assembling and disassembling the cart.
Once the cart is expanded, it's ready for the battery and the bag. The battery, which measures 12" x 3" x 2" or so, slips into a perfectly sized slot beneath where the bag will rest, between the legs of the cart. A small strap with velcro holds the battery in place.
Your bag sits atop the battery. Unlike most push carts (electronic or otherwise), the Speed E Cart has no straps, velcro, or bungee cords. Instead, a series of flexible plastic brackets - two near the top and two near the bottom - hold the bag firmly in place. The width of these can be adjusted with little thumbscrews, and once they're set, I found that they never needed adjusting unless I switched from one size bag to another.
Sometimes, on particularly clutzy days, it took me a few tries before I could squeeze my stand bag between the bottom clips, but once you get your bag secured to the cart, it stays there. I intentionally toppled the cart several times, and not once did my bag manage to free itself from the cart. The Speed E Cart can hold just about any bag, from the stand bag seen in the pictures here to a full-size cart or staff bag.
Operation and Performance
Once your bag is secured to the cart, you're ready to roll. Without a battery or with the power turned off, the Speed E Cart behaves almost like a regular Speed Cart. Except for the additional weight, it is every bit as easy to push as a Speed Cart, which makes running out of power a far less scary prospect than it may seem at first.
The Speed E Cart's drive mechanism is controlled by a few round buttons on the handle (see image below). A central power button turns the cart on and off, while a "Stop/Go" button instructs the cart to - big surprise - stop and go. Between the Power and Go buttons you'll find speed control buttons, and left of the power button, three pre-defined yardage buttons. Above them all, a series of LEDs inform you of your cart battery's remaining juice.
An example of typical usage goes like this: I'd hit my drive and press the "Go" button to start the cart in motion. As I'd approach my drive, I'd hit the "15" button so the cart would travel 15 yards further and stop. Occasionally, I'd send my cart 30 or 60 yards ahead while I veered off to help a partner look for his ball in the trees. Then I'd hit my next shot and repeat the process. My home course has several holes that parallel each other, so the 15/30/60 buttons came in handy when I'd hit a green, grab my putter and driver, and send the cart to the landing area of the next hole.
While these pre-defined distance buttons work well (in testing, the 60-yard button averaged 58 yards according to my range finder), I still have a problem with them: the lack of an audio confirmation. Imagine this: you're walking down the fairway after smoking your drive right down the middle. You push the "60" button on your cart to send it to your before you walk into the trees to find a ball for your friend. You look back at your cart and it's still going. And going. And going. You start to wonder if you really pushed the "60" button or if the cart is just going to keep going. You contemplate running after the cart. You take a few quick steps. Finally it stops. Whew!
Sun Mountain could have saved us all a lot of worry by including an audio beep to acknowledge input. My model - an early production model - has no yardage governor, meaning that a runaway cart will keep going until it hits something and topples over or runs out of power (about eight miles away). Currently shipping models stop rolling 200 yards after the last user input, so at least you can only overshoot your target by 140 to 185 yards if you fail to push the 15, 30, or 60 button.
Aside from the fear of a runaway cart, my experiences with the Speed E Cart have all been exceptionally positive. My cart tracked to the left initially, but a #6 allen wrench and a slight adjustment later, and the cart tracked quite well, even on slight sidehill paths.
The Speed E Cart features "cruise control," which basically means that the cart will attempt to travel the same speed up and down hills. In practice, the cart takes a second or two to adjust, but does a good job staying at a constant speed. At rest, the cart uses electronic braking to keep the cart in place. This brake didn't work very well on paved cart paths sloped 10° or more, but I simply used the manual brake in those instances.
The Speed E Cart has about eight unique speeds, and your preferred speed is remembered between uses. You can adjust the speed using the up and down arrow buttons, and speeds range from glacial (about 1 foot per second) to super speedy - I had to jog lightly to keep up with the cart at its fastest setting.
The wheels, with air-filled rubber tires with a good amount of tread that acted quite nicely as shock absorbers, easily powered through thicker grass. I was occasionally forced to lift the handle gently when driving up a slick grassy hill to provide more traction to the front wheel, but the cart generally needed no assistance. The cart easily handled uphill and sidehill slopes of 30° or more, only tipping a few times… and most of those came not long after I said "hey, let's see if the cart will tip on that mound!" Only once did the cart tip when I wasn't trying to push the limits, and that was because I didn't see a stump sticking out of the ground on the side of a hill.
Unlike a lot of electronic carts, including the Bag Boy Navigator we'll be reviewing soon, the Speed E Cart offers a "creature comforts" console. The console features a flip-up storage compartment suitable for keys, a small digital camera, or your wallet. Bungee cords on top of the compartment hold down your scorecard, and tee holders, a ball holder, and a cup holder sit in front of the compartment along with a molded plastic tool you can use to draw an alignment line on your golf ball. A mesh basket further forward served as the perfect location to carry my Bushnell laser range finder.
An included umbrella holder screws into the handle and will keep you and your clubs dry in the event of a light rainstorm. I don't recommend using the umbrella holder in extremely windy conditions, however - the wind may put too much strain on the handle for my comfort. And finally, a shaker bottle for seed/sand divot fill can clip to the side of your Speed E Cart's console.
Finally, a comment on battery life. Sun Mountain recommends that you go only 18 holes between charges, but I've successfully played 36 holes without running low on battery power. The battery is rated for 200 charges, and Sun Mountain recommends it remain plugged in to the charger when you're not playing golf. Replacement batteries sell for $44.99.
The Speed E Cart is available in three colors: Black, Orange, and Silver. Though MSRP is $759, you can find the Speed E Cart online for $699. The cart itself weighs 31 pounds, and the cart comes pre-assembled. All you do is charge the battery for 24 hours (and a minimum of 12 hours between uses), pop it in, and you're ready to go. Collapsed, the cart measures 36½" x 16" x 16".
Like the Speed Cart, the Speed E Cart can be customized with accessories like coolers or a seat. The standard kit includes a tire pump that attaches to the frame, the seed bottle, the umbrella holder, the battery, the charger, and the cart itself with the convenience console and manual brake.
No longer am I envious of those old men with their walk-behind electronic carts. My Speed E Cart is quieter, lighter, smaller, easier to use, and more convenient than their carts. No longer am I lugging 20+ pounds over my back on a six-mile trek through hilly terrain. Instead, I am truly enjoying a walk in the park.
At $699, the Speed E Cart is a bargain for those who want to re-discover the joy of walking during a round of golf but don't want the recurring expense of a caddy or the added expense of a powered cart with a remote control.