I wrote before about my thoughts on buying an electric car. Since then, I have been doing some more research and even taking action! My investigations were focussed on range. Although we have no intention of using it for traveling particularly long distances, we would want to be able to undertake a normal day trip. This means that something around 150 miles or more on a charge is what we would be after …
Quite a few vehicles can be rejected on range alone. Then there is the matter of price. This eliminates quite a few more, including all the “long range” [>200 miles] options. Of the small number left, I could identify just two that were available from a dealership in our vicinity: the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe. We went to take a look at both of these cars. They are broadly similar, which is unsurprising, with near identical range of facilities etc. The choice of which one to look at in more detail – i.e. drive the thing – came down to the efforts [or lack thereof] of the salesperson. We booked a test drive of the Zoe.
The dealer was happy for us to play with the car for a whole day, so we could do whatever we wanted, so long as we did not go more than about 130 miles. Although they did include a charging cable, so there were options. We decided to go visit some friends in a nearby town [where I used to live]. The drive was a good mix of roads, so good for a test drive: we drove out of the city, some distance on the freeway, then across country, including a long, steep hill that many cars find challenging.
The basic operation of the car was fairly idiot-proof, so I needed very little “training”. I immediately found the car easy and a pleasure to drive. Having no gearbox meant that it was similar to driving an automatic. Although I have a manual shift car, I have plenty of experience with automatics, so this was not an issue. The difference was the very smooth delivery of power, without the interruption of gear shifts. With care, thinking ahead, I could mostly drive without touching the brake, as engine braking was quite sufficient. I could assess the performance of the car on the freeway, where I could “put my foot down”. I found that I was doing 85mph [the limit is 70mph!] before I knew it; the lack of engine noise makes the acceleration less obvious. When I arrived at the steep hill, the drive up was effortless. I suppose I would compare the performance with a good 2 liter petrol [gasoline] engine in a similar car.
When I did not need performance, I could engage “Eco” mode. This takes measures to extend the available range by limiting the top speed [to 60mph] and slightly throttling back acceleration. This made complete sense around town. On the display in front of me, apart from the speed of the car, there was a dynamic indicator of the available range, which would show whether my driving was consuming power or topping up the batteries. On the way back from our trip, cruising down the long hill, I saw the range number gradually increase. That was a kind of magic; like getting fuel for free. ?
The car had plenty of other nice-to-have features like keyless access, automatic lights etc. There was also a built-in GPS, that was fairly easy to use and could advise about range limitations and plot a route to/via charging points. A feature that sounded cool, but we could not try, was remote warm up. Imagine the scene. The car is parked outside, plugged into the mains for it’s overnight charge. You are in bed, planning to get up a drive to work sometime soon. It is a very cold, frosty morning. You grab your smartphone and tell the car to prepare itself. A while later, when you come out of the house, the car is fully defrosted and warm. As it had been plugged in during the process, you have the car’s full range at your disposal.
So, are we going to buy one? At this point, I am not sure. It is a lot of money to spend on some rather unproven technology that we do not strictly need at this time. We can afford it, but it is a question of whether we want to do so. I am excited by the technology and would like to be ahead of the game, but we will see …