Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Electric dreams

My family and I took a ride into the future last weekend. We borrowed an electric car and tried out life in the green lane. I say the future because at some point we plan to upgrade to an electric car, once we are convinced the technology is robust enough for our needs. I have always been fascinated by those silent Prius hybrids cruising around the roads like great white sharks on the prowl, but have never before encountered an electric purebred.

BMW i3 electric car
The 'fun' BMW i3 on electric charge
The car we tested was a BMW i3, the 2014 winner of What Car? 'best green' car award. Described as providing "the most fun you'll have in an electric car", this zippy little automobile was definitely responsive and very easy to drive (in its optimum 'comfort' mode). Parking it in the busy Tesco car park was more sweaty than fun, but that was mainly down to my anxiety over driving a car that wasn't mine to prang.

When I first got behind the wheel, I shrieked to the nice BMW employee who dropped it off, "My goodness it's just like driving a go-kart!" It glided forward on a soundless wave of electrical power. Looking back, I am not sure all those BMW engineers (who have no doubt ploughed countless man hours into designing the i3) would have welcomed my analysis. It got the kids excited though. My 11-year old daughter, having honed her karting skills at Odds Farm, was desperate to have a go. 

Are we nearly there yet?

The nub of the matter for us was how far the i3 could take us before the electrics ran out. Fortunately for novices like us, this particular i3 model included a 'range extender', which provided the option of using a petrol engine to charge the battery so that the car could continue to drive electrically. 

A line of parked BMW i3 electric cars
Imagine everyone driving one of these...
This meant that we were able to drive to Epsom and back (a 90-mile round trip) with little difficulty. Being nervous types (unable to entertain the possibility of gliding to a silent standstill on the M25 with two whingy children in the back) we switched into the car's 'eco pro' mode to conserve energy. The trade-off was no seat warmers and a degree of mechanical protest every time we accelerated over 50 miles per hour.

All in all, it felt good to be running on clean fuel, particularly after reading about the health-harming pollution in Oxford Street caused by diesel fumes from buses and taxis. I couldn't help wrinkling up my nose at the acrid belch from our Volvo XC60's exhaust the other day when my husband left it running on the driveway. 

Ownership of an electric car becomes quite compelling when you combine your sense of moral superiority with all the financial incentives (no road tax, no London congestion charge, cheap running costs and government subsidies). Our family + galumphing dog probably needs something more rugged than an i3, but if the right car came along I think we would be prepared to make the switch to electric in the not-too-distant future.

Bear in mind...

  • ideally you would need a driveway where you could install a 'Wallbox' to charge your car in under three hours (rather than seven hours from a conventional household socket).
  • a road-trip from London to Edinburgh, for example, would be possible but only with multiple pit-stops along the way to re-charge (and fill up on petrol if using a range-extender).
  • pedestrians don't necessarily hear you coming...


The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
A single mother sets off on a road trip to Scotland in a top-of-the-range Audi to ensure her quirky and brilliant daughter can study maths at the local private school. On the way, she falls in love with the Audi's owner, a disgraced software millionaire.

Please note that I was not financially incentivised to write this blog.

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