This News Will Throw This Car Into Chaos!

An update on the search for an electric car, with the surprising introduction of a new contender.

(For the record: the title of this post is a reference to Randy Candy’s part in this Saturday Night Live sketch, which I disappointingly found out recently was actual product placement).

When last we checked into my car search, I’d decided to forget the fun mid-life crisis convertible I’d been coveting, in favor of something that felt more environmentally responsible. I’ve been reading articles and watching tons of videos about the current state of electric vehicles, and I’ve been getting myself comfortable with the idea of a crossover SUV, since that’s apparently the body style America has declared it wants.

So far, the front-runner has been the Volkswagen ID.4, which seems unlikely to blow anybody away, but which strikes me as comfortable. I like their tech system, I like the sunroof, I like the interior lighting, I like the estimated range, I like the “free” charging, and it seems like they’ve filled it with just enough conveniences to hit their target: a comfortable, moderately-priced electric vehicle.

It might not be “fun,” exactly, but I can at least geek out over the technology while patting myself on the back for “zero emissions.” (In quotes because I think Alex Dykes makes a reasonable argument in this video that it’s disingenuous not to include the emissions it takes to charge the car’s battery).

I’ve been paying attention to the Mustang Mach-E, because even the most skeptical reviews have been saying that it’s an EV that’s actually fun to drive. It’s been a tough sell for me, since it’s more expensive than I can justify paying for a car. Plus there are enough details that annoy me: I don’t like the big screen, and I hate the door handles.

But I didn’t want to count it out without seeing it first-hand, so I called a local Ford dealer, and they happened to have one on site that I could test drive. For Bay Area folks: I went to the Ford Store San Leandro, and at least for a test drive, they were great. Most practical, low-pressure experience I’ve ever had at a car dealership. They just gave me the keys and asked me to be back in about 20 minutes.1Because of the pandemic, I’m sure. And they did take my license and insurance info first, of course.

My verdict on the Mach-E: it’s undoubtedly a nice car, but it’s not for me. The door handles weren’t as annoying as I’d expected, and I’m sure I’d get used to them eventually. I didn’t like how much was dependent on that huge screen and having to interact with it while driving. Also, I didn’t have to move my seat forward that much to have the corner of the screen hitting my knee, and I’m of average height. And it’s the shallowest of complaints, but I just didn’t like the UI and typography of the big screen, in a way that I can only describe as how I feel using Android on a tablet instead of iOS.

But most of all, it was as I’ve always suspected with Mustangs, ICE or electric: the things that make them “fun to drive” are lost on me, since I’m not a particularly adventurous driver. The Mach-e just felt big and lumbering to me. It’s not that it wasn’t responsive in steering or acceleration, just that I was always conscious of how big the car was. So ultimately, I think it’s a fine car, and it will undoubtedly be popular and give some much-needed competition to Tesla, but I wouldn’t be able to make a case for paying that much for it.

Chevrolet went for a big marketing campaign with their new Bolt models, and I even felt like they were targeting me directly by — for some baffling reason — turning their EV campaign into a co-opted campaign for Disney parks? It’s odd for me to be left so unmoved by any marketing campaign, much less one that shows an X-Wing, but this doesn’t do anything for me.2Points for knowing their Disney-loving audience, though, and including a middle-aged gay couple. It seems like a completely unremarkable electric SUV whose only distinguishing feature is a limited auto-drive mode, which I’d never use, since I already find regular cruise control terrifying.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen seems to be ramping up the ID.4 release in the US. They’ve scheduled “Roadshow” events in early March, and I’ll be going to one locally to finally give the car a test drive. It’s about as big as the Mach-E, so I’ll have to see if it also falls in the “big and lumbering” category; my assumption is that since it sits a little higher, and the hood is a good bit shorter, it’ll be closer to the proportions I’ve gotten used to.

I’ve been getting more comfortable with the idea that this would be a nice, safe choice for my first EV — bigger than I need, fine but not amazing to drive, and practical but just interesting enough to be fun to have until the lease runs out. (At this point, battery technology is advancing too fast for me to be comfortable with more than a lease. The auto industry seems to be converging on my Forever Car, but it’ll still be a few years before it gets there).

However, today I got blind-sided by Hyundai’s announcement of the Ioniq 5. It’s really sharp-looking — literally — in a way that I’d want designed-to-be-electric cars to be. It feels like it comes from the same inspirations that led to Tesla’s “Cybertruck,” but to me it feels distinctive instead of desperately dick-swinging. To me, it seems like a successor not to the existing Ioniq, but a successor to the vehicles they used in Logan’s Run. This seems like what the characters in Her probably drove, but with less melancholy.

It’s rare for an electric car to be so immediately appealing to me. I think their announcement video seriously oversells the “we’re saving the planet” angle, but apart from that, their design pushes all of my buttons. Especially the thinner, reclining seats; the dual screens in the dashboard; the recycled materials in the interior; and even the gimmicky outlet to charge standard appliances from the car.

If the range ends up being close to the 300 mile estimate, and the price ends up in the $30-$40k estimate, that would make it by far the most appealing EV for me. I’m just skeptical that it’ll be out before my current lease is up this year.

There are a couple more complications that are specific to me, but I got such good info and advice from my last EV-centric post that I’m hoping for a repeat.

For one thing, my rental company has never bothered getting back to me about installing a charger or even a plug at the house. That’s not at all surprising, and I’d been assuming that getting an EV would mean depending on public chargers, but it would’ve been nice to have it not be a concern at all.

Also, I’ve been watching some of the road trips on the Out Of Spec Motoring channel, and I suspect I don’t have the same takeaway from them as I’m supposed to. I believe they’re intended to demonstrate how it is actually feasible to do long-range driving with an EV, even without a Tesla. But to me, it just feels like spending the entire trip going from one charger to the next and having constant range anxiety. And much worse: having to do math.

My fantasy of taking road trips down to LA and only stopping once or twice, to charge during lunch or bathroom breaks, seems to be unrealistic. It seems like it’d be more like stopping at every major exit, and possibly having to wait for a full charge at Tejon Ranch just to be able to make it over the grapevine.

Finally, it look now like I’ll most likely be working from home indefinitely, even after the pandemic. That significantly changes what I need from a car and how I’d be using it. If I’m not commuting every day, that’s less drain on the battery, but also fewer opportunities to charge it. Not to mention that an SUV was more car than I needed even taking a daily commute into account; is it at all necessary now?

Maybe a plug-in hybrid makes more sense in that situation. I hadn’t really been considering a hybrid of any kind because I’ve been driving one for over a decade now, and they seem like a stop-gap that just lets the auto industry keep procrastinating making a genuine commitment to electric. It’s never seemed like a PHEV would be worth it if you’re not able to keep it charged at home, but maybe if I’m rarely driving it, it becomes feasible.

Or for that matter, if I’m rarely driving, then does my original plan become less irresponsible? If I’m just going on once-a-week shopping trips or joyrides, maybe Captain Planet would approve of my just buying a cheap convertible outright, and not having to deal with monthly payments anymore. The emissions numbers for infrequent trips seem a lot less gross than the ones for even a short daily commute.

As I said in my other post, these are very privileged “problems” to have. But I’m frankly surprised it’s so complicated to be a responsible car-owner these days, since EVs are clearly nearing the tipping point and way past the point of being for early adopters. I’d just assumed that more manufacturers and charging networks had figured all this stuff out by now.

8 thoughts on “This News Will Throw This Car Into Chaos!”

  1. I’m glad you got to test drive the Mach-E and evaluate it! Totally fine that it just isn’t your car. Mine should be arriving late March or early April. The San Leandro dealer is pretty decent; even got the CCFR (California Clean Fuel Reward) squared away within two weeks of the program announced.

    On the subject of road trips: I do plan on doing that SF LA drive which will be two stops of ~30 minutes each stop. I recommend looking at “A Better Route Planner” website to get an idea of what a road trip is like for the cars you’re looking at. Creates a better picture of the situation than just calculating max milage. For DCFC (Level 3) charging stations, it’s going to improve as the investments on stations are starting to kick in. The one good thing to come out of the VW’s diesel scam is the investment in Electrify America.

    1. I hope you like the Mach e, I want it to do well. Mostly to push EV adoption in the US, but slightly because I’ve got a small bit of Ford stock!

      I’ll check out that site https://abetterrouteplanner.com . I’ve been using the PlugShare app at https://www.plugshare.com since it will have CarPlay support. I can route a trip from Oakland to LA with two stops, but I’m skeptical that real-world range on I-5 will match the estimates. Especially going up and over the Grapevine. The ABRP map is a good bit more sophisticated and easier to use, but as far as I can tell doesn’t take elevation into account. I’d be interested to hear how yours does.

      1. I grew up in Dearborn and the son of a Ford executive. Ford won’t be making as much money on my purchase. 😉

        Like I said, ABRP is a good guide. You can turn on the live traffic and weather conditions, but at a minimum it gives a ballpark when shopping between cars. I also set the starting to 100% as when I make that trip, I can charge to that level at home overnight. I don’t know how actual trip planning will work out on ABRP. I’ll document when I get my car and can travel safely again.

        To note about the Grapevine: The rest area at Tejon Pass has free DCFC stations now. If I’m being cynical, I see the investment in free chargers cheaper than emergency towing unfortunate souls who thought they could punch it. https://dot.ca.gov/news-releases/news-release-2021-001

  2. I can’t picture your parking situation, but is there a way for you to set up an extension cord to a 110 or 220 plug? I know it would be slow charging, but I imagine you could get all of your miles for local driving at home. We park in our driveway and I cut a small hole in the wall of our garage to make our setup a little cleaner. But until I did that the garage door just closed on the cord.

    I look forward to the day when I hardly ever go to a station. Even with our super small EV range, our low miles and the plug-in hybrid Prius’ 50mpg already makes it a rare occurrence. 🙂

    1. We’ve got a garage, but the leasing company has never given us the key despite multiple requests. Even if we could get a car inside, there’d be no point since there’s no power socket in the garage. I’d considered running an extension cord out a window, but all the windows on the ground floor open vertically (and are hooked up to an intruder detection system), so there’s no great way to secure them. Also, everything I’ve heard says that using an extension cord to an EV’s power cord is pretty dangerous.

      An ID.4 is probably overkill for how little I’m going to be driving, but if I’m going to do it, I want to go all-in on EVs. Plus I need enough range to make it to Petaluma when game nights start back!

  3. Ah, I remember your previous comments about the garage now.

    I also read about not using extension cords. But I also read about some people using them for our car. Our nearest plug was far from the driveway so I got a rugged 50′ extension cord (15A / 14-gauge). The car has been charging fine for years. However, I have two Chevy Volt friends who installed dedicated long cord chargers in their garages. If we ever get an EV that is charging all night, I will probably do that too.

    It’s only 90 miles round trip to Petaluma game night. I think everything you are considering will easily make it with lights and heat on. 🙂

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