Peaceful EV Feeling

I’ve been a bad evangelist for electric vehicles, but mostly because owning and driving one is almost never a problem.

If I remember correctly, the reason I started an EV Diary was to give other people the kind of resource I wasn’t seeing anywhere else online: a realistic, practical idea of what day-to-day life is like using an electric car. Everything I’d been seeing was from reviewers who’d only tried the car for a week at most; evangelists who’d ignore any glaring issues for the sake of promoting electric vehicles; or nerds who were not just willing but happy to devote a significant chunk of their life towards achieving maximum efficiency.

I haven’t updated in almost a year, but simply because there’s not much to report. I’d say at this point, the honeymoon is over between me and the ID.4 — it’s still the best car I’ve ever owned, but I’m more acutely aware of the little nuisances that I used to overlook. Regardless, I’ve decided to buy the car when its lease is up next year.

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EV Diary 2: The Honeymoon Continues

Minor update to my experiences with the ID.4 after a second road trip

My last post about having an electric car ended a couple weeks after my first road trip in it, from Oakland down to Los Angeles. I’d been worried about how much it’d change the dynamic of a long-distance drive, but in practice, the only difference was having more time to relax along the way while the car was charging. Tacking a couple of hours to the total trip time seemed like a small price to pay for not ending the trip still raging over all the drivers who insist on cruising in the left lane on I-5 instead of getting over.

The first week of November, I took a second road trip down to LA, and the results were about the same. It’s a comfortable, almost pleasant, drive now. And my total expenses (apart from having to spend the bulk of the day driving) were $8.50 for Taco Bell. The only thing that changed was that Taco Bell got demoted from “surprisingly delightful” to “at best, a sometimes food, and for road trips only.”

When I got the idea to make an EV Diary, I was sure that there were all these hidden aspects to driving an EV that people just weren’t writing about. There had to be a fundamental shift in the day-to-day experience, right?

Turns out: not really. The only real difference is that instead of spending 5 minutes at a gas station once every couple of weeks, I spend 30-40 minutes outside a Target1And invariably, inside a Target every three weeks or so.

The biggest change to my driving has nothing to do with electric vehicles, and is instead an aspect of the safety features added to most mid-to-high-end cars of the past several years. I already had similar on my last car2A Honda Insight, which is a traditional hybrid that is soon to be replaced completely by the Civic, Accord, and Clarity if my predictions are correct., and it was crucial for avoiding an accident. A car in front of me on the freeway had failed to stop, causing a four-car pileup with some injuries. My car automatically applied the brakes and slammed to a stop before I even had a chance to realize what was happening.

Fortunately, I haven’t had any similar incidents with the ID.4. I did have what I was sure was a minor accident on my last road trip: over the course of the trip, I kept running into a couple of guys in a similar ID.4 at the same charging stations at the same time. At one of them, they were watching as I was trying to back into a charging spot, which of course made me nervous and completely incompetent at backing into a charging spot. I felt a slam as I backed the car into the charging station, and I quickly got out, hoping I’d been driving slowly enough that I hadn’t caused any damage. When I looked, though, the car was still at least a foot away from colliding with anything. The back-up sensor had slammed on the brakes before I could do any damage.

More than that, though, the collision avoidance system allows for what they’re calling “adaptive cruise control.”3Yes, I’m aware that describing a feature that’s been available for years like that makes me sound like a grandpa. On every car I’ve ever had, I’ve hated cruise control and never used it. There’s not much more harrowing than feeling the car accelerate when my foot’s not on the accelerator, so I tend to turn it off immediately.

The drive along I-5 is a perfect test case for it, though, so I tried it out on my last road trip. This iteration of it is near-perfect. You set your desired speed, and it’ll try to keep at that speed unless there’s anything in front of you. In that case, it goes as fast as it can up to that speed, keeping a Volkswagen-calculated “safe” distance away from the vehicle in front.

It’s surprisingly good at recognizing the vehicle in front, too: on the instrument cluster, it’ll show you an image of the vehicle and how far away it is, changing between a truck, a car, and a motorcycle as appropriate. Surprising to me was that it even was able to account for people seeing my “safe” distance as an invitation to cut me off, gradually slowing down to make room for the interloper.

It’s still a long way from autonomous driving, which is fine by me because I have less than zero interest in autonomous driving. I think of self-driving cars in much the same way that I think about roundabouts: even if you show me that they’re statistically safer, they still freak my shit out.

I had the ACC on for much of the drive down to LA and most of the drive back. On top of the convenience, it seemed to be better for energy efficiency than my own driving, too. I ended up with a much higher charge on exiting the Grapevine, and I chose to make a third charging stop out of convenience more than necessity.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that it gets rid of much of the stress of being surrounded by asshole drivers: the people who follow too closely to the car in front of them, and are always lightly tapping on their brakes as a result. Whenever I get behind one of those people, I instinctively tap the brakes as soon as I see their brake lights, which is both annoying and gradually stressful as it accumulates over the miles. Here, I could just let the ACC do its thing, trusting that it would slow the car as necessary in time for me to slam on the brakes if I suddenly needed to.

Just about everything else in the ID.4 fits that same mindset: it relieves as much stress as possible from driving, and it’s comfortable, and it does exactly what I need it to do. I’d expected the honeymoon period to be over by now, and I’d start to notice more of the faults, or I’d just stop thinking about the car altogether. Instead, it’s actually growing on me. I like it more the more I drive it, and I’m looking for more and more excuses to drive it. I can feel myself turning into one of those insufferable people who loves his car and can’t stop talking about it. I’m not yet at the point of getting VW or ID.4 vanity license plates yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

  • 1
    And invariably, inside a Target
  • 2
    A Honda Insight, which is a traditional hybrid that is soon to be replaced completely by the Civic, Accord, and Clarity if my predictions are correct.
  • 3
    Yes, I’m aware that describing a feature that’s been available for years like that makes me sound like a grandpa.

EV Diary: Test Drive to Road Trip

Observations after about 2 months living with the Volkswagen ID.4

A couple of months ago, after about 13 years driving traditional hybrids, I got my first all-electric car, a Volkswagen ID.4. I had a set of requirements that narrowed the list of candidates down quite a bit:

  • My lease was ending in August, so I was limited to EVs available then.
  • Both because I can’t charge at home and because I wanted something suitable for road trips, I wanted a range of at least 200 miles.
  • No Tesla, because I hate Elon Musk and I hate the way the company does business, from deceptive pricing in their ads (taking “estimated gas savings” off the MSRP!), to building a proprietary charging network, to perverting the perception of EVs from environmental responsibility to dick-swinging for rich people.
  • I’d been hoping for a mid-life crisis convertible, so I wanted something that was at least a little bit fun to drive.

Even with just a few options left, I still went back and forth quite a bit over which one made the most sense. All the online discussion around EVs either made it sound either like it was a complete non-issue, which seemed unlikely; or that you spend all of your time fixated on routing to the next charging station, becoming intimately familiar with kWh/hour charging rates, charging curve, and your miles per kWh.

I wanted to see more accounts of what it was like to drive an EV day-to-day, for an average person. So here’s my thoughts on owning an ID.4 for a little over two and a half months, including one road trip.

Continue reading “EV Diary: Test Drive to Road Trip”

EV Pondering

I’m still comparison-shopping EVs, and I’ve got some questions.

I’ve been “researching” (read: watching YouTube videos about) electric vehicles for several weeks now, and a lot of the same ideas keep recurring: tips to speed up fast-charging time, maximizing battery life, maximizing range, etc. But never having owned an EV or spent a long time looking into them, there are a few things I can’t figure out.

I’ve had an entirely too charitable impression of car reviewers
One thing I’ve learned from watching lots of car reviews is that car reviewers mostly suck. There are obvious exceptions, but as someone who’s never been particularly interested in cars, I’ve always just assumed that reviewers are well familiar with all the myriad details about cars that are lost on me. But I’ve been surprised by how many reviews get the basic details wrong, ignore aspects of the car that are obviously specific to a review situation, or go on about aspects of the car that are irrelevant to drivers that aren’t reviewers. Is it all Top Gear‘s fault?

What’s the deal with the front trunk?
Speaking of terrible reviews: what the hell is this garbage review of the ID.4? The reviewer was biased against the car from the start, but that’s okay because I was biased against the review for being from a Gawker site. (Yes, I know that Gawker Media doesn’t exist anymore, but the taint is inescapable). What’s odd to me, though, is that this isn’t the only review I’ve seen to waste so much time talking about the lack of a front trunk.

It’s an absurd complaint. The closest I’ve seen to a reasonable explanation is that it’s convenient to keep the charging cable in there, but I’m not buying it. Is this supposed to be a real complaint?

How do Elon Musk’s fanboys justify a proprietary super charger network?
I’ve been in the SF Bay Area enough to see a depressing number of men go glassy-eyed and speak in reverent tones about how Musk’s visionary work is going to save our fragile planet. I’ve been so eager to get into a situation of no longer talking to them, that I never got to ask them the obvious question: how do they justify making the super charger network proprietary and exclusive to Tesla owners? Obviously, the ubiquity of the network is a selling point for the cars, but wouldn’t it be best for everyone to encourage more EV purchases in the US, while at the same time charging non-Tesla drivers for the convenience?

Are crossover SUVs really as popular as people keep saying?
The thing I found most surprising when I started comparing cars: there are almost no affordable options for 200+ mile range in a sedan, coupe, or hatchback. As far as I can tell, there’s just the Chevy Bolt or the Tesla Model 3. I understand that bigger batteries give better range, but I’m stunned that more manufacturers haven’t gone the ID.3 route, and that Volkswagen hasn’t made the ID.3 available in the US. The explanation was “Americans want SUVs.” I can’t tell if that’s a real thing or just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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).

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I Sing the (Car) Body Electric

I’ve been thinking about electric vehicles, and I want the internet to check my work

I’m turning 50 this year,1Whether I want to or not and I had big plans for a year-long banger of a mid-life crisis. Grow a wiry, dingy-graying ponytail. Get more age-inappropriate earrings. Pick up a new, ridiculous hobby. And pointedly: get a convertible.

Not a muscle-car convertible, because I may be a soon-to-be-50-year-old man, but I’ve got the heart of a sophomore sorority pledge. I wanted a convertible VW Beetle. I’m a big fan of the 2011 redesign, and I rented a convertible in Florida for a work trip, and it was a ton of fun. Plus I’ve spent the last 20+ years driving practical, fuel-efficient sedans — two of them hybrids — and I just wanted something dumb, fun, and completely impractical.

But getting an internal combustion engine in 2021 just feels a little too irresponsible. Assuming you’re in a position to do otherwise, of course: a lot of very rich people have spent an awful long time and an awful lot of money making sure that electric vehicles were prohibitively expensive for most people. Even now, they’re eye-wateringly expensive. But when even fuel-efficient cars are putting out tons of emissions per year, it feels gross to keep doing it just for fun.

So I’ve got the extremely privileged “problem” of having to decide what car I want to get when my current lease runs out. Some requirements:

Continue reading “I Sing the (Car) Body Electric”
  • 1
    Whether I want to or not