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I’m a car nut. Now this is not going to surprise anyone who knows me, but I love cars. What that means is that I am both happy with the car that I drive, and simultaneously always looking toward the next car I’m going to own because I know that I’ll only have my current one for a few years. Cars are as much a hobby to me as they are transportation, and while I don’t turn a wrench on my cars any more mostly because I’ve gone from driving old cars needing a lot of TLC to new cars, I still have a love for cars and the mechanics behind them.
The question of electric vehicles is vexing to someone like me. With manufacturers announcing their intent to reduce or even eliminate internal combustion engines (ICE) in favour of electric vehicles (EV) in the next few years this question came into relatively sharp focus in the last 6 months or so. So I had to ask myself; is an electric car in my immediate future?
Maybe. Warning; long analysis coming!
Here’s the thing; I love EV’s as a technology and was an early investor in Tesla at around $30 a share (yes, I sold long ago… no I didn’t become retirement-rich off it) and have been a firm believer in the tech. I’ve also followed all the EV’s with interest and love watching YouTube channels like Tesla Bjorn who really get into what EV’s are like. But I’ve still never owned one.
Here’s the thing; there’s not one out there I’d currently own for various reasons. I’ve owned some GREAT cars; my last three have been a BMW M3, a Cadillac ATS-V (both manual) and currently an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Some of the best cars in their respective eras and there’s little that really compares.
I’ve spent the last few months of business trips deliberately renting EV’s from Turo to try to get a handle on what is good and bad with EV’s today. Note that I tend toward the more premium electrics because of my particular taste in cars. Let me give you my input on the ones I drove in no particular order;
- Tesla Model 3 Performance: I have been asked repeatedly what I think about it from Tesla fans. And you know what? It’s a good car. But here’s the thing; it’s not a GREAT car. I still can’t get past the low-rent interior (and this from an Alfa driver!), the fit-and-finish and the general feeling that the car can never quite get away from it’s cost-conscious construction. Supercharging is great and the car is certainly quick, but it feels so much like driving a video game that it’s just un-engaging. If you’ve never driven a great car then you’d probably find it to be the best car you’ve ever owned because it is a massive step up from the average Toyota Camry or the like… but being quick isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of a performance car. There are so many things that make a truly good performance car work that the m3P doesn’t even come close to match.
If Tesla could get their act together on the fit-and-finish and make a better interior then this car could be a serious contender. As it stands today it’s just good.
These comments of course also apply to the Model Y
- Ford Mustang Mach-E: I had the pleasure of driving one with only about 1000 miles on the clock for around 300-400 miles including some canyon runs. This also is a good car and I would rate it probably a better buy for people who might be looking at an EV than the equivalent Model Y. The interior is markedly better and there’s a feeling in the car that it’s one that was built by real car people. It’s smooth, more than powerful enough for virtually any driver and has great range on battery. The charging experience isn’t quite as good as the Tesla for public charging, but when I drove this car around Phoenix I had zero trouble finding destination chargers or fast chargers I could use to top up in locations that were useful. However, the driving experience is seriously marred by the sheer weight of the vehicle combined with the soft suspension. I mean, I get it… but this thing while good on smooth pavement just crashes and rolls over bad roads like a 90’s era Ford Explorer. The GT with lower-profile tires and better suspension will fix a lot of this I predict, but there’s no getting away from the weight… and you WILL feel this in a turn. I also didn’t dig the door handles.
- Audi E-Tron: I didn’t find myself overly opinionated about this car to be honest. I do like Audi’s, and the interior of the E-Tron was definitely “All Audi All The Time”. Whether that’s a good thing or not to you depends greatly on your opinion of Audi. However, so much of the car felt like a somewhat fat Q5 with an electric drivetrain. Again, how that works for you depends what you think about the Q5; personally I love the SQ5 but the regular Q5 feels a little under-powered for its size and weight and the same follows over into the E-Tron. I didn’t get to take this on canyon runs but was able to do some long-legged days on the highway and it made for a remarkably comfortable highway cruiser. However, its range is definitely on the low side of all the cars I’ve personally tested and I felt like I got range anxiety in this car more than any of the others. Having A Better Route Planner on Android Auto would be a must for me if I owned this car because Audi’s own charging-finder was… let’s just say… incomplete. If you want a good and practical around-town car this is the one, but it lacks the long legs for anything more than a shorter-range day-trip car. The handling was good though and the suspension was well tuned for the weight. It made the handling unremarkable but also predictable and the ride good.
- Jaguar I-Pace: By far my favourite EV, and the one I’d consider if I had any faith that Jaguar as a company was going to be around in a few years to support the car… or if they are around I expect them to fully abandon this platform as soon as they have a replacement. The range isn’t as good as the Mach-E or the Tesla’s, but it’s good enough for my taste. 200-250 miles is about all I can manage before I need to get out and stretch my legs… and let’s be honest you should too but people don’t. Anyway, it had by far my favourite interior and amazing suspension tuning that was really good at hiding the weight of the vehicle. The seats were just stunning, but rearward visibility was the worst of any car I’ve ever driven… abysmal barely covers it. The infotainment was also pretty sluggish and slow to respond to just about anything and even when using Android Auto on the screen was far slower to respond than the same phone in my Alfa. The driving experience still wasn’t quite up there with the great cars in my list above, but was by far the best EV I had driven. The vehicle itself is roomy and comfortable with loads of practicality. Not as cavernous as the Mach-E or even the E-Tron, but was able to haul a good amount of equipment around. A canyon run outside of Phoenix showed off its prowess on the roads and while not as fast as the m3P, handled better and more predictably. Currently I think this is the drivers EV of all that I personally tested.
I would love to test more EV’s, particularly the Porsche Taycan… but so far I’ve not had the opportunity. I’m also mighty interested in the Polestar 2 as its styling, size and appearance are exactly what I like in a car and I happen to have a soft spot for Volvo’s. Unfortunately because I live nowhere near a Polestar showroom this isn’t likely to happen soon.
Thing is while so many people are sounding the death-knell of ICE this is going to take decades. Look at how many cars are around you on the road every day that are 10 years old or more… think about the fact that even car manufacturers saying they’re on their “last generation of ICE” probably still have another 5-7 years of manufacture in them even if they stick to their timelines (spoiler: they won’t).
Particularly in the USA there are a lot of things yet to be figured out. While we’re certainly on the cusp of “tipping point” on the West Coast, the East Coast and MidWest are a completely different kettle of fish. EV’s make no sense for most people unless you have space to let them sit and charge. For most people that means a garage. How many New Yorker’s do you think have garages?? 99% of cars in NYC sit on the curb, and many of them blocks away from where they live because parking is incredibly expensive (and a massive premium) in that city. Curbside charging is possible, yes… but I guarantee if you create dedicated EV spaces on NY City streets then you’ll have a massive amount of vandalizing of EV charging stations on these spots from angry ICE drivers. This is true of a lot of East Coast cities and despite what Californians like to think, the East Coast is still where a significant chunk of the population lives.
The Midwest has similar issues, but it’s more lack of public charging infrastructure. I live in St. Louis; while I CAN drive an EV from St. Louis to Chicago really easily, the infrastructure between here and there is still far enough apart and prone to being out-of-order or fully populated when I get there that range anxiety and delayed trips really are a thing. And I’ve had to travel down to Alabama a few times in recent months in my car (Tuscaloosa). Take a look at ABRP and let me know where I would’ve charged an EV had I owned one… it’s a public charging wasteland. And forget about crossing Montana in an EV. Private charging is obviously doable because a lot of people have garages. But not everyone does, and there are still some VERY poor areas of the Midwest where people can’t afford the infrastructure to put charging in their own garages let alone buy an EV.
For my use case? Yeah, I could buy an EV and have even given it a lot of consideration. But at this juncture I’m not sure it makes sense. If I were in the market for a car today even with used car prices at a premium we haven’t seen in years, I can still pick up any one of a dozen GREAT used cars that will currently fill my needs far better than any of the EV’s currently on the market and give me a lot more pleasure to-boot. Heck, I’ve considered picking up a B8.5 RS5 as a fun car to drive and also to do some modding on. They’re great value in my opinion, and the same goes for any number of ICE vehicles on the road.
TL,DR; The death of ICE has been greatly exaggerated by the media and those who have a vested interest in EV’s succeeding. Even if manufacturers stopped producing ICE’s today, it’d be 15-20 years before the last ICE cars would be ready for the scrap heap. The infrastructure for ICE will exist as long as there’s a good enough market to support it.