I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion, as more and more EV test drives slip my way, that living with an electric vehicle as your daily runner … changes you.
It’s a thought that first struck me last week when self and the good lady went to dinner with friends at one of our favourite restaurants, to which I’d driven us in a Hyundai Ioniq 5 (review to come shortly, bear with me…). It’s a journey that takes just 20 minutes in my trusted Subaru Impreza hatchback, but which, in the Ioniq, took closer to 30.
That the Ioniq 5 boasts instant torque and 320 of all-wheel drive horsepower compared with the Subaru’s internally-combusted 152 hp and occasional drop in low-end torque, meant rapacious grunt was clearly not the problem. Nor could I blame unanticipated roadworks, heavy traffic, or a convoy of uncharacteristically quiet truckers.
Instead, our leisurely pace was entirely down to tentative use of my right foot.
“Well, what’s wrong with that, James?” you might well be asking. A 10-minute difference in journey time is by no means catastrophic, especially if you’ve booked a table in advance, and 30 minutes of C02-free driving can only be seen as a good thing, right?
A valid argument, but one that still didn’t sit quite right. During the aforementioned 30 minutes for instance, and despite the Hyundai’s electric range being in the high 200 kms, I’d opted against the rampant savagery of ‘Sport’ mode – a deridable cliché in most SUVs, but a more-than-worthy addition to the Ioniq 5 – for the more conservative ‘Eco’ mode on the highway, feeling that “nope, 95 km/h will do nicely.” Even the short, winding blast past the conservation area, a well-trod route for the stick-shift Subaru, was taken with unhurried aplomb, prompting Mrs Gent, never one for overly-zealous driving, to ask from the passenger seat why I wasn’t “having more fun” with the Ioniq 5.
This newly-discovered relaxed attitude extended yet further into the evening, during which I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with our dinner companions, proud owners of a Nissan Leaf for many years now, about Kia’s new EV6, the ChargeHubEV app – “Ikea always has a CSS port available …” – and how quickly one gets used to aggressive braking regeneration.
“Now, all of a sudden, EV recharging is a topic I find not just interesting, but, overnight, I have an actual opinion about it”
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of animated conversations I’ve had about fuel prices, including this week where the prospect of brimming the tank comes down to which one of your children you’d be willing to sell to cover the balance. Now, all of a sudden, EV recharging is a topic I find not just interesting, but, overnight, I have an actual opinion about it.
Were all this not enough, after dinner, and with the temperature having dropped considerably, Mrs Gent asks if she could use her seat heater during the drive home. “Of course!” After all, what doting husband wouldn’t want to keep his wife happy by acquiescing to such a simple request? That my left hand, reflexively, taps the wheel-mounted paddle to select Level 2 braking regen, and thus claw back at least some of those lost kilometres, speaks volumes.
In fact, now that I think about it, that the climate control is on at all is borderline staggering, given that, for most of the week, I’ve shut the heater off entirely, banked those extra 23 km, and just made sure to have a pair of gloves with me. This, in spite of the fact that, in the Subaru, the buttock-searing heated seat is used during the winter months with almost reckless abandon.
I’ll admit this transition from ICE to EV driving is a temporary stopgap, given that there are just two nights left before the Hyundai is returned to the PR agency and the Impreza is released from its week-long imprisonment in the garage. Nevertheless, it’s got me thinking. Is this how everyone drives in an EV? Is there a constant dice with ‘range anxiety’ where even the shortest journey leads to sub-conscious panic? Does everyone keep one eye on …
… good God, I’m doing 92 km/h and the SatNav says it’ll take 32 minutes to get home!
… is… is this what EV ownership is actually like?
No. No, surely not. I mean, the Hyundai’s arrival, much like the Mazda MX-30 before it, was a great conversation starter when it first appeared in the driveway.
Indeed, several of my neighbours, one of whom is seriously considering jumping from ICE to EV full-time, even ventured across to admire the “futuristic” bodywork, leading to an animated chat about interior cabin space, maintenance, average MSRPs, and whether an electric car can be sent through an automatic car wash safely (don’t laugh, it does momentarily give you pause). By contrast, the Subaru receives a fleeting nod of approval before conversation invariably returns to the weather, good hiking trails, and Dalton Kellett’s IndyCar chances.
Doors to a hitherto unspoken community are suddenly flung open in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Neighbour-opposite-but-one, for example, welcomed me to use the EV charger he installed in his garage last spring when his Tesla Model 3 arrived, should I need it (“It’s an extra $2 a month, so who’s counting?!”)
An offer I come close to accepting almost immediately, given that my evening routine during this past last week has involved uncoiling the three-pin charging cable to put the Ioniq 5 on trickle charge during the night (psst, cheaper rates), given that at least 21 km of the 216 km range will have disappeared when the cold battery is started in the morning. Sure, a home charger would be more practical, but the full conversion from ICE to EV is still in limbo.
Even something as simple as plugging in an, admittedly huge, battery raises unexpected questions…
Wait, hang on, what size is our electrical panel again?
Which circuit is this exterior plug connected to?
Is it the same one as the dishwasher?
Or the washing machine?
Or the garage light? Can I use any of them while the car is plugged in? Will I blow a fuse?
How much will this affect our electricity bill at the end of the month?
Is this really what life with an EV will be like?
According to our dinner companions, neighbour-next-door-but-one, and even The Charge’s editor-in-chief himself – “…you don’t think you’re hamming this up just a little too much?” – no. While I do believe with EV ownership could potentially come sweeping changes to not just the way one drives but the forethought given to even the most inconsequential of journeys, I’d be lying if I said my slow conversion to electric vehicles hadn’t brought unexpected benefits.
At no point during the last two test drives, for example, has the question, “do you know why I pulled you over, sir?” been posited. Rarely, if I’m being honest, have I been more conscious of other road-users on the highway: vehement acceleration into the fast lane can be a bit tricky in fat-free Eco driving mode with regen at its battery-coddling best. And the fact that an EV can produce such a visceral reaction has been an unexpectedly charming side-effect too: even my parents, safely ensconced on the other side of the Atlantic, are intrigued to hear about ‘this week’s test drive’ simply because of the electric drivetrain that powers it.
Truth be told, ‘range anxiety,’ while absolutely a hurdle every new EV owner will have to cross, will be just that in the long-run: brimming the tank, once an activity that could be performed lackadaisically every few kilometres, given the frequency of a garage forecourt, disappears overnight, and can prove a hard pill to swallow.
Albeit a temporary one. The number of charging stations arising on an almost weekly basis as the motoring industry continues striding towards carbon-neutrality, and the almost obscene amount of funding pouring into EV battery development every day, attest that these hurdles can, and indeed will, be overcome. Adapting may just take a little time.
Maybe an extra 10 minutes, depending on whether or not the seat heater is on.