An Apartment, not a Hotel Room

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As an auto writer, I’ve been driving a new car every week from press fleets for  a quarter century. But on January 8, I took delivery of my new 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. It was my first new personal car since I acquired one of the first Saturns in November, 1990.

Well, there’s something about having your own car. In more than 2,600 miles over nearly two months, I’ve bonded with my Kinetic Blue baby. I’ve realized that driving a car a week, as exciting as it may be (and sound) becomes impersonal. It’s a treadmill. It’s like being on the road with a Jazz band, staying in one hotel or motel after another with a steady stream of weekly gigs in towns across America.

But  I know my car now. I like changing Sirius XM and FM stations with a flick of my left hand on the button on the steering wheel column. Apple CarPlay lets me text by talking to Siri. I enjoy studying every flowing line of the dashboard and doors. I feel at home in the firm bucket seat. I can look through the little window in the otherwise enormous windshield pillar as I turn left. I’m grateful that I opted for the upgraded Bose stereo.

It helps that the Bolt EV is exactly the car I need. I can commute 36 miles round trip every weekday with no problem, and charge at my workplace. I need to carry a tall upright bass and it slips in with nothing more than dropping the rear seats and removing the delicate cargo cover. The rear compartment has a flat floor, making it easy.

The electric motor zips my Bolt ahead at a 6.5 second zero-to-60 pace, nearly silently. Freeway merges are easy and passing is no problem. As an EV driver, I try to conserve battery power, so I roll along at 65 tops on the freeway, which is kind of relaxing. What’s the hurry?

I select “L” on the transmission lever to use one-pedal driving. It provides much more regeneration than the “D” setting, which replicates a normal automatic. I’m hooked on “L” now.

In-town driving is fun with the firm, flat handling and precise steering control. The “L” driving feels a bit like downshifting when you come to a stop–the car helps you slow down–so it’s fun to position yourself accurately in the traffic flow that way.

I’m still testing cars for the newspapers and blogs that use my column, and I’ve got some fine hybrids on the menu. I’m even sneaking in a few significant internal combustion cars. But I know that when I want to, I can slip into my Bolt EV and feel at home anytime.

Chevy Bolt EV Easily Makes a 165-Mile Trip

Not long ago, owning an EV meant you were strictly limited on how far afield you could roam. The typical 70 to 80 miles per charge was a real issue.

That’s why, when I heard the Chevrolet Bolt EV had an EPA range of 238 miles, I knew it was the only choice for me. I couldn’t afford a Tesla, but really needed decent range.

I have a particular reason–my granddaughters live about 80 miles away and I wanted to be able to go visit them in my new car without stopping to charge. So yesterday, nearly three weeks after taking delivery, I made the 165.6-mile round trip.

My driving experience since getting my Bolt EV gave me confidence that I could do it. The driving range display gives estimated range, with “Max” and “Min” brackets above and below it, and the estimate appeared to be close to my actual mileage. But you never know until you try.

I filled my battery up on the Level 2 ChargePoint charger at work on Friday, and topped it off with my little 120-volt charger at home on Friday night. On Saturday, just before we left, the display looked like this:

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Note: That 203-mile figure is with the climate control on. With it off, the number would be about 10 miles higher.

We headed north and plugged in my wife’s iPhone to use Apple CarPlay to enjoy the James Taylor Greatest Hits album No. 1. It provided a soothing experience for a projected hour and a half on the road. I limited myself to 65 mph on the mostly freeway trip. I used the cruise control part of the time, and drove in Low, too. Low, with its greater brake regeneration, adds about 5 percent to the total.

We encountered some traffic in the MacArthur Maze in Oakland and around Petaluma (as usual), and inched along for a little while. Those two sections of the trip regenerated more energy than flying along unobstructed, and made the trip take a little longer. But I was encouraged that as we made progress, the projected range was staying higher than I expected it would.

After we pulled up in front of my son and daughter-in-law’s house, I examined the gauge:

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At an hour and a half, we had driven 82.8 miles, but the range indicator only moved from 203 to 144–or 59 miles. We had nearly three quarters of the battery charge left. That was fantastic!

We spent about four and a half hours with the family, and after a pleasant meal and much animated conversation and some hugs, we climbed back into the Bolt EV and headed home. I wasn’t worried about running out of charge on the way home.

This time, it was later, and traffic flowed steadily at 65 mph the whole way. That meant less opportunity to regenerate electricity, and we took more of a hit in the range. The final screen looked like this (darker because it was nighttime when we arrived home).

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This time, the 82.8 miles reduced the range by 91 miles–about 50 percent more than the trip up there–but not that far off from the actual traveled distance. We had less recharging ability, but saved a quarter of an hour of road time. 53 miles was a fine cushion. Our 165-mile trip showed up as 150 miles of range used. The Bolt EV passed my test.

The silence of the motor and smooth ride made our trip pleasant, the upgraded Bose stereo and Apple CarPlay kept us entertained, and I now know my Bolt EV will do the job!

 

Busy Bolt EV Weekend–Plenty of Juice

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I picked up my Bolt EV last Sunday, but really just drove it home in the rain. I’ve commuted all week, but this was the first weekend to really stretch out. And the weather was dry. (Above: 2017 Bolt with 1965 Eichler house. I lived there as a teenager).

I filled up my battery on the ChargePoint Level 2 chargers at work on Friday, then drove home. With 177 miles available (middle number on the left, I felt confident.

Saturday morning was local errands–the auto supply store for new car washing tools, the florist, and the health food store. Then, I took my wife out to lunch. Normally, we park right behind the restaurant, but this time, we parked three blocks away so I could use the charger. I didn’t mind–it added steps for my Fitbit–one of the many things I plug in to charge these days.

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It was Blink Network station, and I was unhappy  to find that my card didn’t work! It has been a while, I guess. I ended up using the guest method, with its convoluted method of sending you a code, but I had to pay Guest prices. I later found out that if I used the app on my iPhone (which I already had) I could have done the same procedure, but gotten the member rate. I ordered a new card, just in case.

The charge pushed me up to 184 miles. At the Blink charger, I met Wayne, a Leaf owner who was fascinated by my Bolt EV. Finally – an eager person to talk  to. Of course that’s what we early owners want, isn’t it?

Next, I drove 33 miles eastward to visit an old friend who was having an 80th birthday celebration. I kept it to 65 mph and drove mostly on the freeway. The range dropped 24 for the 33-mile trip.

After that, I drove south for about a half hour to hear my friend and his daughter play some Jazz. That trip flew by, too, with the Bolt EV at night showing off its colorful screens and cruising near silently down the freeway. After the show, I drove home. My 94-mile trip in the afternoon and evening showed a 91-mile change in the range. This is good to know, since I plan to make other freeway trips, and the numbers are pretty accurate so far.

I put my car on the slow charger at home, since my new level 2 home charger isn’t installed yet. But, it didn’t add more than about 25 miles overnight. I learned today from one of my new friends on the Chevy Bolt EV Owners Group Facebook page that I need to move my charging amps from 8 to 12. That’s supposed to double the charge. I did it, so we’ll see! I’ve been following the progress on my MyChevrolet app.

Sunday’s adventure included my first use of Apple Car Play. It works wonderfully, with big, bright screens for the navigation I needed and for playing music from Spotify. I also sent a hands-free text message using Siri. Plugging in my phone and tucking it under the armrest makes it an out-of-sight out-of-mind experience. I did notice that the screen in the car allowed a lot of functions, including searching for types of destinations, but didn’t let me enter a specific address. For that, I had to use the phone itself–presumably while parked, before starting out. Must be a safety feature.

On the way home, I stopped at Whole Foods, thinking I’d hang out and use their fast EVgo quick charger. But there was a car parked there, so I pulled into the only Level 2 spot there was.

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I walked over to look at the quick charger. I discovered that some jerk had parked his white second-gen Volt in the spot–but wasn’t using the charger! How RUDE. I had about 50 miles left, so it wasn’t an emergency.

As I pondered this state of affairs, a guy pulled up in a black Fiat 500e, hoping to charge up. He parked in a non-EV space and came over. He’d only had his car for a week (like me), but had no EV experience. He’d set the Fiat to charge overnight but the car didn’t cooperate, for some reason. In any case, 500e’s don’t have a quick charge socket, so he wanted a Level 2 slot. I decided that he needed it more than I did, so I told him to pull around and gave him my spot. I felt I had to make up for the goofball who parked in the Quick Charge spot without using it.

After making a small indentation in the false floor panel in the rear area a couple days ago, I decided to protect the entire cargo area. I bought a workout pad at Big 5 for $19.95 and cut it into shape for my hatch area (with seats folded down). Now I can carry my musical gear without damaging the surface. Besides smelling a little odd, it did a great job.

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Wrapping up this rambling monologue, I had no problem with range–my biggest goal with the Bolt–and enjoyed lots of very pleasant driving all weekend. I  used all three major charging companies in the S.F. Bay Area, and my house, too.

The Bolt EV is turning out to be everything I’d hoped for. My only regret is that I didn’t get around to washing it yet.

 

Flashback: Fiat 500e Video Review from Last Year

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On the eve of the arrival of my long-awaited Chevrolet Bolt EV, here’s the finished version of a video review I did on the Fiat 500e EV last April. Unlike my normal one-week test period, I got a three-month loan of this cute little all-electric car. Thanks again, Scott Brown of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Little did I know when I got my Fiat test car on January 19, 2016 that a year later I’d be starting a new, longer-term EV adventure. But driving this car for three months gave me an appetite for gasoline-free motoring. I named the little blue hatchback Fidelio, and he was a faithful ride.

There are lots of posts on Fidelio on this blog from January through April 2016 to read. Enjoy my wrap-up in this video.

 

Nissan Leaf – EV Pioneer

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The Nissan Leaf was designed from scratch to be a gas-free all-electric model. They’ve sold more than 185,000 of them since its debut in 2010 as an ‘11, and a pioneer in mainstream EVs.

The Leaf hasn’t changed much over the years, though, until now. The 2016 model looks the same, but you now can get one with a 30 kWh lithium-ion battery. Adding just 46 pounds, it’s got higher power density, so it earns a 107-mile driving range from the EPA, versus 84 for the old 24 kWh battery, a 27 percent improvement.

For most driving, and many people, 107 miles is plenty. I drove my Deep Blue Pearl Leaf back and forth to work every day, in quiet comfort, the Bose audio system pouring out music from the standard Sirius XM radio and Bluetooth-connected selections from my Spotify stream.

The problem comes when you want to drive further. I got home one day with 85 miles on the range meter, and we had to take a quick trip that was about 70 miles. Because I wasn’t sure that was enough, we took our internal combustion engine car.

Although its design is aging, the Leaf feels smooth, solid, and friendly. With its virtually silent and vibration-free 80 kW motor, you fly along, almost by magic. Torque is available from the moment you step on the accelerator pedal, so there’s plenty of hustle from the 107 horsepower and 187 lb.-ft. of torque moving the 3,391-lb. car.

The EPA rates the Leaf at 124 MPGe City, 101 Highway, and 112 Overall. The Smog and Greenhouse Gas numbers are perfect 10s. The Leaf also gives you a miles-per-kWh rating, which was 4.1 for me. With 30 kWh, that looks like about 120 miles per charge.

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The one-speed transmission is controlled by a “palm shifter,” which, with its bright blue plastic front edge, reminded me of a Duncan Imperial yoyo. Just slip it back into Drive or forward into Reverse or push the Park button on the top.

The battery below the floor means a low center of gravity, so the Leaf is stable, and you feel secure darting around through traffic. But you are encouraged to drive gently to preserve charge. Nissan gives you a little Eco indicator at the top of the instrument panel, which assembles a little tree. The completed tree shrinks and moves to the lower right and you start on another one. I normally grew two on my 18-mile commute.

Unlike some other EVs, the Leaf is rated as a midsize car, and fits five adults, while providing 24 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up. Drop the rear seat for an additional six cubic feet. I hauled my upright bass with ease, although the storage area isn’t flat—it’s deeper at the rear.

To charge the Leaf, a panel flips up on the car’s nose. In there, you’ll find the standard plug for using a Level 2 (240-volt) charger or a cable to charge (slowly) at home at 120 volts. A Level 2 charge takes about 6 hours. Upper level Leafs include a Quick Charge plug, which lets you refill the battery to 80 percent capacity in half an hour.

The Leaf is so quiet that Nissan provides an “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians.” It’s a low-volume beep, which emanates from a speaker under the hood at speeds below 16 mph. I only heard it when backing out of my driveway.

The three models start with the S, the price leader, at $29,860. It comes with push-button start, electric windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, and a decent audio system, but gets only the 24 kW battery.

The mid-level SV starts at $35,050. It has the 30 kW battery and the Quick Charge plug. It also features the NissanConnect system with Navigation, a larger 7-inch display screen, two more audio speakers, and 17-inch alloys in place of 16-inch steel wheels.

The SL, at $36,790, is distinguished mainly by its comfortable leather seats. You also get a photovoltaic solar panel on the rear spoiler, heated rear seats, a cargo cover, and a couple other items. My SL tester came with the Premium Package, with an upgraded Bose 7-speaker audio system and the Around View monitor (it gives a bird’s eye view). It topped out at $39,390. All prices listed include the $850 delivery charge.

Retail prices are perhaps irrelevant, since many EVs are leased at bargain rates, and there are government tax credits that can significantly reduce your costs. Figure in that electricity is much cheaper than gasoline and EVs require much less maintenance, and it could be a real bargain.

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The Leaf, built in Smyrna, Tennessee, has been the most popular EV out there, and if you’re not budgeted for a Tesla, is still a good option.

Volkswagen e-Golf Delivers

2016_e-golf_5254The Volkswagen Golf has been sold around the world for 40 years. A mainstream model in Europe, it’s less central to VW’s model mix in the U.S. However, with a major redesign for 2015 came Volkswagen’s first all-electric car, the e-Golf, and it was worth the wait.

The e-Golf is aimed at pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf. There is no sacrifice in driving enjoyment or practicality in choosing the electric option. In fact, it boasts the same 95 cubic feet of capacity as the gas version, with its battery tucked away out of sight.

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The e-Golf’s motor puts out 115 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque through a single-speed automatic transmission. This electric Golf still delivers the same fine road feel as the sporty GTI, and at 3,391 pounds, doesn’t feel sluggish. Although it didn’t rocket ahead like a GTI, at 10 seconds from zero to 60, the feel of electric motor-driven acceleration is instant and exciting.

Naturally, the driving range of an all-electric vehicle is at the top of any driver’s mind. The e-Golf gets an official rating of 83 miles, but when I charged the car up, I saw a reading as high as 98 miles on the instrument panel gauge. How you drive, what kinds of roads you drive on, and how you program the car’s adjustable settings make some difference, but this car didn’t feel like it would leave you in the lurch.

The official EPA numbers are 126 and 105 highway. That’s MPGe – miles per gallon equivalent. Use these numbers to compare electric vehicles. Pretty impressive.

To ease your range anxiety, VW provides a roadside assistance program. If you run out of charge within 100 miles of home, they will take your car to a charging station and to get you home via taxi or other transportation method on their dime.

To maximize your e-Golf’s efficiency, there are three driving profiles: Normal, Eco and Eco +. The latter two progressively lower the horsepower and top speed, change the accelerator action, and in the case of the Eco + setting, turn off the climate control, to reduce energy consumption. You can also program the amount of regenerative braking to generate a small amount of juice in the normal setting or produce progressively more in two other settings.

VW provides the VW Car-Net app, so you can keep track of your charging, turn the climate control on or off remotely, and monitor performance data for your car. Part of owning an electric is the science project aspect, where you are thinking about what your car is doing rather than just sitting in it and going. It’s important and fun, too.

The VW Golf was all-new for 2015. It’s a two- or four-door hatchback, but also, in 2015 it took on the wagon role from the Jetta. Numerous engines and trim levels are available, but you can tell the e-Golf by its blue accents.

VW originally sent the e-Golf to market as the loaded SEL Premium model. That means full climate control, heated seats, leather steering wheel and shift knob, alloy wheels, heated mirrors, and the like. Now, VW also offers the SE, which shaves thousands of dollars off the price by swapping out the alloy wheels for steel, LED headlamps for standard halogen, and cloth seats in place of leatherette. Federal and state tax rebates help mitigate some of that cost as well.

Charging is simple. However, using household 110/120 volt current, it could take you 20 hours to fill the battery from empty. A 220/240 volt charger, which you’d install at your house if you owned the car, can do it in less than 4 hours. The e-Golf SEL or SE with the optional Quick Charge package has the SAE combined quick charge socket, so you can get an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes in a pinch.

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It’s particularly quiet inside the e-Golf because when VW removed the vibration-causing gas engine, they went after the little sounds that could annoy you, which were suddenly exposed. The car emits a little sound at low speeds, so oblivious pedestrians are warned of your approach.

Part of owning an electric is the knowledge that you’re reducing your carbon footprint and helping the planet. In that spirit, VW has teamed up with 3Degrees, a renewable energy service provider, to offset the e-Golfs greenhouse gas emissions from its production, distribution, and 36,000 miles of charging.

The SE starts at $28,995 with the SEL at $35,595. The SEL earns its extra price with things like Driver Assistance, Navigation, leatherette upholstery, quick charging, and more. The SE with the quick charge option is probably the sweet spot. Leasing remains the way to get into one of these cars surprisingly affordably.

My Pacific Blue tester was a delight. Electric motoring is smooth and pleasant. With an 11-mile commute at the time I tested it, I had plenty of charge left over at the end of the day. This is an ideal commute vehicle, with its quiet, spacious interior and gasoline-free ways, but as with any other electric car (except a Tesla), you’ll need another car for long trips.

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Mercedes-Benz’s Electric Option–B250e

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There’s an electric-powered Mercedes-Benz out there, but you can be forgiven if you haven’t noticed. Quietly, the B250e is rolling around town, if you happen to be in California or other EV friendly locales.

The B is a five-door hatchback–not the shape you expect from Mercedes. The B-Class is sold in other parts of the world, including Canada, as a small, utility-minded gasoline-powered car, but in the U.S., B-Class cars are EVs only (labeled Electric Drive). There’s a tiny A-Class sold overseas, too, but you won’t see one here.

It makes sense for the German giant to put an all-electric powertrain in a small vehicle. Roughly the size of a Nissan Leaf, it has less weight to labor the battery pack with. With a folding rear seat, it’s spacious in the back. In the bright blue of my colleague Pam’s new commuter car, it has a friendly aspect to it.

I’ve been eager to test Mercedes’ baby EV, so when I saw one attached to the chargers at my building, I slipped my card under the driver’s side wiper and waited for the owner to respond. Pam did, and offered to show me around the car–and even let me drive it for a few minutes.

The B may look like a generic hatchback (despite it’s dramatic character line that rises up the side), but inside, it feels like a Mercedes-Benz. While not furnished in rare woods, and rich leather, it has dignity and mass, and an instrument panel that looks like a Mercedes-Benz’ should. It feels more upscale than other EVs I’ve tested. It can’t match a Tesla, of course, but it’s not priced as one, either.

Driving the car is, judging from my brief test, pleasant and, of course, silent. There are settings for S (sport), E (eco) and E+ (eco plus), and, I think, a “normal” setting. If you set it to S, you get the full benefit of an electric motor’s instant torque and rocket ahead with a snap. In E or especially E+, the drivetrain feels anaesthetized, but that’s so you use less juice.

Stats: 132 kW electric motor, 177 horsepower, 251 lb.-ft. of torque, 0-60 in 7.9 seconds.

Pam, who stepped out of a reliable Mercedes-Benz M Class SUV, has been getting about 83 miles per charge in her new B, which puts it in the realm of the original Leaf and other cars like the Ford Focus EV and Fiat 500e. Mercedes claims 87 miles. But the future is looming, with 200+ mile range EVs on their way, so I’m guessing that the Tesla-sourced engine/battery will be getting an upgrade before too long. Meanwhile, for a commute from southern San Jose to San Mateo, California, the little Mercedes-Benz EV is just the ticket. Pam has level 2 (240 volt) charging at home and here at work, so she never has to run out, as long as she doesn’t stray too far from the normal path.

Pricing is officially $41,450, but as you might expect, leasing drops costs considerably. Pam leased hers for a little bit more than $300 a month with some money down. The Federal rebate was applied directly to the lease, and her California state rebate is on its way. She relishes her white carpool-lane stickers, too.

The B is a natural competitor to the BMW i3, and, as these two German competitors go, it’s the more sober, elegant one, versus the radical BMW. But by all means, you should cross-shop.

I’m eagerly awaiting my chance to spend a week with this car, but for now, it looks like a winner to me–for the right driver and purpose.

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