My Year of Driving the Latest Electric, Gasoline and Diesel Technology Cars.
At Silicon Valley Reinvents the Automobile
What a year! No one should doubt that 2013 was a breakthrough year for advanced technology vehicles, whether running on electricity, gasoline, diesel or some combination of the three. The choices expanded, prices dropped and infrastructure exploded (for plug-ins). This year presents an abundance of riches; as I wrote earlier, we (at least we in California) now have 10 pure electric vehicles to choose from–and 2014 promises and expanded roster of choices. I had the opportunity this year to sample more than half of those available. Add in plug-in hybrids and the list of EV choices almost doubles, while traditional hybrids, clean diesels and high-MPG gasoline vehicles ranks keep growing both in number and popularity.
This year I also had the opportunity to help organize two glimpses at the automotive future — the Western Automotive Journalists’ “Silicon Valley Reinvents the Automobile” and “Future Cars-Future Technology” events. Those programs whetted my appetite for what is coming soon and alerted me to much that is already making its way into our cars and advancing their efficiency.
I didn’t get into every vehicle available this year, so this comes from a limited sample that focuses on the new vehicles. My biggest takeaway from 2013–the toughest job for a new car purchaser is sorting out what vehicle or vehicles can deliver the best for his/her situation. It’s never a matter of pure MPG (or MPGe for the plug-ins), but the type of vehicles that functions for you.
Here are the highlights of the year from my drives with some notes about how the vehicles fit into the many lifestyles out there. The choices are amazing and have been getting better every year. I’m really looking forward to 2014!
Also, I have to add a few more to the Top 10 in a couple categories just because so much has happened this year.
1. 2014 BMW i3 – both EV and range-extended EV. I had the opportunity this year to help out BMW on a project introducing the new 2014 i3 to some folks just after its official “launch” and managed to spend several days squiring around three versions of the lead vehicle in the company’s new “i” division. With this car, available as a pure electric and also with a range-extending motor, BMW follows its Mini-E and Active-E programs with “the real thing.” This car has so much going for it, from a carbon fiber monocoque to a plethora of environmentally friendly features to a price that makes it one of the more affordable BMWs, it’s hard to step back and analyze it.
In my time in the preproduction i3, the reactions to it were almost universally positive. Some skeptics questioned its unique
BMW introduces the i3
styling, but that appears to be one the points BMW is making. When you see an i3, you won’t mistake it for any other BMW – or any other car on the road. Though small, it’s highly functional, with decent room for four adults (with rear seat access through a hidden rear half-door) and cargo space via the rear hatch. The lightweight car has ample power from its 125 kW electric motor and carried 22 kWh of liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries underneath its floor panels. Range is expected to be somewhere south of 100 miles and its EPA (MPGe) will probably slot it right in the pack of current similar-size electric cars. With its small range-extender engine and 9-liter gas tank, the i3 will cost a little more but still only deliver about 180 miles or range, keeping the i3 as primarily an urban vehicle.
BMW’s approach with the i3 is to present a unique vehicle, a la the Toyota Prius, that is identifiable not only as an BMW and an EV, but one that the company hopes will become the icon of electrics. If that happens, it will displace the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, who, along with the less common Tesla Model S, currently hold that mantle. Early orders from dealers (it will be available nationwide before midyear 2014) have BMW execs excited that they may have a hit on their hands. Tracking the rollout of the i3 during 2014 is one of the stories we’re looking forward to for this coming year. Our experience up to this point indicates that the i3 will delight purchasers the same way the Mini-E and Active-E have. In fact, we predict the i3 will let BMW put its mark on the EV world very quickly.
2. 2013 Ford Fusion Energi – a versatile, stunning cruiser. Spending a week with the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi, the plug-in version of Ford’s best-selling midsize sedan, was eye-opening. After driving small EVs, the Fusion seemed and was a spacious vehicle. A midsize sedan, it could handle five passengers in comfort, or in my use scenario, three adults and luggage for a 600-mile weekend roundtrip. With the battery taking up a portion of the trunk, space was at a premium, but the Fusion handled it all with aplomb. Most enjoyable of all, it didn’t miss a beat on the open highway, delivering a great, comfortable ride balanced with good road feel and handling. Fuel economy was not the 100 MPGe you get plugging it in for local drives, but solidly above 40 MPG on the highway and combined.
The 2-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine was fine around town and on the highway at speed, but strained on steep hills. The test model came loaded with all the latest technology, including optional active park assist,
adaptive cruise control, rear view video camera and driver assist package with lane keeping and cross traffic alert. With all this technology and a 17-mile all-electric range, the Fusion Energi is the harbinger of future automated cars. It’s standard technology is designed to aid the driver in his/her quest to obtain the best fuel economy. The system teaches you quickly how to brake to maximize captured energy, extending the EV-only range and increasing efficiency.
All in all, the $39,495 (including $795 destination charge) Fusion Energi is full of style and substance. According to EPA
Ford has a plug-in version of its best-selling Fusion sedan
calculations, this model will save you $6,850 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average midsize sedan. Of course, if you have a short commute and can plug in at home and work, you can extend the electric range and increase those savings. As it is, Ford’s 2014 pricing has the Energi model starting $8,470 more than the Hybrid model, which in turn is $4,300 more than the standard Fusion. Some quick addition and you can see the Energi models costs almost $13,000 more than the base Fusion. While it may have a higher level of standard equipment, it’s clear that five years of “normal” driving are not going to recoup the additional cost. However, you also can factor in cash incentives in some states and a federal tax credit. In addition, because of its EV-capability the Energi is eligible for solo HOV-lane access in California, which offers a value for commuters that is sometimes hard to measure in dollars.
Fiat’s fun 500e
3. 2013 Fiat 500e – spunky gas-free fun. I gave this little electric car two thumbs up when I drove it earlier in the year. It remains the most fun EV I’ve driven and, while not the most practical car because of its small size (and miniscule back seat), it delivers so much in power and handling that it should be on the shopping list of anyone looking at electric cars. The best news is that, while eligible for all of the EV incentives and perks, the Fiat has a retail lease for the same price as its gas cousins.
4. 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV – the only SUV EV. This would seem like a no-brainer. Take Toyota’s bulletproof reputation for quality and hybrid leadership, add in some Tesla EV powertrain magic and drop it into a proven model (one that even has an EV heritage). The 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV has all that and its only limitations appear to be a high sticker price ($49,800 for the 2014 model) and limited availability (Toyota plans to build only a few thousand RAV4 EVs to meet its obligation under the California ZEV Mandate).
With a 100-mile range from its 115 kW electric motor and 845 pounds of battery (with a 35 kWh capacity), the RAV4 EV delivers the typical quiet, smooth and powerful electric vehicle experience. The preproduction prototype I drove was well put together. The model offers the high driving position of an SUV and all of the SUV functionality as the battery doesn’t intrude into the cargo area. Charging on anything less than a 30 amp, 240-volt charger is tedious, though, taking 12-15 hours on a 16-amp station and almost two days using a 120 volt wall plug. Toyota does
encourage installation of a home charger and works with Leviton as their preferred provider, offering reasonable prices for the chargers and installation.
My only issue with the RAV4 EV is one I’ve found on several Toyotas I’ve driven–it doesn’t seem to have much personality. It’s
RAV4 EV assumes the position
functional, does everything asked and performs as well as much of its competition, but the steering and road handling lack the input I’ve come to expect from the best models coming from Europe, America and Asia. Unlike the Fiat 500e or some of the other models on this list, the RAV4 EV doesn’t leave a memorable driving experience. But what it has going for it is that it’s the only pure electric SUV available, offering the same 70 cubic feet of cargo space (behind the front seats) as the gasoline version. Of course, it’s front-wheel drive only, but then again it’s not likely you’re going to take a 100-mile range vehicle too far into the outback.
5. 2014 Jeep Cherokee – taking Jeep into new territory in looks and efficiency. Jeep hasn’t made its reputation on styling and fuel economy. It’s know for outstanding off-road ability wrapped in a traditional-looking package and a variety of comfort features that have made it more and more car-like over the years.
The new Cherokee, which I took on a brief test drive, is an impressive step forward. As someone who spent more than half a decade at a magazine dedicated to Jeeps and 4x4s, I witnessed the introduction of the midsize XJ Cherokee in the 1980s, a revolution for Jeep that brought unibody construction to an off-road vehicle and started the movement to upgraded interiors in SUVs.
Jeep’s new Cherokee is a looker that can perform
The old Cherokee was surpassed by the Ford Explorer and a variety of other SUVs that expanded the category to become essentially beefed up station wagons, some of which would potentially go off-road. The new Cherokee is a gauntlet tossed down by the new Chrysler/Fiat management, challenging this category once again to find a balance between style, rock-crawling capability and adding in fuel efficiency.
Pricing on the Cherokee appears to be as attractive as the stylish exterior, starting at $22,995 for a front-wheel drive version and ranging up to $29,995 for a 4WD Limited model.
My time in the Cherokee was brief so I didn’t get a chance to test its off-road abilities or do a full-tank fuel economy run, but the vehicle promises 31 mpg highway with its 2.4-liter MultiAir and 9-speed transmission. In Trailhawk trim has all of the 4WD features that have helped Jeep build and keep its off-road reputation. I’m looking forward to some extended seat time and a chance to see how this model lives up to the Jeep reputation.
6. 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel – the survival of the big SUV. This is almost a no-brainer as well. Take an SUV with a solid reputation as both an off-roader capable machine and a smooth highway
Jeep’s New MPG Tool
operator and boost its fuel economy by 30 percent without sacrificing any performance. The Grand Cherokee, which once boasted a diesel engine borrowed from Mercedes, now gets one from Fiat. The 3-liter V-6 is quiet and powerful (240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque), capable of towing more than competitors’ V-8 engines. It’s fuel economy is 20 percent better than the Grand Cherokee’s base V-6 gas engine and more than 40
percent better than the V-8 option.
Again, I only had a brief drive, but as has been the case with the diesel option in the big German SUVs (Mercedes’ GL, Audi’s Q7 and BMW’s X5), I would expect that this will be a popular option in the Jeep. Chrysler added an 8-speed transmission to the diesel (and other engine offerings) as part of the MPG-boosting package. It looks like with 2014 models where the EcoDiesel is available, prices will start at around $46,000. This is another one I hope to get more time in during 2014 to get a better feel for how it operates in the real world.
7. 2013 Nissan Leaf – still the leading pure electric car. Like my colleague John Faulkner, I spent a week in a Nissan Leaf this year and came away impressed with the car’s capability. We may dwell too much on the shortcomings of an EV when the real story is how much utility they have. With its real-world 70-80 mile range, the Leaf can handle most commutes (especially if workplace charging is available) and make around town trips for days without recharging. I tested its range on one evening excursion and found that, combined with a smartphone app that shows available charging stations, trips at the edge of the range could be handled without stress.
The Leaf takes on the country
In addition to my week with the Leaf, I also had the opportunity to take one on an extended drive from the Nissan plant in Tennessee. That drive pointed out two shortcomings of the car: (1) long-legged drivers taller than 6-foot-2 are likely to find the cabin cramped and less than comfortable, and (2) the Leaf is not really cut out for freeway passing. As is always the case with EVs, you’re going to spend more time calculating the length, terrain and outside temperature on a given trip (compared to a conventional gas car), but the learning curve is short and your experience will quickly raise your confidence for making longer drives. However, it remains an unnerving experience to watch your range steadily drop as you power down the freeway at 70 mph; ironically, it reminds me of the gas guzzlers of the 1960s where you could sometimes see the gas gauge needle move when you got on the accelerator. The Leaf remains a smooth, quiet performer. It’s easy to operate and can actually accommodate five adults, at least for short runs, and still retains some storage space in the rear hatch. Its styling is distinctive without being too eccentric. With the price drop that Nissan engineering this year, the Leaf appears to be reaching an audience beyond the early adopters and is starting to find its way into the garages of folks just interesting in low-cost, low-emissions transportation.
The Leaf remains one of the premier ways of getting there on electrons alone and, at least in California, is one of the models dealers are offering with discount pricing, special lease deals and a variety of options.
8. 2013 Chevy Volt – the best of both worlds. The Chevy Volt, like the Nissan Leaf, has made its mark in the EV world. Intrepid Clean Fleet Report reviewer John Faulkner called it “the best GM car for the money” and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. From the beginning more than two years ago the Volt has been a bargain given the technology involved in the car. It’s fascinatingly smooth and responsive, delivering a great driving experience along with its excellent fuel economy. Unlike my experience with the Leaf, trip planning was effortless as the gas-engine backup was always available. On the other hand, plugging in regularly made around-town driving a pure electric experience.
I found the Volt very stable in crosswinds, probably due to its low center of gravity created by 435 pounds of batteries arrayed down the center of the car. The electric drive was more than needed for freeway
Volt offers versatility
acceleration. It featured less aggressive regenerative braking than the Leaf, but still managed to extend its EV range. Even with an extended trip, I averaged just under 50 MPG with the Volt. It’s purely a 4-passenger vehicle, but the Volt has good room in the back seat and luxury appointments throughout. The luxury touches differentiate it from the Leaf, which has more of an everyman feel. Of course those luxury touches include options that took the price of the Volt I drove from just under $40,000 to more than $45,000.
It’s a lifestyle choice. The Leaf is a solid second car, potentially a commuter and definitely a go-anywhere-around-town champ. The Volt can do all of that and adds the ability to throw in a long-distance trip (250 miles round trip in my case) as well. Beyond functionality, the Volt does have more luxury appointments and imparts a more upscale aura. It’s not surprising the two models have become the poster children for the move to electric drive.
9. 2013 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI – a highway cruiser, SUV substitute. Let’s get this out of the way first. I really like diesels. Yes, the fuel is typically more expensive than gasoline. Yes, the stations are a little harder to find. Yes, the engines make a little more noise. But look what they offer in return for these “inconveniences” – great, consistent fuel economy, turbocharged power and, in the wagon version, a luggage-gobbling vehicle that keeps a sedan profile and road manners.
So, Volkswagen in the not-too-distant past had a period when it was known as the “diesel Rabbit” company since that was its best-selling (and almost only) product in the U.S. Those diesels, for those who remember them, were very fuel efficient, but also slow, loud and smelly. Thankfully, as VW enters a new diesel era, those attributes are, like the Rabbit diesel, a thing of the past. Today’s diesels, such as the Jetta Sportwagen TDI I drove, have great highway manners and are smooth around-town performers as well. It’s not hard to see why the vast majority (more than 80 percent) of Sportwagen’s leaving American showrooms sport TDI engines. My test model featured a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, black leatherette interior and a panoramic sunroof. At its heart (and soul, when you think about it) was a 2-liter, 140-horsepower, 236 lb-ft of torque four-cylinder diesel engine. As sweet as this engine is, delivering a consistent mid-40s MPG on the highway, VW is about to replace it next year. The new model will be smaller and lighter, get better fuel economy but produce more power and have even lower emissions.
The lack of options on my test Jetta kept its price down ($28,390 including destination charges), but other than an HVAC system that seemed overmatched by the California-Nevada deserts even in springtime, it didn’t seem to be missing much. The car was a comfortable highway cruiser, topping its EPA 42 MPG highway regularly even with the speedometer pegged between 75 and 80. Around town it delivered the 34 MPG as advertised and offers the height of functionality in a compact package.
10. 2013 Smart ED – finally getting it right. Up front, I should disclose that I owned a gasoline Smart for several years. I had no issues with the car, although it was limited in use because of its size. Smart cars are not long-distance highway runners and with only room for one passenger and several grocery bags, taking one on a Costco run would only end in frustration. So, in some ways, the Smart is one of the most logical cars to turn into an EV. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that its design from the beginning is suited for electric drive and other alternatives. Daimler AG’s decision to electrify the Smart makes sense since it already has limitations like most EVs – it’s primarily a city car built around short trips, tight parking places and fuel economy-minded individuals.
The Smart ED I drove this year represented the third generation of the electric Smarts, one that finally appears to have nailed it. The first round used zinc-based batteries that caused a variety of issues, according to reports at the time. The second generation, which I drove last year, leveraged Daimler’s relationship with Tesla for battery management and related technology. My brief drive at the time left me wondering whether Tesla really would make it (a concern since answered by the company’s solid performance this year). It lacked power, was wholly inadequate on the highway and just seemed ill-suited for anything but short, flat city drives.
Thankfully, the third generation of one the most oddly named (check out the disambiguation under “health”) cars on the market appears to have things sorted out. Daimler has again changed batteries (now a 17.6 kWh package from Deutsche ACCUmotive) and uses a 55 kW electric motor that I am happy to report from a short drive is more than adequate to California’s typical roads. Though only boasting a 60-80 mile range and costing almost double the gas version of the Smart, the Smart ED deserves a look for those into a city car lifestyle. The range is not an issue running around most urban areas and Smart is already running discount deals like the other EV makers.
Small but finally right.
That’s my 10 best, most-interesting vehicles of the year that I had the pleasure of piloting. It is not everything I have driven or written about and unfortunately one of the downsides of this kind of format is that some deserving cars get left off for no reason other than they’re the 11th or 12th most interesting cars of the year. In a field with the potential of hundreds of vehicles, ranking that “low” is not really a negative mark, so here are a couple just below the Top 10.
One that my colleague John Faulkner has had a chance to evaluate fully is the Jetta Hybrid. I was fascinated by the technology involved. Unlike many other hybrids out there, the Jetta focuses not only on fuel economy (which it delivers quite well, though I was never able to equal the EPA highway or combined ratings of 48 and 40 MPG) but also on performance. The turbocharged engine delivers great low-end torque and also was responsive throughout the powerband. Jetta’s hybrid features aggressive regenerative braking a feature that was unnerving at first – coasting on the highway the engine will shut off, then instantly restart whenever you touch the accelerator.
Another model that didn’t make my list, but is worth mentioning in a positive light is the latest version of the Honda Civic Natural Gas. Having been in earlier versions of the Civic GX, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. The experience was just the opposite. The Civic running on natural gas was as close to a gasoline Civic as one could expect. Filling up on CNG is getting easier as well, though I still consider this model as much of a challenge as an EV and in some ways even more because of lack of development of a home refueling infrastructure.
Those two are relatively easy (and I could probably expand the list as well), but there were also two vehicles I experienced this year that not only would not make my Top 10 list, they would be unlikely to end up on my recommended list at all. That said, both vehicles have their adherents. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Prius c are two vehicles that live at the bottom, price-wise of their respective classes. Unfortunately, my experience with them only reinforces that sometimes you get what you pay for.
The i-MiEV is the adaptation of a Japanese market vehicle and while the changes for this country are noticeable and positive, it’s not enough to make this a competitive vehicle among electrics. With the price wars, EV affordability has become something of a level playing field and Mitsubishi’s competitors offer much more in vehicle comfort and features. It’s not that the i-MiEV is not a competent and functional electric car. It works, but acceleration lacks what is found on the Fiat 500e or RAV4 EV. Its steering is somewhat vague after driving European or most American sedans. If there were no other EVs out there or no other price competitive EVs, you could probably make a case for the i-MiEV, but that is not the case.
The smaller Prius – less is less
My time in the Prius c was limited, but I did get a chance to give it a pretty thorough challenge on the road, heading up over the Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley and hitting some high-speed roads around Monterey. The “c,” which adopted the Prius name even though it is based on the smaller Yaris platform, is a compact car based on the EPA’s interior volume characterization, but it feels more like a subcompact. Toyota advertises the “c” as the “snug Prius,” which I can’t argue with. It’s small and has a proportionately small engine that didn’t appreciate the extreme grade I pushed it up. Handling also seemed kind of soft, but not out of line for Toyota’s approach to the U.S. market.
The Prius c’s main appeal seems to be its low price. Since its introduction, the “c” has been the entry-level Prius, allowing the larger original Prius to move upward in price and options. It does deliver on fuel economy, but for me the sacrifice in performance and space is not worth the meager savings.
My final category is a twofer – the prototypes I’ve driven and the ones I’m looking forward to in the coming year, some of which are the same. First up is the E-Golf, which I’ve driven in several prototype forms over the past couple years. The models I’ve driven seemed ready to head to the showroom, but it will probably be late next year before the electric Golf shows up on these shores. I did take a short drive in the Chevy Spark EV (and John Faulkner gave it a full review). I plan to put some time in one soon to see how it fits in the developing hierarchy of electric cars. My initial impression is pretty positive. Of course, high on my list of unobtainium is the Tesla Model S. I have a neighbor with one and see them daily (haven’t seen one on fire yet–that’s a joke, Elon), but haven’t given one a proper test, although again all reports I’ve seen and heard have been quite positive. And add the new fuel cell Hyundai Tucson that goes on sale this spring. And I’m sure there will be some good surprises as well. Happy New Year, indeed!
Story & Photos by Michael Coates
Posted Dec. 30, 2013
Other related stories you might enjoy:
Top 10 Best-Selling High MPG Cars of 2013
Top 10 Best Fuel Economy Cars of 2014
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Cars Go On Sale in 2014
2014 Chevy Spark EV
Chevrolet’s Minicar Offers More Torque Than a Ferrari 458 Italia
But don’t expect any cross-shopping between the two
General Motors’ website provides their Electric Vehicle Information under the Emerging Technology link, grouped with their progress on Autonomous Driving Vehicles and Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Since modern EV technology has been available to US consumers since 2009, with the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt selling more than 50,000 cars since then, it seems curious why EV would be listed as “emerging technology.” And that doesn’t even count the electric vehicles that have been rolling off production lines for more than 100 years. Maybe this is GM telling us they are not so sure about electric vehicles since they lump them with self-driving cars and hydrogen vehicles, which seem in 2013 to be still far-off concepts? This got me to thinking if it would affect the amount of attention they gave their sole pure electric vehicle, the 2014 Spark. Fortunately, it looks like my concerns are unfounded by a long shot.
The 2014 Spark EV is currently (November 2013) only available in California and Oregon and comes with a warning that there is very little dealer support outside of these states. Don’t mess with The General! The Spark, which also comes in a gasoline version, is classified as a minicar, sometimes also referenced as city, urban or sub-compact. Similar diminutive cars are the Scion iQ, Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris and Smart, to name a few.
I was driving the 2014 Spark EV 2LT powered by a plug-in, 140 hp, 105 kW AC permanent-magnet electric motor delivering 400 lb-ft of torque at from the moment you hit the accelerator (no gas pedal, remember). So what does this get you? Coming off the line it is easy to spin the tires and gets you to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds. Top speed is rated at 90 mph and with the 21 kWh Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, driving range is about 82 miles. Of course using the 400 lb-ft of torque and going 90 mph will give you significantly less driving distance. In normal driving conditions, where coasting and applying the brakes regenerates electricity back into the Li-ion battery, you should be able to drive many more than 82 miles, with 100+ miles a realistic expectation.
Charging and Driving Overview
Spark EV Up Front Charging
Before even considering shopping for an EV you have to evaluate your lifestyle and driving pattern. Let’s look at what GM says in the Spark EV Owner’s Manual:
“In order to maximize range, fully charge the battery at each charge event. It is not recommended to partially charge the battery.”
In simple terms, for example with a starting driving range of 90 miles on the dash gauge, a daily commute up-to 45 miles one way and the ability to plug in while at work will get you home again with ease. If at any time you are coasting or applying the brakes during this commute then you would not need to plug in for very long while at work. Then on the weekends where you would most likely drive less than your work commute distance, the end result is never having to ever buy gasoline again. If you are budgeting $250 – $400 monthly on gasoline, owning the Spark EV will bring a giant smile to your face when passing gas stations.
In addition to the regenerative braking, the primary method to recharge the batteries are these options:
120V 17 hours: discharged to a full charge
240V 7 hours: discharged to a full charge
480V 20 minutes: discharged to an 80% charge
Here then is the Must Do when driving an EV: Always know how far you are driving until you can get to a power source and always have your batteries fully charged before venturing out.
The days of pulling off the freeway and filling-up your tank with 15 gallons of 87 octane are over. You must do the math before pushing the Start button! But what if you have an emergency and the dash gauges are flashing imminent doom of zero battery charge? If you are in California and a AAA member, you can request one of their service vehicles equipped with a 480V generator to come out and give you a charge. Just like having them dump a 5 gallon can into your gas tank, this emergency charge will get you to a power source for a full charge. Please do AAA and yourself a favor, though, and don’t rely on this roadside service as part of your travel plans.
Driving Experience: Interior
Plain and simple: I like this car. The Spark EV 2LT came with a surprising list of options such as ten airbags, a seven-inch color Driver Information Center (DIC) where you will find MyLink featuring SiriusXM, Bluetooth and
Spark Dash Spouts Info
hands-free smartphone integration. Also on the DIC are the climate settings and multiple read-outs for the battery charge status, battery life, driving range electricity usage, plus it has a nifty graphic to show when you are using electricity or putting it back in through the regenerative braking system. The DIC will keep you informed and entertained and is located top dead center in the dash for easy viewing.
The car in 2LT trim has leatherette seats (they look and feel better than it sounds), tilt steering wheel, power windows, door locks, and mirrors and a cabin air filtration system. The audio system is GM’s 6-speaker Premium Sound unit, which sounded pretty good, and also includes a USB port. On a personal note, how about knobs for channel and volume tuning instead of the touch screen?
You also have OnStar where the push of a button connects you with a friendly GM representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable.
With the Spark EV designed for short city driving trips, the front bucket seats are comfortable, but could use additional leg bolstering for more support. The rear seat easily handles two full size adults, but is a tight squeeze for your feet getting in-and-out. The rear bench seat splits 60/40 and has a handy center console. And even though it’s a minicar, there is room behind the rear seat for several grocery bags.
I did find a few things curious, such as the horn honking every time the brights are flashed, a very noticeable “click” when the power door locks engage and a mechanical “clunk” when setting/releasing the Electric Parking Brake. These little things are not purchase-decision deal breakers, but seemingly could be easily remedied to raise the overall impression of the car a bit higher.
Driving Experience: On The Road
This car is quick, whether it is from a standing start or at speed when accelerating to pass, and that is in the regular drive mode. For more oomph you can press the Sport mode button that pumps out even more torque, but at the expense of battery charge and driving distance.
The Spark EV 2LT comes with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), remote start, ABS, 15” aluminum wheels, traction and Electronic Stability Control. So how does all this technology affect the drive? The Spark EV handles with a very tight turning radius and loves a sharp corner, all helped by the low center of gravity due to the batteries being located under the seats. But what makes for good handling comes at the expense of the ride, which can be harsh due to the stiffly sprung suspension designed to accommodate the 620 pound increase in weight from the Spark EV’s gasoline sibling.
I was driving the 2014 Spark EV 2LT, which included all available options on this four-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback, priced at $27,820 including the $810 destination charge. The Spark EV qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce the final cost up to $10,000 in California. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Spark EV purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits and how they may benefit you. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.
Spark EV base pricing before any Federal or State tax credit programs, but including the $810 Destination Charge is:
Model EV 1LT $27,495
Model EV 2LT $27,820
Also worth noting is that in California the car qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State.
The 2014 Spark EV comes with these warranties:
Basic: 3 years/36,000 miles
Battery: 8 years/100,000 miles
Drivetrain: 5 years/100,000 miles
Roadside Assistance: 5 years/100,000 miles
Bumper-To-Bumper: 3 years/36,000 miles
Scheduled Maintenance: 2 years/24,000 miles
Observations: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV 2LT
The Clean Fleet Report staff gets asked this question frequently: “Is an electric car right for me?” The decision to purchase an EV begins with your lifestyle and driving patterns:
• Is your driving range compatible with an EV’s limitations?
• Do you have access to an electrical outlet to plug-in at your destination?
• For trips longer than 75 miles one way, do you have access to a conventionally powered vehicle, such as gasoline, diesel or hybrid?
If these three can be checked off, then the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV could be on your shopping list. The car handles great, seats four adults comfortably, has all the creature comfort options found in more expensive cars and is
2014 Spark EV
attractively priced, especially considering you will never buy gasoline ever, ever again. Wow, saying that out loud leaves a nice taste in your mouth!
Enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Other related stories you might enjoy:
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future
How To Find The Best Price For An Electric Car
Fiat 500e Road Test
2013 Nissan Leaf
This electric car is not for everyone, but it’s a great car for more folks than you would think
Nissan may be the most honest car company out there today because you will actually hear them say that the 2013 Leaf may not be the right car for you. What is this, a Miracle on 34th Street Gimbles and Macy’s lovefest?
So if the Leaf isn’t for everyone, who is it for and are you one of those that should own one? This is where the fun begins because if your lifestyle and driving pattern falls within the Leaf’s sweet spot, then the answer is a resounding–YES!
If you are not familiar with plug-in technology let’s lay down some basics:
• There is no engine so there are no tune-ups, filters and belts to change, oil to check or add, etc.
• There is single-speed transmission so there are no fluids or filters to service
• You will never, ever buy any type of petroleum product to make the Leaf go down the street
That last one is a doozy and should get your attention, especially if you are currently spending $300 – $500 monthly on gasoline for your work commute and around town driving. So with all this great news, what do you need to know since Nissan has already said the Leaf may not be right for you?
The single biggest consideration is how far you drive daily and, secondly, if you can you recharge the battery at your destination. It doesn’t sound like much, but these factors are no small thing when owning a plug-in car. Your days of leaving the house with a 1/4 tank of gas knowing you can stop and fill the tank at hundreds of stations in mere minutes are over. If you run out of electricity in the Leaf you will need to find a charging station and wait until the car has sufficient battery charge to get you to your destination (or back home). Is this enough to scare you away from considering owning a Leaf? Let’s talk about the car and what to consider before pushing the start button, then we will come back to whether a Leaf should be in your garage.
The 2013 Leaf is the second generation model; the first was introduced in the USA in December 2010. It has a 24kWh Lithium-Ion battery (Li-ion for short) powering an 80 kW AC Synchronous motor with 107 horsepower. Charging the Li-ion battery is accomplished through a regenerative braking system and two plug-in ports offering three charging speeds:
Nissan Gets Charged Up
• Trickle 110V 21 hours: Discharged to a full charge
• Normal 220V 4 – 7 hours: Discharged to a full charge
• Quick 480V 30 minutes: Discharged to an 80% charge
The regenerative braking system converts braking or coasting into electricity, which is stored in the battery. You will come to enjoy monitoring the battery charge and mileage range (metered almost instantly with dashboard gauges) when driving around town or coasting down hills. It is quite common to start an in-town journey, of stop-and-go driving, to return with more or only a few miles depleted from the beginning range. However, where the regenerative braking system does not offer any help in charging the battery or adding to the driving range is when on the freeway. Cruising along at 55 – 65mph over an extended period will result in the battery charge and driving range decreasing right before your eyes. And if you decide to drive like everyone else on the freeways (at least in SoCal where I live) then you will be driving 75 – 85mph, which has a decidedly negative effect on your battery charge and driving range.
So how do you drive a Leaf? The first goal is to keep it fully charged before taking any trip of length. Then, before even getting into the car, you must calculate the distance you will be driving before you would have the ability and time to plug-in again. It could go something like this…
You leave for work in the morning, commuting one way 45 miles, with 95 miles driving range. When at work you can plug-in at the trickle charge or 110V level for eight hours. You will get approximately 45 miles over this period put back into the driving range which means your return home commute is completely covered. This scenario does not account for any stop-and-go traffic which could result in driving miles being added through the regenerative braking system; if you hit enough slow traffic, you will have used very few miles of the original 95 you started with.
If this sounds close to your five-day-a-week routine, then you could replace your current car and never, ever have to stop at a gas station again. And since your weekend miles are most likely fewer than your daily commute, the Leaf would deliver miles and miles with no out of pocket (gasoline) fuel expense. But what to do when you need to drive someplace further than the Leaf can accommodate?
1) Suddenly, the Leaf becomes your “second” car
2) Rent a car
3) You sign-up for Nissan’s One-To-One Rewards Program where your dealer may provide a set number of days in a conventionally powered Nissan car. Note: Not all Nissan dealers participate in this program and each have different loaner car policies. Shopping between dealers to see which one in your area offers the most desirable One-To-One Rewards Program benefits should be part of your Leaf purchase research
One other safety net if you live in California and are a AAA member (check your state’s local AAA club) is that you can get an emergency Quick charge from one of their service trucks. Just like if you ran out of gasoline and AAA dumped a five gallon can in your tank, select AAA trucks are equipped with the 480V generator that will give you about 20 miles driving to get you to a dealer or other charge station. Please, though, do not rely on AAA to get you to your destination – just plan better.
When taking delivery at the dealership there is a 2+ hour education and introduction process provided by a factory-trained Leaf Specialist. You learn about all the systems, charging, driving and safety aspects of owning an all-electric vehicle. So rather than try and go over everything you would learn in that session, let’s hit some of the basics to give you a feel for the car and it’s technology.
I was driving the fully optioned SL model which came with the three charging options listed above, hard drive-based navigation with voice activation in a 7-inch color LCD display, Bluetooth, Bose Premium 7-speaker audio system with USB, Pandora link and Sirius XM, Homelink and Intelligent Key, which allows for locking/unlocking the front doors with the push of a button on the door handle.
The SL model has all the comfort and safety features you would expect on a nicely optioned car such as front, side and roof-mounted (curtain) Air Bags, anti-theft alarm system with engine immobilizer, heated front (bucket) and rear (bench) leather appointed seats, 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, split-folding rear seatback, heated and tilting steering wheel, power and heated outside mirrors, power door locks and one-touch power windows, rear view camera, fog lights, LED headlights and a Photovoltaic solar panel (for charging the 12V battery) mounted on the roof spoiler.
Nissan also has a technology called Carwings Telematics which allows, from a smart phone, to remotely check your battery charge and estimated driving range, begin and end charging (with a Timer function) and activate the climate control system.
The 2013 Leaf comes with three warranties:
Basic: 3 year/36,000 miles
Battery: 8 year/100,000 miles
Drivetrain: 5 year/60,000 miles
The Leaf SL comes with 17-inch 5-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, MacPherson independent strut front suspension and torsion beams in the rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends, electronic stability and traction control. Combine this with a low center of gravity, because the batteries are under the seats, and this car handles very well. The tight turning radius of 17 feet handles most neighborhood streets without resorting to a three-point turn.
Regenerative braking systems can sometimes be grabby as they are not only stopping the car but converting energy to electricity. The Leaf’s four-wheel antilock disc brakes (with ABS) stopped straight and true.
The Leaf gets-up-and-goes with smooth acceleration and 100 percent torque at any speed through the direct drive transmission. Merging onto SoCal freeways and getting up to 65 mph were not an issue. Once cruising at freeway speeds the Leaf is quiet, more like silent, and smooth with only minor wind noise. The low 0.29 drag coefficient comes from underbody flat panels, a rear roof spoiler and those “bug” headlights that are designed to redirect the airflow away from the car. The result of all this with the lightweight wheels and low-rolling resistance tires delivers a combined city and freeway EPA MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) of 116: 130 city / 102 highway.
At slow speeds the Leaf emits a whirring sound to alert pedestrians that this completely silent car is nearby. In reverse, a pleasant version of the annoying beeper found on delivery trucks lets people know the Leaf is backing up. Both are very useful as driving an all-electric car includes the responsibility of realizing that no one knows you are there and that you need to protect them.
Finding a comfortable seating position with the 6-way adjustable driver’s seat and adjustable steering wheel was easy. Headroom in the front is ample, even for the tallest drivers. The front bucket/rear bench seats can
Leaf’s Dash Is Full of Useful Data
accommodate four adults with good head and leg room. The large glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. The cabin environment is as quiet as the exterior.
Pushing the start button results in a pleasant chime that lets you know the car is ready to be driven. The two level dash layout includes all the gauges necessary to monitor driving range and battery charge levels with the video screen centered for easy reach and viewing. The gear selector is a round knob in the center console that gives you three options – Park, Drive and Reverse – and is operated similar to a joystick. You can also shift into B-Mode where the regenerative braking force and brake response are increased. Nissan has designed a simple-to-understand and use cockpit with all buttons, knobs and switches within easy reach.
When you look at the Leaf one thing comes to mind: aerodynamics. This car was built to slip through the wind with the least amount of resistance. Most critical comments center around the headlight design, but just like the Mini dash and the Juke front end, all styling tastes are personal and you will either like the Leaf headlights or not. Otherwise, the car has an identifiable contemporary shape with four doors and rear hatch, with the charging door on the nose.
The 2013 Leaf I was driving was the fully optioned SL model with a MSRP of $36,910, which included a $850 Destination Charge. Depending where you live and your taxable income, you could potentially reduce your final cost by as much as $10,000 through Federal and State programs. It is recommended contacting your CPA before considering a Leaf purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.
Leaf pricing before any Federal or State tax programs, but including the destination charge of $850 is:
Model S $29,650
Model SV $32,670
Model SL $35,690
For those in California, the Leaf automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker, which allows driving in the carpool lane solo. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Leaf just for this benefit.
Observations: 2013 Nissan Leaf SL
The Leaf drives and handles as good, or better, than a conventionally powered car and is very, very quiet. Therefore, placing it on your shopping list comes down to how far do you drive and whether this would be your primary vehicle. If you fall into that 90-mile round trip daily (or one way with a charging station) driving range, then the Leaf should be seriously considered.
You will enjoy the smooth ride with tight turning and the instant torque at any speed. The Leaf delivers a comfortable ride experience with peppy acceleration.
What you will fully enjoy and embrace is whizzing by gas stations and not having to pay attention to the odometer for your next oil change or major service appointment.
There is much debate on whether owning an electric or hybrid vehicle makes financial sense, and the payback timeline. Early EV and hybrid owners were trendsetters, but that has all changed. Because of improved range and technological advances, consumers today are buying an EV or hybrid because of their drivability, comfort, performance and of course, their low impact on the environment and the idea of reducing imported fossil fuels. This “Statement Ownership” has been recognized and encouraged by the government through tax breaks on electric vehicles and home fast charging systems.
So, where do you fit in as a future EV owner? If the majority of your driving is the in-town or short freeway jaunts and you have access to a conventionally powered car, then you are the perfect candidate to purchase an EV. Make sure to take a lengthy test drive, which replicates your longest and most common trip, as this is the only way to truly see if the Nissan Leaf is right for your lifestyle.
And of course…Happy Driving!
The Socal Selling Point for the Leaf
For related stories, check out:
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segments Future
California Helps Drivers Plug-in and Replace Clunkers
How To Find the Best Price For an Electric Car
Great organizations are improving employee productivity, increasing retention of key people, and often saving millions of dollars annually. We admire corporations that contribute to the triple bottom line: people, profits, and planet. Flexible work and flexible transportation programs are enabling great employers to achieve all three.
In the Oil and Coal Age, everyone drove solo during gridlock hours to their one work location to toil over their designated machine. Now people are most effective working some days at one location, other times at home, others at a customer or supplier location. We are becoming increasingly flexible and mobile. We can take advantage of the new flexible workplace solutions to annually save hundreds of wasted hours, thousands of gallons of wasted gas, and pocket thousands of dollars.
Currently, over 2,500 Applied Materials employees participate in Applied Anywhere, a comprehensive flexible work location program.
The semiconductor chips in your computers, electronic games, solar panels, and mobile devices are likely to be made with equipment from Applied Materials. Their flexible work location program, Applied Anywhere, addresses their global business environment and provides agility to be closer to the customer as well as supporting the needs of many employees who perform some or their entire job outside the traditional office place. Applied Anywhere supports eligible employees that at different times may need to work from one of several corporate offices, at home, at an airport, or at a customer site.
Ann Zis, a Senior Program Manager for Applied, explained that the program has made global teams more effective, reduced commute hours, increased productivity, and saved gas miles.
The new workforce is mobile; at times working at their office, other times at home, other times at a customer site. Effective mobile working often requires wireless services, Internet services, IP telephony, security, laptops, and a variety of mobile devices. Hundreds of technology companies are benefiting from mobile work include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Nokia, Google, Yahoo, and Symantec.
Flexible work allows millions to travel less. Flexible transportation can enable most employees to save money and fuel when they do travel. 93% of all U.S. car trips are with only one person in the vehicle. The picture is better with work related travel. 12% share rides and 5% use public transit.
Your employer may pay you $1,380 per year, tax free, to use flexible transportation. The IRS allows ridesharing, public transit, and other creative commute options to be reimbursed up to $115 per month tax free in 2008, increased from $110 in 2007. Check-out the commute programs offered by your employer. Investigate regional transit and ridesharing programs. You could save a bundle.
37% of Yahoo! headquarters employees get to work without driving solo, reported Danielle Bricker with Yahoo during my interview with her. Yahoo’s Commute Alternatives Program is comprehensive, popular, and getting results.
As one of two dedicated Commute Coordinators at Yahoo, Danielle practices what she preaches. For four years, she has commuted 90-miles daily without owning a car. She commutes by train, walking to the station at one end, and boarding a Yahoo shuttle for the last mile to work. Living in San Francisco, Daniel will occasionally use CityCarShare to travel a distance at night, or when shopping at multiple locations requires carrying heavier loads.
Yahoo provides employees with free Eco-Passes for bus and light rail on VTA, the area’s rapid transit provider. Employees may also order online discounted passes for other public transit providers. Yahoo has achieved high ridership on public buses, light rail and trains by providing shuttle buses to take its employees to and from major transit stops such as Caltrain and Amtrak. Several full-size contracted buses transport employees to and from their homes in San Francisco.
These buses run on B20 biodiesel. Yahoo further reduces its carbon foot print by using locally grown food for 40% of its cafeteria meals. Cafeteria waste is used for biodiesel production.
Yahoo makes it easy for people to ride together. Yahoo has an intranet site where people can locate other employees near their homes for carpooling. There are special events, education, lunch-and-learns, and weekly education to encourage the growing use of Yahoo’s Commute Alternatives Program. These people use Yahoo!Groups to communicate and stay informed. Some car pools, such as those in Santa Cruz, merged into van pools with one van carrying 15 people. The Santa Cruz van provided by Enterprise includes wi-fi, allowing people to email, Yahoo Message, and create when crawling in stop-and-go traffic.
A number of highways used by ride sharers have high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, allowing car and van poolers to fly by solo drivers stuck in traffic.
Yahoo encourages the use of a zero-emission vehicle owned by one billion people on this planet – the bicycle. Yahoo provides bicyclers with secure storage of their bikes. Free lockers and showers are available. To help people quickly navigate Yahoo’s campus of buildings, loaner bikes are also available.
Many of the Yahoo commuters are able to get extra work done using laptops and other mobile devices while commuting on transit.
Yahoo’s results are impressive, considering that Silicon Valley workers live widely dispersed; many are forced to live miles from Silicon Valley so that they can live in affordable housing. Technologists work long and irregular hours, which makes ridesharing more challenging. Many Silicon Valley locations provide a long and uncomfortable walk in the dark to public transit.
Yahoo addresses these problems in a number of ways. One is that it provides a guaranteed ride home. Yahoo will pay for a late worker’s taxi or rental car. Commute program managers agree that a guaranteed ride home is critical to a commute program’s success. All agreed that employees rarely use the guarantee, making the cost minimal.
Yahoo rewards – employees who come to work without driving alone are rewarded with free lunches, movie tickets and massages. For her tireless work in making the program a success, Danielle Bricker was nominated by fellow employees for one of Yahoo’s most prestigious awards. Out of 14,000 employees, she was recognized with the Super Star Award.
Yahoo’s flexible transportation programs reflect the organization’s commitment to make a difference. Yahoo! is carbon neutral by offsetting its 250,000 metric ton carbon footprint (from 2006) through hydropower in rural Brazil and wind turbines in India.
Each month, a growing wealth of information and solutions to the global warming problem are available to Yahoo’s 500 million users at Yahoo Green.
By taking a carbon neutral approach, Yahoo goes beyond a simple commute program. Yahoo looks for ways to eliminate unnecessary employee trips. Yahoo’s high-tech flexible work allows people to work at home and other locations when appropriate. Employees manage their own work hours, allowing them to avoid the crawl of gridlock hours. When at Yahoo headquarters, employees can take advantage of on-site services to avoid running errands and traveling off-site for meals. Yahoo succeeds in the triple bottom line of people, profits, and planet.
Effective organizations have gone far beyond having a few employees telecommute. Flexible work is created so that all unnecessary travel is eliminated. Global teams of employees, partners, and customers use the new Internet to effectively work together without always being together in the same building. Solo gridlock commutes are replaced with more healthy and productive travel where mobile work can be done while ride sharing and using public transportation.
Flexible work and flexible travel are greatly helping people to be more productive, save money, and help us achieve energy independence.
Copyright © 2007 John Addison. This article is part of John Addison’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report