I’ve been driving this car for about six months now.
It’s electric blue and you have to plug in it.
The e-Golf is a 100% electric, no-gas version of Volkswagen’s Golf. The Golf as a line of cars traces its heritage back to 1974, when it was born as the four-door successor to the beetle.
I love it.
But before we talk electric, why I did it, and how it all works day-to-day for six months, let’s talk gas.
My previous car was a red 2011 Volkswagen GTI. The GTI is VW’s sports-version of the Golf.
It’s the same body, but they lower the suspension, put on sport tires, add a more powerful engine and appoint it with these amazing plaid seats.
The GTI is a fast, fun-to-drive car that easily outperforms a 1987 Chevy Corvette in both top-speed and 0–60 acceleration.
Why did I just compare it to a 1987 Corvette? Well, that’s what my Dad had when I was in high school. It was the coolest car I had ever seen. I’ll never forget the feeling when my dad said to 14-year-old me, “Pat, come to the garage.” When I saw it for the first time, I though I am going to have a car like this when I grow up.
But the reality is, perhaps thankfully, we don’t grow up to be exactly like our fathers. For me, my love of American Muscle wained and I wanted something a little more practical.
You can’t fit a family of three in a Corvette. You can’t fit an old EM pinball machine in a Corvette. You can’t really even park a Corvette anywhere without constantly worrying about it being stolen or scratched or keyed.
You can’t drive a Corvette down the street with a little grey in your beard (like I have) without people either assuming you’re going through a midlife crisis (I probably am) or are some sort or a time-traveller (I’m probably not).
I didn’t (and still don’t) want a car that sticks out and screams “Look at me! Look at me! I’ve got a cool car! Look at me!”
I’m not my dad.
You can drive a small four-door german hatchback around Portland, Oregon and be completely invisible (in fact, the only car that might by more invisible is a Subaru Forester — my wife’s car).
So, at the ripe old age of 37, when I finally broke down and bought my first ever brand new, just-for-me, car, the GTI made a lot of sense — as fast and sporty as my Dad’s Corvette ever was, but not as showy and way more practical.
I loved that car.
I’d never driven something that fast, that sporty on a regular basis. I’d never had the new car smell. I thought it’d be the last car I ever bought. I thought, “this will be a great car to hand down to my son — in 10 years.”
But you can’t stay young forever?
In Oregon, you don’t need emissions testing on new cars; they’re certified ‘okay’ for the first four years. So four years came and I got a letter in the mail from the DMV that I had to go to the DEQ.
I’m crazy, incredibly, weirdly busy-lazy.
Just the thought of figuring out a time during the week to drive out to the DEQ felt like a chore I really didn’t want to do. The actual process of doing the test didn’t bother me, as much as the idea that I’d have to figure out when to do the testing. Like a kid having to clean his room.
Now, I totally believe in what the DEQ is doing and the laws behind it; we should make sure there aren’t cars out on the road just spewing poison into the air. We kinda need it to breathe, and clean air makes living and raising a family in Oregon great. But I really didn’t feel like going.
So, instead what if I got a car that meant I never had to go to the DEQ ever again?
An e-Golf has zero emissions, which means never having to go to the DEQ.
“Let’s go out to the VW dealer,” I told my wife on a Saturday morning.
“Um, why?” She asked, kinda already knowing the answer. (I mean, we have been married over 10 years.)
“I want to look at the e-Golfs, they have ‘em out in Beaverton.”
“Are we doing this because you got that DEQ letter? You’re not really going to buy a new car because of that, are you?
“Um… no, of course not.”
Like I said, she knows me.
What other cars could I drive instead?
Now this isn’t the first time I’ve toyed with getting a “greener” car.
I’ve looked at or considered most of them over the years. But they always fall flat for me. I wish I was a better person, but at the end of the day, I value fun-to-driveness in a car a little over saving-the-earthness.
We rented a Toyota Prius once when we were visiting my dad in Florida, thinking we’d potentially get on that bandwagon. But, those things drive like crap — they’re anemic cars with horrible, mushy handling. They have an interior that feels like someone was instructed to make a Star Trek: The Next Generation shuttle with bamboo and recycled plastic bottles, but had never actually watched an episode of Star Trek, or touched bamboo.
Priuses have a little TV in them that constantly show a bad ‘80s video game about managing nuclear power plant. There’s a diagram showing you which engine is in use (gas or electric), and how much recycled energy is being sent from the tires to the batteries.
I feel like the Prius is constantly constantly giving you a handjob about how great you are inside the car, while it’s space-age shape lets everybody driving past you know that you care about the world around you more than they do.
That’s great if that’s what you want, if you ultimately don’t really care about how well a car drives and handles, are amused by the regeneration animation or you do want to project that message to the world, but it’s just not for me.
I feel like at this point I should maybe apologize to all my friends who have Priuses — and I have a lot of them — sorry, friends. I still love you, I’m just not that into your car.
I sat in one and it had one of those crazy dashboards and felt cheap and crappy inside. And they look silly on the outside. It took the design ideas behind the Prius and tried to out do them, but failed.
Tesla Model S
Why wouldn’t I get a Tesla? Well, a couple of reasons.
The first and easy one is price. I just can’t bring myself to spend that much money on a car. The retail price is twice that of an eGolf.
And if I did have that much money, would I feel like spending it in that way? No, I probably wouldn’t, and that’s the second reason:
A Tesla is more the modern-day equivalent of my Dad’s corvette.
In 1987, the cool car was a Corvette — it was a refined reaction to the mucle car and galmour expressed in the 70s and 80s.
Here in the 2010s, the cool car is a Tesla Model S — it’s a refined reaction to our 90s ecological concerns infused with the 2000's dot-com era.
But the thing is, I really don’t want to have a fancy car that people look at and go “Oh, look, there’s a Tesla. You know those cost like Eighty Grand?!”
And like the Prius, the interior of a Tesla also is a little too much “You’re awesome! Save the earth!” for my tastes, with it’s crazy 17" iPad-like display with 3D-icons and graphs of battery usage.
The few people I do know who own them love them, so obviously Tesla is doing something right. And I love that they exist. Like Volvo has done for Safety, it’s important to have a car company determinedly pushing the industry forward through their own example.
But for me, I’m just not ready.
My buddy Matt seems to really like his, but for me it falls a little flat.
It just looks too much like “the car of the future” type thing, for me right now. I want a 4-door, regular car. A small car with those tiny rear doors that are hard for an adult to get into just doesn’t do it for me.
I’m also not very into BMW’s always-on-regeneration philosophy.
In an i3, when you let your foot off the gas, the cars begins transferring the energy from the wheels back into the battery, automatically slowing the car with it’s regenerative breaks.
This means you can’t coast. And I love coasting.
I want to let my foot off the gas and have the car just glide on its own inertia. In the GTI, I’d pop it into Neutral and glide downhill, exploring with inertia the hills and mountains of Oregon. I like letting the car slow naturally as I approach a stop.
The interior of the i3 is also a little too future for me, it’s got a mini version of the Tesla display, though arguably a little classier, it feels a little like someone had mounted a weird off-brand 9" Android tablet on the dash.
So this BMW, with all the inferred status that comes from owning a BMW, just wasn’t for me.
The Test Drive sold me.
So we got to the dealership and I was greeted by a sales guy’s Smile! Smile! Smile! “What can I help you with today?”
“I’m interested in test driving the e-Golf.”
“Oh. Okay,” he sounded so defeated, “let me go get Nick.”
Because the e-golfs were so new, there’s only two sales people trained on selling them. Nick was the one working that day. I had met Nick before; he use to work in service and decided to make the shift over to sales. He’s a good guy, and even better, didn’t treat me like an idiot. Nick use to have a GTI, too.
He photocopied my drivers license, like they do nowadays, and then we climbed in the car. “You can sit up front,” he said to my wife, and he generously took a seat in the back.
The interior is really nice. It didn’t have the plaid seats I loved, but everything else was an updated, nicer version of what I had in the GTI. It felt instantly familiar, but defintely new.
The gauges and displays all looked and responded better.
I backed out of the spot, using the fancy backup camera — it was fancy to me, but soon won’t be fancy to anyone. They’re going to be mandatory in all new cars come 2018. We pulled out of the lot and we were off.
“Hold on Nick,” I blurted out as I pushed the accelerator — don’t call it a gas pedal — to the floor. The car zoomed forward, throwing all three of us into the back of our seats. “Whoa!”
I was sold on the car right there. Here’s a car that felt nearly as good as my GTI. If anything, the lack of a stick shift made it feel more responsive, there was much less work for me to do to get going fast.
The e-Golf doesn’t have the top-speed of the GTI, nor is it technically as fast off the line, but it felt damn close. The electric motor is fast and responsive, and near linear. It’s very fun off the line. You can peel-out if you want.
So, I was sold.
I negotiated the trade on the GTI — which was just one payment from being paid off — and then leased the eGolf. I made the poor financial decision of rolling the cash from the GTI into the eGolf, but it meant my payments for the eGolf are only $99/mo.
Range Anxiety is actually a non-issue.
Okay, so here’s the deal with the eGolf. If you don’t turn on air-conditioning, you can get about a hundred miles “a tank.”
With A/C on, that drops to about 70.
I’ve never been a big air-conditioning person, I like the windows down all the way, and if it’s raining, at least a crack. So I’m seeing more of the 90 mile range before I have to think about charging.
When you get down to 18 miles left, the car starts going into a power-management mode, where it won’t let you turn on the AC full-blast, do hard accelerations and will start trying to generate as much power as it can. I’ve only entered this mode a handful of times in the last six months, each time it was me intentionally going “let’s see how low I can get it” and scaring my wife.
The biggest complaint I hear by people about electric cars is that the range is too small. “Oh, maybe when it gets like 300 miles, I’ll consider it.”
Three hundred miles is a lot of miles. Seattle to Portland is only 174 miles.
Most people don’t need 300 miles in their daily driving habits. I definitely don’t. A full charge on the car can actually last me over a week if I need it to; I live about 4 miles from work and with regular errand-running, that’s still way under the 100 miles I get.
If you live within 20 miles of work, you could still easily get by with a car that has a range of 100 miles, especially if you buy the $600 “fast charger.”
The car comes with a trickle charger (called a Level I) that plugs into a regular outlet and can fill the car from empty in about 20 hours. When I bought the car, though, I thought this wouldn’t be enough, so I went online and ordered a fancier charger (generally called a Level II) on Amazon that can fill it in 8 hours.
It takes a 220v like a clothes dryer would. It was easy enough to install and looks kinda cool in the garage.
There’s something kinda amazing feeling about having your own gas station in your garage. You get home, plug it in and next time you drive your car, you’ve got a full tank.
The funny thing is, based on my usage, I could have easily gotten away with just the trickle charger.
There are also Level III chargers that can fill 80% of your tank in 20 minutes. Nobody really gets these installed in their home. They run upwards and ten grand and are really designed to be the equivalent of gas stations.
I can make it to the beach, but really, only if I plan to stay there all day and pray I make it the whole way.
Living in Portland, a common thing Portland-types like to do is drive out to the shore. They call it the coast out here, but since I’m from New England, I still refer to it as the shore — and, yeah, that often confuses people.
My favorite place on the coast is Astoria, Oregon.
It’s where the Goonies was filmed, where my friend owns a dive bar, where I asked my wife to marry me, and, later, where we were married.
Asoria is 94.5 miles from my house. So, while technically within my range, it is at the very max of what even I’d feel comfortable going. So, if I did make it there, I’d need to plug it in right away.
Luckily, there’s a Level III charger between here and there, at about the 70 mile mark. Perfect! I can stop there, we can get out, do our business, get a snack, and get back into the car fifteen minutes later with plenty of juice to make it to Astoria, no problem.
Oh, but there’s a catch.
Those Level III chargers? The magic ones that can charge your car in 20 minutes? Well, they’re not all the same. While all based on the same technology (they charge the car with a fast DC current instead of the AC current most stuff runs on), they have different adapters.
There’s the Japanese standard: CHAdeMO.
There’s the German and American standard: Combo.
And there’s Telsa’s own implementation.
Imagine driving into a gas station and instead of finding gas, you find a slightly different gas that won’t actually work in your car (Diesel folks have this problem to a degree, but it is mitigated by much longer-range vehicles.) But it’s not even the gas, really, that’s the problem. Instead it’s the nozzle. You might be able to use the gas if you could get it, but the nozzle just won’t fit in your car’s hole.
The Nissan Leaf is the most popular all-electric in the states and has a several-year lead on the others, so there’s more CHAdeMOs than anything else. Tesla has been actively building out their own Supercharger-network, mostly in California, so that doesn’t help me. BMW and VW are building out theirs, but it’s slow. And all of these networks tend to be built along major highways, so not much help for going to Astoria.
I’m not sure when we’ll be at a place where they’ll be enough Level III chargers so you actually can treat them like gas stations, but it still seems quite a few years out.
I love my car, but I don’t leave town.
We’re lucky enough to be a two-car household, though. So none of the “can we make it to the beach” stuff actually affects me.
It’s really just an interesting math problem to consider.
My in-town, day-to-day life is perfectly suited for going electric. A hundred miles is plenty, really. I can charge every night if I want and it’s easy.
If you’re thinking an electric car might be for you, and it’s gonna be the only car you have access to, then you will either need more patience or be better adept at planning trips than I am.
But nowadays, with a Car2Go, ZipCar, GetARound and the regular car rentals being a Max ride away, I could see us being single-car electric and extending it with rentals when needed. But, as I said before, I’m kinda crazy, weirdly busy-lazy, and while that’s all very doable and not actually that hard, it’s more than I want to deal with.
There is something I really hate about this car.
When you get in the car the climate control is set to Auto at a temperature of 72° — and I hate it.
I don’t ever want the A/C on, especially in a car where you can see the guestimated milage go down by 20 miles by having it on.
I wish there was setting or a default you could set, but as far as I can tell (or the dealer could tell me) there isn’t.
The Life Electric
The first song I ever played in the car was Lightning Strike Rescue Op, that fun, wordless anthem for The Life Aquatic by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.
I love that song. And I love my car.
Like the song, the car is fun, full of energy, handles great and makes you feel like you’re going on fun adventures with every ride.