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Electric Car Road Trip — Zoomin’ In The USA (Part 2 of 3)

After switching cars in the morning, leaving the Nissan Leaf and picking up the blue BMW i3 REx, we prepared for the trip to Connecticut. As there would be more than one car travelling, the smaller i3 would be the cargo van, so we filled it with three suitcases and other smaller bags.

As noted at the top of Part 1 of this series, the idea for this series of articles came one night while discussing with Zach (Director of CleanTechnica) my upcoming trip to the US Northeast to visit relatives. He asked me:

Z – So, are you going to rent an EV while you are there?
J – Yeah, I thought about it, but it is really expensive, around twice as much as a regular Ford Focus rental…
Z – Really? Let me see if I can help you with that…

And so he did. After pulling some strings and connecting to the right people, Zach helped me to have not one, but two EVs for my two-week stay in the US, a red Nissan LEAF 30 kWh for the first days, followed by a blue BMW i3 REx with the new 33 kWh battery for the remainder of the journey.

By the way, my deepest appreciation to the people of Nissan USA and BMW USA for your dedication, professionalism, and sympathy in the vehicle delivery, assistance, and pickup process — you rock!

Day 5 — Switching Cars and Heading to Waterbury, Connecticut

After switching cars in the morning, leaving the Nissan LEAF and picking up the blue BMW i3 REx, we prepared for the trip to Connecticut. As there would be more than one car travelling, the smaller i3 would be the cargo van, so we filled it with three suitcases and other smaller bags.

After lunch, the battery was again charged and it showed a scarcely believable 150 miles (240 km) electric range! I hadn’t really driven the car a lot, so I was really doubtful of these numbers, but because the trip was only 105 miles (170 km), I thought it could be possible to reach Waterbury in only electric mode. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be many miles running on gas, I thought.

And off we went. Profiting from the mild temperatures (16ºC/60ºF), we left the A/C switched off. The initial miles of driving confirmed the different character of the BMW i3 — it had heavier steering and a sportier stance, it felt even smaller next to those 18-wheelers on the freeway, and the iDrive multimedia system was starting to get on my nerves, as the menus and button settings were less intuitive than the touchscreen system of the LEAF.

But those thoughts soon passed as we joined congested NYC traffic, where the handy size, instant torque, and kart-like drive of the i3 helped to explore the small spaces left in the compact traffic.

Soon after the George Washington Bridge, a silver Mercedes on our right side started honking at us. To our surprise, he was happily looking at the car and giving us thumbs up on it.

“Great Car!” he said.

It was the first (but not the last) time we saw the star-like attraction that the little i3 creates.

After a couple of scares (was it just me or are NYC drivers nuts?) and a lot of stop and go traffic, the I-95 finally was free of traffic and we reached cruising speed, where the i3 proved to be quite stable and powerful, even at speeds that could have been well above the legal limit.…

Stopping midway for some refreshments, a small kid with his parent pointed at the car and said: “Ooo, that thing looks like a toy car. Cool!!!”

Reaching close to our destination, we made a wrong turn and we tried another big plus of the car, a ridiculously small turning radius. Basically, we just turned the steering wheel completely and … voilá! We had switched to the other direction without any other maneuver. (Editor’s Note: I have enjoyed using this ridiculously small turning radius in a tight space as well — a lovable feature of the i3. :D)

We arrived home and in fact the car not only completed the whole trip in electric mode, but after 105 miles, most of it in highway speeds and some occasional A/C use towards the end of the trip, it still had 22 miles to spare.

Days 6, 7, 8 — Running around Connecticut

During these days visiting friends and family, the BMW i3 was a big attraction, with plenty of reactions:

  1. “What car is that? I never saw this BMW … it’s electric? Really? I didn’t know BMW made EVs.”
  2. “Wow, this thing can go! Mom, you should get one of these! (Father’s answer: “Yeah, but she likes to speed, with a thing like this, she would get speeding tickets everyday”)
  3. “Mmm … This is great as a commuter car.”
  4. “This BMW is electric? What is the range?”
  5. “Is there an electric minivan?” (Answer: There’s the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which has 30 miles electric range on top of the gas range). “Nice…”

The fact is that I didn’t see a lot of EVs around Connecticut. Besides the usual Teslas (around two per day), I only saw three Chevrolet Volts (One Gen 1 and two Gen 2), and … that’s it.

Where are all the Nissan LEAFs? Do they only exist in California? That’s what I kept wondering while driving around.

In this state, the people’s mindset regarding EVs isn’t much different from New Jersey. They divide electric cars into two categories. The first is Tesla, mentioning the brand coolness and the Autopilot as more important than the fact that the cars are electric. All other EVs fall in a second category, where they are pictured as slow, low range, and expensive.

The good thing of the BMW i3 is that is shatters two of the three previous preconceptions. Now, the price is a different story … and people still correlate price with size, so the little i3 suffers in that regard.

Regarding infrastructure, I took the opportunity to try a free 22 kW charger in New Haven, and I noticed that CCS fast chargers had better coverage (if not perfect) in Connecticut than CHAdeMO, which is virtually nonexistent in the state.

On the last night, after having dinner at some friends’ house, we arrived at the car and we saw three teenagers staring at the BMW from up close.

I switched on the car presence lights and the kids gave a step back, looking at us:

“Is it yours? It’s so cool! …”

After giving a small introduction to the car, they were surprised by the fact that it was electric and by the pickup truck–like doors.

When I started the car and started moving, one of them said:

“Hey, it doesn’t make a sound! Awesome…”

That night, we had a couple with us in the back seat and one of the people was 1.9 meters tall (6’3″). Despite this, he was surprisingly okay in the back, not only in height (hey, I didn’t hit the floor!), but also on knee space.

The i3 doesn’t stop surprising. Hell, even the iDrive system started to make sense!

Day 9 — Waterbury, Connecticut, to Westerly, Rhode Island

One would think an 85-mile trip would be an easy thing for the i3, right? And despite a cold (7ºC/45ºF) and rainy night, which reminded me of the worst of winter in Lisbon (Portugal), it actually was a fairly easy thing to do with the Bimmer. Despite being light and having rear-wheel drive, it didn’t have the smallest sign of aquaplaning. Instead, it behaved on the highway like a “grownup BMW” in these gruesome conditions.

Because the car wasn’t fully charged and the heating was permanently on, the last 10 miles were done using the range extender. Inside the car, the only difference was a hum coming from the back and a few vibrations, not much different from a regular gas car, but noticeable compared to the previously serene i3 loft.

Day 10 — Westerly, Rhode Island, to New Bedford, Massachusetts

Next was a 70-mile trip through some really scenic back roads of Rhode Island, with a stop in posh Newport, which proved to be an EV friendly place — where I saw my first Chevrolet Bolt along with two Teslas and a Cadillac ELR (beautiful car, BTW).

After arriving to the car in Newport, ready to resume the trip, the driver on my right said:

“New Jersey nameplate? That is a looong way for an electric car!”

He got even more amazed when I told him the final destination was Massachusetts.

Related: Road Trip — Zoomin’ In The USA (Part 1/3)

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Written By

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewed the sales evolution of plug-ins on the EV Sales blog, allowing him to gain an expert view on where EVs are right now and where they are headed in the future. The EV Sales blog has become a go-to source for people interested in electric car sales around the world. Extending that work and expertise, Jose is also market analyst on EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.


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