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9 Down, 1 To Go — A Personal Tale Of 7 Years With Electric Cars

My lease is up. My BMW i3 — my snappy and ugly duckling — has been returned to AVIS. There was a waiting line, so no chance of extending the lease. I have a reservation for the Tesla Model 3 due to be delivered by the end of the year. So, while I ponder on what to do next, let me recap which EVs I have experienced in the last 7 years. Luckily I have a bunch of electric bikes (some hand-built) that I can ride in the meantime, and I promise you they are nothing you would expect — but that’s another story.

My lease is up. My BMW i3 — my snappy and ugly duckling — has been returned to AVIS. There was a waiting line, so no chance of extending the lease. I have a reservation for the Tesla Model 3 due to be delivered by the end of the year. So, while I ponder on what to do next, let me recap which EVs I have experienced in the last 7 years. Luckily I have a bunch of electric bikes (some hand-built) that I can ride in the meantime, and I promise you they are nothing you would expect — but that’s another story.

9 down

Allow me to skip the term EV for the rest of this rant. I want to dive into a fantasy world where all cars are electric. For a moment I want to forget the noise, the exhaust, the cost, and the maintenance, of the old-world cars. All my childhood, remote-controlled cars were electric, and I want to pretend that while I grew up, the electric toy cars just turned into electric cars. So let’s just call them cars.

This is not a review in the normal sense, but it goes to show that the experience with different cars have given me a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen in this business — from a layman’s point of view, that is. I do not pretend to be an expert, but I try to be true to what I like and don’t like. I will present totally unscientific and utterly subjective ratings (1 — 5, with 5 being top notch) on the following parameters: ride, looks, comfort, function, trust, value, and soul. So, without further delay, let’s go for a ride!

Tesla Roadster

SONY DSCPower: 248 hp
Torque: 270 Nm
Battery: 53 kWh
Range: 244 miles (EPA)
Charge: 16.8 kW
0 — 60 mph: 3.9 sec
Top speed: 125 mph
Price: does it matter?

Would I want one? Yes please!

Ride 5. Looks 5. Comfort 2. Function 2. Trust 1. Value 3. Soul 5. Total 23.

I always thought that my first experience in a performance car would be in some kind of Italian monster, but no, it would be in the Roadster. I was on a motorcycle cruise with a friend to an exhibition in a nearby town, and these two Tesla Roadsters where showing off. Giving rides. We went along for a ride. We both sold our motorcycles. Too boring.

The Roadster being too exotic and expensive for me to own, rent, or lease, I made sure to buy in on another event at a racetrack where a few minutes as a passenger with the pedal to the metal cost 100 bucks for charity. I paid that for my 10-year-old son to experience. I know — totally brainwashed him. He is now studying to be a mechanic because he wants to work with electric cars.

Renault Fluence ZE

SONY DSCPower: 94 hp
Torque: 226 Nm
Battery: 22 kWh
Range: 115 miles (NEDC)
Charge: 3.5 kW
0 — 60 mph: 13.7 sec
Top speed: 84 mph
Price: very cheap used!

Would I want one? Not really.

Ride 3. Looks 3. Comfort 4. Function 2. Trust 1. Value 2. Soul 2. Total 17.

There was this company called Better Place, remember? Founded by Shai Agassi in 2007. They had crazy big plans for Denmark, and I applauded them. They built battery swapping stations all over the country, and they proclaimed that 500,000 Renault Fluence ZE would roam the roads of Denmark by the end of 2015. All the infrastructure was in place by the end of 2012, but they went bust in 2013, with only 500 cars on the roads. DONG Energy (Now Ørsted) lost $100 million as a primary investor. The customers were bailed out by Renault because the car did not have fast charging, which had left them all stranded.

The car was actually quite nice. In the summer of 2011, I was starting a business selling BionX e-bike kits and I was invited to a meeting in Copenhagen to discuss urban mobility. Better Place was there with the Renault Fluence ZE. I had a go in it, and I was surprised how good it was. It’s a very roomy and comfortable sedan. The onboard system, called OSCar, seemed easy to use, and all in all the car was very practical. Performance was fine, but what I heard later on was that the range was quite poor, hence the need for battery swapping. Another drawback was the weight distribution. The entire battery was placed behind the backseat in a big box — a bit like the Tesla Roadster — not a good idea when you’ve got front-wheel drive.

Volkswagen e-UP

vweupPower: 82 hp
Torque: 210 Nm
Battery: 18.7 kWh
Range: 124 miles (NEDC)
Charge: 50 kW
0 — 60 mph: 12.4 sec
Top speed: 81 mph
Price: Cheap both used and new

Would I want one? Sure.

Ride 3. Looks 3. Comfort 3. Function 3. Trust 4. Value 4. Soul 3. Total 23.

The e-UP entered the Danish market with all the bells and whistles. Due to the absence of taxes at the time for this type of car, the only option was fully loaded. I went to the local VW dealer to have a go.

This is really a nice little car. Yes it is small, but for city driving it is very useful. It can even use CCS fast charging so leaving town is not too scary. The build quality is superb, albeit the design is somewhat conservative. Interior quality is high, and you will grow to love this little commuter. The perfect car for anyone not wishing to be noticed, and a true joy to ride, despite the relatively low range.

Volkswagen e-Golf

vwegolfPower: 115 hp
Torque: 270 Nm
Battery: 24 kWh
(Current version: 36 kWh)
Range: 83 miles (EPA)
Charge: 50 kW
0 — 60 mph: 9.1 sec
Top speed: 87 mph
Price: maybe a bit too expensive

Would I want one? Not so sure.

Ride 4. Looks 4. Comfort 3. Function 4. Trust 4. Value 4. Soul 3. Total 26.

A few months after trying the e-UP, the e-Golf went on sale. Same story with the options: only fully loaded available! I had really high hopes, and I was genuinely afraid I would buy one on the spot, but then I bumped my head getting in the car. It has a lower roofline than the e-UP.

No wonder this car is popular. It is such a well built car, and it just blends in. It is class-less and stylish at the same time. The 4 decade Golf legacy is a huge success in automobile history and the car has a loyal fan base. It is a very smooth ride, and the interior is super comfortable and practical. It is as quick as the 112 hp 1975 Golf GTI I drove once, but this time completely silent.

Nissan Leaf

Leaf1Power: 110 hp
Torque: 280 Nm
Battery: 24 kWh
(Last first-gen. version: 30 kWh)
Range: 84 miles (EPA)
Charge: 50 kW
0 — 60 mph: 9.9 sec
Top speed: 94 mph
Price: Lot of good bargains

Would I want one? Absolutely.

Ride 4. Looks 3. Comfort 4. Function 4. Trust 4. Value 5. Soul 4. Total 28.

The main and most important difference between the e-Golf and Leaf for me is the roofline height. This time I didn’t bump my head and I chose to lease one on the spot. I actually had the pleasure of trying two Leafs. The first was just a month’s lease to try it out on a summer vacation, and after one year with the Nissan e-NV200 I was back in another Leaf — this time for a whole year.

Like the e-Golf, everything just works. (As a note, I must admit that in this period I got annoyed by the excess buttons and irrational menus after a short rental of a Tesla Model S — more on that later.) This car is a joy to ride. So easy. So smooth. Yet so responsive. It feels much quicker than it actually is. You absolutely do not need more power than this. It also feels very roomy — more than the e-Golf or even the Model S (in the passenger compartment, at least).

Mercedes B-Class Electric

Mercedes-Benz_B-Class_Electric_DrivePower: 134 hp
Torque: 310 Nm
Battery: 36 kWh
Range: 124 miles (EPA)
Charge: 22 kW
0 — 60 mph: 7.9 sec
Top speed: 93 mph
Price: Cheap luxury indeed

Would I want one? Nope.

Ride 4. Looks 4. Comfort 5. Function 3. Trust 3. Value 3. Soul 4. Total 26.

This car is a prime example of a compliance car. So well built and so luxurious that they hope you won’t notice that it doesn’t have DC fast charging. This is the lovechild between Tesla and Daimler before the latter sold its stake. This car uses a Tesla battery pack and drivetrain which supposedly has had technical issues — recalls and stuff.

Anyway, I was curious about the car, because it was really cheap, so I went for a test drive. I could not believe the conflicting logic. This car is by far the most comfortable ride I have ever experienced. So smooth and quiet, and with an interior worthy of the S-class, yet it does not have DC fast charging. So you are in fact locked into the perimeter of a small city without any chance of going on long stretch trips. With DC fast charging starting at 50 kW, this is even possible in the low-range Nissan below, but with this car’s 22 kW AC charging? Forget it.

Nissan e-NV200

env200Power: 110 hp
Torque: 280 Nm
Battery: 24 kWh
(Current version 40 kWh)
Range: 71 miles (EPA)
Charge: 50 kW
0 — 60 mph: ? sec
Top speed: 90 mph
Price: Lot of value for little money

Would I want one? Why not?

Ride 2. Looks 1. Comfort 3. Function 5. Trust 4. Value 5. Soul 3. Total 23.

I had a chance to lease this car very cheaply through a campaign. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it. But I am glad I did, because it taught me a couple of things. It is very nice to be able put a ton of stuff in your car, but the fun stops when you look at the range.

The car uses the same drivetrain and battery from the Leaf, but there are some key differences: Not as comfortable. Not as road stable. Not as quiet. Just roomy, and extremely easy to use on a daily basis. Thumbs up, Nissan! But it turns out I don’t need all that space, so I went back to the Leaf after one year. That gave me a chance to compare the two, though.

Tesla Model S 85D

ModelSPower: 417 hp
Torque: 658 Nm
Battery: 85 kWh
Range: 272 miles (EPA)
Charge: 145 kW
0 — 60 mph: 4.4 sec
Top speed: 155 mph
Price: Like a house

Would I want one? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Ride 5. Looks 5. Comfort 4. Function 5. Trust 3. Value 4. Soul 5. Total 31.

While I was enjoying the Nissan Leaf on a daily basis, I made the mistake of renting a Model S for a couple of days. By mistake, I mean the experience completely destroyed my sense of awe over any other brand of car, with any kind of propulsion. Period. I have been accused of being a Tesla fanboy just for following the ventures of a dude called Elon Musk, but after these few days in the Model S, I must have been really annoying to be around.

I must admit one thing, though — I bumped my head the first time I entered. Yes, low roof line. Other than that, this machine is a dream to ride. This particular version had air suspension too, and combined with the insane weight of the car, it was so comfortable I couldn’t believe it. Turned on Autopilot and I almost sold my house then and there to pay for an S of my own — and live in it. Wife and kids? Well, lucky for them I got to my senses and instead put down a reservation for the Model 3 a few months later. As I implied earlier, I got button-and-silly-menu-phobic after this experience, because the mere idea of having everything controlled from a touchscreen, with software that seamlessly updates over the air, is simply genius.

BMW i3

i3Power: 168 hp
Torque: 250 Nm
Battery: 22 kWh
(Current version: 33 kWh)
Range: 81 miles (EPA)
Charge: 50 kW
0 — 60 mph: 6.9 sec
Top speed: 93 mph
Price: Bit more than the e-Golf or Leaf.

Would I want one? I would wait for the new i3S.

Ride 4. Looks 3. Comfort 4. Function 3. Trust 3. Value 5. Soul 5. Total 27.

I wrote a piece on this particular first-generation i3, and you may think I am a little harsh on some issues about the car, but truth of the matter is that it is the best long-term car experience I have ever had. When you are done being annoyed by the cumbersome rear doors, the strange half-second gas pedal delay, and the silly buttons and menus, you will find yourself with a wide grin on your face.

Nothing can beat this little car on the twisty country roads. I am positive a Model S P100D would need a head start to win over this nimble thing. And that’s just the kind of thing that will make this car win you over. The build quality is superb — in and out. The solid feel of the chassis, the all-natural and recycled cabin materials. So high quality that you get annoyed when the kids get in the car with muddy boots. And BMW managed all this despite the fact that they left out “Sport mode.” If they fixed those small issues with the new i3S, it might just sell in high numbers, because even this first generation of the car was so fun to drive!

1 to go

Well, there you have it. And while I was experiencing ordinary cars and drooling over all the Tesla Model S sedans that had flooded the country before the market was killed by taxes, the Model 3 was revealed. It blew me away. It was just what I had been looking for, and within 24 hours I had my reservation secured. Owners of first deliveries seem to agree this is an awesome car. Worth the wait — I hope.

It has been so awfully expensive for Tesla to fix production issues with the Model S and Model X, and they just have to get it right with the Model 3. They cannot afford to get head over heels and deliver more than they can vouch for quality wise. I would rather wait an extra half year than see Tesla go under. No, seriously…

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Written By

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.


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