Test driving an electric car!

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I got the chance to test out an electric car and I loved it. It was surprisingly thrilling and felt a little like being a sci-fi movie. The emergence of the electric car is clearly the future stepping on our doorstep.

Go Ultra Low, a joint government and car industry initiative to encourage the switch over to electric cars, brought a fleet round to our office last week. Whilst not knowing that much about cars, apart from what I’ve gleaned from Top Gear and having a car enthusiast boyfriend, I’ve always loved them. As someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere, the car was a symbol of freedom and independence. Still, living in a town hasn’t given me anymore understanding of how people don’t drive. How do you go out to the woods and have adventures without the freedom to go anywhere? Maybe there’s an obvious answer to that …  Now as an environmentalist it’s a bit jarring internally to love using cars. Being able to drive an electric car could offer me a bit of a release from that inner turmoil!

The Test Drive

I was invited to try out a shiny black new Nissan Leaf. Although it might have been more exciting to try the Audi or BMW on offer, as the Nissan is probably the only one anywhere near my price range (in the future) it was the best choice. And I’m glad its the option I was given as I was very quickly sold on this car!

It was certainly unnerving at first, I’ve never even driven an automatic car and this went a little beyond that. At least automatics have a semblance of gears. Not the case in an electric car, which could almost deceive you into thinking it’s not a real car. Firstly, you turn it on by simply pressing a button. The dashboard flashes up like a computer screen, along with a ding-a-ling tone to assure you it’s now ready to go. Oddly, the familiar petrol pump symbol sat proudly

But the car is entirely silent. When my supervisor told me to head off I didn’t quite believe I could. In an electric car the handbrake is actually where the clutch is in a manual. I accidentally put the “hand”brake on several times during the initial pulling away!  You have to press it again with your foot to release it.

Even when you are moving the silence continues, again enhancing the feeling slightly that you are not really driving. When you reach 15mph a comforting rumble, akin to a cat purring, starts. But this is only a safety measure so you don’t catch pedestrians unawares. It’s still far quieter than a normal car. Whilst I always feel very in tune with my car, its engine roars and hums guiding gear changes and accelerations, I did not miss it really. And as someone who can hear the constant drone of traffic from the A1 from my house, the idea of quieter roads is appealing.

The Nissan was sensitive, speedy and manoeuvrable. My overall impression of driving an electric car was simple, smooth, silent and a lot of fun!

Are they actually eco-friendly?

There always seems to be a controversy floating around electric cars. Are they really that eco-friendly? At a climate conference I attended, a car industry rep insisted despite the resources to create an electric car, they still beat normal cars for being the most eco-friendly. Of course I’m wary of her likely slightly biased report. But it does seem that maybe she was right.

Electricity of itself can only be as green as its source. But with renewable power companies such as Good Energy and Ecotricity on the rise, every one has the potential to power their homes and cars with clean energy. Like all electric devices, there are concerning ethical and environmental considerations that come with the building of parts and mining for materials.

I have a colleague who earlier this year was debating with herself on the environmental merits of the wasteful act of getting rid of her current car vs switching to an electric one. But the other week I heard she had made her decision and is now the proud owner of an EV.

I think like many lifestyle choices, it has to be about your own judgement and your own ethics on whether you feel it’s the right step. But more than ever it seems electric cars can be the sensible and eco option.

But they’re not practical, are they?

I’d always assumed electric cars were an awesome idea but not one that would quite work in reality. Not in the near future anyway. But things have progressed in a big way. The supervisor told me the Nissan Leaf can manage 120 miles from just one charge. That range goes much higher for the bigger, more expensive models of electric car too. And the most amazing bit (y’know apart from the saving the planet and purifying our air thing) is that is only costs £2 to charge the battery to full. Two pounds for 120 miles! My trips to Cornwall are suddenly looking a lot more affordable. Besides, fast charge stations have popped up all over the country. They can top up your battery to 80% in half an hour. I’ve noticed on my recent long journeys that there are Ecotricity charge points at all large service stations.

To my delight, I have in recent months seen a definite increase in electric cars on the road. From one brown Nissan Leaf I followed to work, there are now 4 I regularly see on my commute. Only today I spotted a BMW i3 in a driveway. Looking out for a hint of that shiny blue logo is my new driving game. With government offering it’s easy to see why.

Registration of electric cars has gone up 250% in the past two years which I think is pretty astonishing. Though my enjoyable experience of testing the Nissan does lead me to wonder why we’re not all already driving electric cars. Afterall, we’re still relying on a glorified version of the engines that ran cars in Time to move on I think, especially in light of the challenges we’re facing.

A quieter, cleaner and greener transport revolution is almost upon us. And I for one cannot wait to join it, anyone know of a secondhand Nissan Leaf going?

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