Electric Driving - One Year in
A year on from buying my first electric car, here's how it worked out so far
I try to be an early adopter of technology so I can get a sense of where things are heading. When the time came to buy my first car I decided to go with the latest innovation in car tech - a BMW i3 all electric car.
For some the idea of electric cars is a bit out there, not for me though as having driven one for a year I cannot understand why anyone would want to drive a diesel or petrol powered car. I think they're all bonkers, perhaps they probably think I'm bonkers.
The BMW i3 is a fun car to drive, quick off the mark, small and nimble making it a great car for anyone living in an urban environment. This car works for my lifestyle and I'd recommend it to anyone thinking of going electric. I've driven non electric BMW's and I wouldn't swap any of them for the i3.
Of course there are downsides to electric cars so I've tried my best to give 5 things I think are good and 5 things that are not so good.
So here we go.
THE GOOD BITS
Cost of running & range
The cost of running an electric car week to week is very cheap. For now public charging is free in Ireland, however I mainly use a domestic charger which was installed for free courtesy of ESB. This charger costs around €3 or so to charge the car.
I drive approximately 35km per day which takes me from the outskirts of Dublin (close to the Meath border) into the city centre and back each day. Each morning I also do a creche run with one little passenger.
The BMW i3 model I have will do 120km on one charge in EcoPro+ mode. There are others who claim to get more but this is subject to how fast you drive, the temperature of where you are living and then in car energy usage (air con, heating, phone charging etc).
In summer months I drive in EcoPro+ mode and go 4 days before I charge again. In the winter I usually drive in EcoPro and means I charge every 3 days as you need a little more power to keep the heat on. If you drive in comfort mode it reduces the range of the car further, I only go to this setting when on the motorway and I need to do 100 to 120kmph. Personally I see no need to use comfort mode day to day as city driving involves too many traffic lights, roundabouts and parents manically stopping and parking randomly on school runs :)
The cost of running the car is one of the main reasons my wife also went electric and purchased a i3 as her company car. Her previous car was a Nissan Note, so the cost savings of travelling around Dublin with her job were huge.
We bought our cars from Joe Duffy BMW, Conor who is the sales rep is very helpful and a good man to chat to on the specifics.
HANDY FOR LITTLE PASSENGERS
For some the doors are unusual but I love them as there's no need to worry about having to have child locks. The doors can only be opened by people in the front so this makes it very secure.
Also for us we have a young child and the doors make it very easy to access the car seat. It really makes it easier to lift him in and out of the car.
SPEEDY LIFT OFF
Electric cars are very quick off the mark and the BMW i3 is fantastic. This makes it very handy for urban traffic where you can quickly accelerate in and out of spaces and when at traffic lights you can take off at such a rapid speed that quite often you've far down the road before other cars have even got out of gear.
The controls for the i3 are brilliant and easy to access. Requires no effort to change and makes 3 point turns in tight spaces super easy.
I always preferred automatic cars but the i3 even makes most automatics I have driven seem like archaic technology. The car is so easy to drive even a baby could do it !
IN CAR TECHNOLOGY
I was never any sort of car expert, for some they love to know about engine performance etc. Personally I don't care about that stuff, I just love checking out the digital interfaces, gadgets and controls in the cabin.
The cabin space has plenty of leg room and because the battery pack is under the car it means you have a high seating position giving excellent visibility of the road ahead.
The design and layout of the steering wheel and onboard screen is fantastic. If you buy one of these make sure you get the large screen as it makes a difference and also make sure you upgrade the speakers.
I love the size of the map, the visualisation of album covers when playing iTunes, the ability to play video and how easy it is to make use of key iPhone functions so ideal system for anyone who loves their mobile.
Lastly the car can be monitored and controlled by an app on your phone which is great addition and has been very useful for me. You can check your charge status, your driving performance, car location and even warm / cool the car, ahead of you getting into it, all from your phone.
SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN
I'm putting this here as it's more a discussion point for when you're explaining the benefits of the car to people. For many they can only understand and accept cars that follow the typical saloon appearance so the i3 isn't for everyone tastes.
With the exception of Tesla, most electric cars have quirky & innovative features. I think the i3 is very funky and I love how the brand has pushed its design principles beyond recognition.
However if BMW really want to sell electric cars in larger volumes then I would expect the 'i' series will need a more typical '3 series style' shape to appeal to the masses. It's why I think the Tesla Model 3 has done so well with orders as it follows a more conventional car design.
I love the quirky shapes and lines which the i3 has in abundance just don't expect too many people to love it as much as you. It will turn heads as most people try to work out what it is, so get used of people staring at it or just walking up and looking through the window when you're still in the car, it can be quite amusing.
THE NOT SO GOOD BITS
BATTERY RANGE EXTENSION
When I was buying the car one of the interesting points I was told about was the car's battery system, which was modular and designed to enable upgrades when they became available.
Now that the increased battery is available for the BMW i3, the car can be upgraded but it depends on which country you live in. In Ireland the option to upgrade the range has not been supported so this was very disappointing to find out seeming as we now have 2 BMW i3's.
No official reason was given by BMW Ireland as to why, but I suspect it's due to the cost of offering the upgrade versus small volume of cars sold. Probably not worth the hassle for them. It's a real shame.
TIGHT PARKING SPACES & THE DOORS
I've managed to get by so far but I just want to flag for some people the doors will be hard to get used to, especially if you're parked tightly in a car park for example. You sometimes need to be neat and nimble to get the doors open for passengers behind so just be prepared that you may need to get passengers / luggage out of the rear before completing your parking.
As this is a small car do not expect to carry too much in the boot. We are able to carry a large buggy, charging cables and a couple of bags of shopping in the boot. This works fine for our requirements but for others they may need more.
For the odd time you're ever trying to carry large furniture you need to be aware that the seats in the front will not go forward to lie flat, only the rear ones will. Not that this is common usage of a car but for the odd time it does happen to you, save yourself the hassle and get a van or a friend with a larger car to help.
There is a front boot as well, however I am yet to use this so I should really make use of it more.
LONG DISTANCE DRIVING
Driving longer distances to see family or go on holiday requires more pre-planning and a little more patience.
I recently did my first long return trip where I travelled from Dublin to the Cliffhouse Hotel in Ardmore, Waterford. According to Google maps this distance should take 2hrs 43mins. It took me around 4hrs 25mins driving. In addition to this I also stopped for 40mins to sleep which I have excluded.
As it was my first trip I may have been a little more cautious about going too fast and draining the battery and I also ended up stopping 3 times to charge. Luckily on the Cork road there are a number of fast chargers which will power the car to 80% in 20 mins. To get to 100% it takes another 10 mins or so.
The thing with charging is that while it may lengthen the time it takes to travel, it is currently free. You just need to make sure you plan ahead, allow extra time and be patient. If you're running low phone ESB ecars to check the nearest charging point is working, they're very helpful and it's easier to check before you make the journey.
ESB's charging map is very useful as BMW i3's is not the most accurate and appears to be missing a number of charging points from its Irish map, something they really need to work on.
In the end that trip didn't cost me anything other than the coffee & water I bought along the way which was a significant saving.
I would recommend that anyone buying an electric car does so if they have access to a charger either at home or at work.
The reason I say this is that the public chargers come with their own issues, check any forum on the topic and you'll get the idea.
As they are free they are quite often misused where other electric car drivers will spend hours parked in a charging points as opposed to just staying for the time it takes to actually charge. In other countries you have to prebook times and are allotted a set period to charge.
Sometimes you'll even find non electric vehicles in the spaces. ESB have done a good job in addressing this where a large number of spaces are now painted green so non electric cars parking in the spaces can be clamped.
The other reason I recommend home chargers is that the public ones will not be free forever. I think its amazing they are even free now to use but at some stage they will become great revenue sources for companies, so make sure you can charge at home and use public charging for emergencies or long journeys.
Driving electric has been fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone thinking of making the switch.
The range of the cars are extending with every release so do not worry about range anxiety, these cars work for the vast majority of your trips. Unless you're driving 500km a day you'll be fine.
Should you want to know more, there are a few handy resources you might find useful. There is a great Facebook page called the EV Drivers Owners Association. Lots of helpful people on there who can give much better explanations, tips and advice than me about the benefits of electric cars.
If you're wondering how extensive the public charging network is in Ireland, you can view a map of it here courtesy of ESB ecars.