Lifestyle

Living with an electric car

The i-MiEV is the first of many fuel-free cars that will hit the market here and consequently deserves kudos as a trailblazer.
The i-MiEV is the first of many fuel-free cars that will hit the market here and consequently deserves kudos as a trailblazer. drive.com.au

Driving an electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV to work this week may well have spared the lives of a couple of trees somewhere on this blue-green planet, but if you chopped me down instead, you'd probably find some extra rings that weren't there the day before.

Few experiences have done more to spike my blood pressure or turn my hair grey - sorry, greyer - than taking an electric car home for the first time.

I live 75 kilometres from my office. That sounds like a doddle for a car with an official range of 160 kilometres, although anecdotal real-world evidence suggests 120 kilometres is closer to the mark. Even so, I slide the Mitsubishi's old-fashioned fixed key - not even a folding jobbie, disappointingly - into my pocket without a second thought.

Disconnecting the i-MiEV's special power plug from the 15-amp plug we've had specially fitted in our office garage for just this day, I throw the plug and cable in the boot. I'm pretty sure I'll need to use it at home, to make sure I can do the return trip.

As I slide behind the wheel for the first time and turn the key, there's a loud beep, then silence, with an illuminated ''ready'' lamp the only clue I'm good to go.

Before slotting the automatic gear lever into ''drive'', I cycle through the rudimentary trip computer to find a page showing the car's estimated range.

At full charge it appears I've got a total of 133 kilometres at my disposal. It's not the 160 I'd hoped for, but a quick calculation indicates I've still got an almost 60-kilometre buffer up my sleeve to make it home. Easy-peasy.

The first couple of kilometres of my trip pass uneventfully, as I savour the sounds of silence from beneath the bonnet and settle into the car's unique rhythm. With a single-speed gearbox, it's a bit like driving a golf cart, although as soon as you step off the accelerator the i-MiEV immediately washes off speed rather than coasting, as most cars do.

Nosing onto the freeway and gently accelerating up to 100km/h, I glance at the range indicator. Uh-oh. It's not so much dropping as plummeting, shedding a kilometre from the range indicator for every 600 metres I travel.

It's at this point - with 70 kilometres still to travel and the range indicator ticking down at this alarming, inexorable pace - that I realise I may have bitten off more than the diminutive i-MiEV can chew.

Pulse suddenly racing, I snap the radio off and double-check that the airconditioning is shut down. I curse a couple of energy-sapping quick takeoffs I'd done a few minutes previously, committed in a parallel universe of ignorant bliss.

In the space of moments I transform into a hypermiler - those people who go to utterly ridiculous lengths to squeeze the absolute maximum range from a car's fuel tank, stripping down to their underwear to reduce weight and never using more than about 10 per cent of the engine's power.

It's a consuming occupation, feathering the accelerator pedal and intently watching a power-use gauge mounted in the dashboard in a desperate bid to keep the needle to the left of centre where it teeters over a smug green ''eco'' indicator - well away from the energy-sapping ''power'' indication on the far right.

However, take your foot off the accelerator or press the brake and the needle veers left into a blue ''charge'' section. And, joy of joys, the battery-range indicator pauses for a moment and then actually adds a kilometre. Yes, adds! This is uncharted territory; I've never before driven a car where the fuel needle goes any way but down.

It's in that brief moment that a light bulb switches on somewhere in the dark recesses of my skull. For the first time it's clear to me - in a practical sense, rather than a theoretical one - that electric cars actually make sense. Although not strictly in the way I'm intending to use this one.

By now we've cleared the city fringe congestion and its now-welcome braking opportunities, and there's nothing but unfettered freeway for another 50 kilometres. The range indicator has dived into double figures and battery life is once again melting away like an ice-cream left in the sun.

With no cruise control fitted to the i-MiEV, I'm super-vigilant for the rest of the trip, modulating my throttle with care and maintaining the most constant speed I can on the long, straight, flat, boring road home that I typically curse but today is my best friend.

Painfully aware of a stout headwind that's buffeting the tiny car, costing more of my precious electricity, I even try drafting a few trucks, allowing them to punch a hole in the air for me to follow.

To do it properly, though, I need to get in too close behind them for comfort or safety. I'd still rather run out of juice than end up smeared across the back of one of these behemoths.

After what seems like a tension-packed eternity my home town finally comes into view and - oh, joy - there's still 31 kilometres on the indicator. I pray it's accurate and that the 10 kilometres of stop-start traffic I still have to negotiate will play to the i-MiEV's regenerative strengths. It does.

I finally pull into my driveway with an indicated 27 kilometres of range left, relieved and exhilarated in equal measures.

Using a 15-amp adaptor lead supplied by my friendly sparky, I pull out the i-MiEV's hefty charge lead and plug in, sanguine in the knowledge that 133 kilometres of range will comfortably get me to work the next day.

Except that's not exactly how it turns out.

In the morning the lights on the charge lead show the i-MiEV has taken its full measure of lightning juice, yet the range indicator shows I now have just 110 kilometres to get to the next plug, in the work garage. For reasons unclear, the little Mitsu has taken a short fill. Today, of all days.

My schoolboy maths is copping another workout. I started with 133 kilometres the day before and ended with 27 kilometres, making 106 kilometres the magic number and four kilometres my theoretical buffer. But this morning I also have two children to drop off at school before I can hit the highway. Hello high blood pressure, my old friend.

As I negotiate school traffic in a hilly part of town, the range falls to 104 kilometres, so I drop the transmission from ''drive'' into ''braking'' mode, which ratchets up energy regeneration in stop-start traffic and hilly going in return for dulled responsiveness.

The change is immediate - my range quickly rebounds to 110 kilometres, then winds all the way up to 117 kilometres in 80km/h stop-start conditions before the i-MiEV hits the highway proper.

That light in the back of my brain is on again and this time it's a shining beacon. I finally understand what this car is capable of and I like it.

The rest of the drive is tense but bearable because it's quickly apparent that a tailwind means I'm getting about 700 metres to 800 metres each indicated kilometre of range, rather than yesterday's 600 metres.

I drive into the work garage with 44 kilometres still showing on the range indicator. It's a good result for my 75-kilometre journey, given I started with 110 kilometres on the clock. It's worth noting, though, that both trips were completed without aircon, radio, headlights or any other battery-draining mod cons. A hot day, or a cold night, would be a far sterner test.

Range anxiety, as both I and my doctor can now attest, is a very real beast. The flip side, though, is a tangible feel-good factor and engrossing involvement that could easily become addictive.

I passed about 10 petrol stations during my i-MiEV experience and the first few - in my anxiety-addled mind - gave me pause to consider that they could no longer help me. I was on my own out there until I could reach the next electric plug.

Several more, though, were an opportunity to mentally thumb my nose at the fossil-fuel reliance with which we've all grown up.

The i-MiEV, while fascinating and illuminating, is far from the perfect car. It's extremely expensive ($48,800 plus on-road costs) for a tiny four-seat hatchback with rudimentary dynamics and the comfort and equipment levels of cars half its price.

But it's the first of many fuel-free cars that will hit the market here and consequently deserves kudos as a trailblazer.

Clearly the i-MiEV and other similarly conceived electric cars aren't designed to travel inter-city distances, but the fact that this one did - with the caveat of severe restrictions on driving style and comfort - points to a bright future as the technology develops and range limitations (and anxieties) are gradually lifted.

Topics:  drive motoring


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Bicentennial Walkway soon to re-open

Works on the Bicentennial Walkway are underway with an expected finishing day of next Friday.

The popular walkway could be open as soon as next Friday

Whitehaven Beach Run set for big field

BLUE SKIES: The Whitehaven Beach Run on Hamilton Island is always a popular event.

Famous race set for massive year.

Shute Harbour boat ramp open today

Whitsunday Fishing World manager Grant Spees called for patience on the Shute Harbour boat ramp earlier this month.

The Shute Harbour boat ramp is now open.

Local Partners

Man hospitalised after being punched in the head

A 28-year old man was taken to Proserpine Hospital in the early hours of the morning with serious head injuries.

Debbie's graveyard: Major auction to clear written-off cars

Auto Repair and Towing Service owner Shane Muntelwit at the salvage yard behind Mackay Airport, which has become a graveyard for about 150 vehicles destroyed or written off by Cyclone Debbie.

A salvage yard has become a makeshift graveyard

What to expect at Birds of Tokyo's Ipswich gig

The band will perform at the Racehorse Hotel on Friday.

BAND member Glen Sarangapany talks music, pub grub and doing shoeys

What public holidays are left in 2017

Ipswich residents will get the day off tomorrow for the show.

IPSWICH residents will get tomorrow off for the show

Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor split after 17 years

BEN Stiller and his wife Christine Taylor have called it a day in a joint announcement.

Why The Voice hasn't produced a star

Boy George responds to Brittania Clifford-Pugh's heart-warming message.

It's the industry, not the show, says Boy George

These actors hated their movies and didn’t mind admitting it

Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans in a scene from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Every year, Hollywood blesses us with plenty of God awful movies.

Miranda Kerr and fiance hang up backyard tent for wedding

The decorators and caterers are arriving for the final preparations for the wedding of Miranda Kerr and Evan Spiegel. Pictures: Splash

Evan Spiegel and Miranda Kerr are set to marry today

Book review: Mia Freedman's book meets her critics head on

I appreciated Freedman's blunt honesty in the book

Model Bella Hadid's see-through dress shocks in Cannes

US model Bella Hadid attends the Cinema Against AIDS amfAR gala 2017 held at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc in Cap d'Antibes, France, 25 May 2017.

It’s like she’s become addicted to shock value.

Man's amazing comeback from monster crisis

Pat O'Driscoll agents Penny Keating and Doug Webber sold 56 Agnes St, The Range at auction over the weekend.

NOT long ago, he sold his possessions to pay staff. Now he's back.

Report reveals progress on $319m airport upgrade

Aerials of the Sunshine Coast.Jetstar plane in front of the Susnhine Coast terminal, Sunshine Coast Airport.

Over two dozen government approvals needed for airport expansion

Lost dough leaves sour taste after company collapse

Kathleen and John Mahoney from Sugar and Spice Bakery were stung after the collapse of Cantro Pty Ltd and are still owed money.

Supermarket operator collapse leaves sour taste for bakery

Open for inspection homes May 25-31

Check out this weekend's homes open for inspection

How Toowoomba house prices compare in Australia

For sale sign in front of home.

Here's what $700,000 will buy you in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Sydney

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!