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This month marks three years of driving an electric car, a 2019 Jaguar I-Pace. I’ve written a lot about this, the research that went into it, what it feels like to own and operate, and the experience of driving it 1725km across Canada and back. All this on the theory that EV’s are an important tool in our best climate-emergency strategy. Like basically 100% of people who’ve gone electric, there’s no going back. In 2022, the requirements niche where a fossil-powered car makes sense is narrow and shrinking fast.
The Niche · IF you need to travel 500km (about 300 miles) on a regular basis, AND IF you really can’t handle that trip taking an extra hour, well then, suck it up, live in the past, get a vehicle that’s less reliable and more expensive to run and more damaging to life on Earth.
BUT, don’t invest too much, because in a small number of years that niche will have narrowed to zero.
But which EV? · If your driving is (like most people’s) mostly putt-putting around town, and you get on the highway to visit family or whatever once or twice a year… it doesn’t matter. Any modern EV will do the job. Shop by budget or by style and you won’t be unhappy. But I do have opinions.
Tesla? · They’re still ahead on charging — both availability and charging speed — and on cargo/interior space. As for style, it’s a matter of taste.
They still have real build-quality problems. And I think their experiment in moving all the interaction to a tablet off to the driver’s side can be declared a failure. When I’m driving I want the basic info right in front of me, and I want the meat-and-potatoes controls on physical knobs and levers that my hands can find without me looking. I don’t think I’m weird.
The Teslas are still great cars, on balance, But they no longer stand alone, not even close.
Style? · A lot of the really good EVs are ugly (Hyundai, VW) or just crushingly boring (Audi, Volvo/Polestar, Mustang). To give Tesla credit, they have a consistently unique design vocabulary, which some people like.
I think there are only two EVs that are uncontroversial design triumphs: The Jag and the Porsche Taycan.
Range · So, here’s the thing: Range doesn’t matter. No, really, it doesn’t. What that linked piece explains, in 1,300 or so words, is that range only matters for long-hauling, that most modern EVs have plenty, and that charging speed matters way more. So…
Charging speed · Remember, this only matters if you do a significant amount of long-haul driving. But then it matters a lot. At this point, Tesla still has a lead, because there are more Superchargers and the cars (recent models at least) charge damn fast.
Looking at EVs shipping today, as far as I know, only the Taycan and Hyundai Ioniq 5 have Tesla-comparable speeds, and that depends on finding 200kW-and-up chargers, and those chargers being in working order. Today, that can be chancy.
Having said that, there’s a tsunami of charging-station investment happening right now. It’s a problem that nobody’s really figured out the business model. But it would be surprising if the rest of the ecosystem weren’t at least very close to Tesla in a very few years.
Quality · Generally, companies that built high-quality gas cars also build high-quality EVs. But note that it’s a little easier with EVs because there are immensely fewer moving parts and nothing that needs to handle volatile burning fluids or wrangle gear ratios.
Which is maybe why companies that are not famous for a history of high quality seem to do well too, if my experience with the Jaguar is evidence. In three years I’ve had one trip to the dealer, when the aircon stopped working.
Tesla still has ground to make up on the quality front. For example, consider this comparo between a Tesla Y and an Ioniq 5 (the video is good too); Tesla comes out way behind on build quality, especially rattles and squeaks. When my Jag hits a pothole or I take a speed-bump too fast, it’s like a single silent block of steel, nary a rattle.
Infotainment · I suspect that the future here belongs to Google and Apple. The only car company whose infotainment/Driver-experience software comes close is Tesla. But it’s gonna be tough, CarPlay and Android Auto are getting really good. All I had to do is plug in my phone and then all my music and messaging and calendar and contacts and so on Just Worked. Why would I expect a car company to do better?
What I’d buy · Suppose a meteorite hits the Jag when I’m not in it and I’m back to square one. While I love the look of the Taycan, I wouldn’t go there because of this:
The Jag has been overwhelmingly, ridiculously, practical. It can schlep a lot of crap. It can keep five people comfy. It can mush through deep snow and leap forward like a cat on the highway to dodge a clumsy merge-in even when you were already maybe a bit over the speed limit.
But, it can’t soak up more than 100kW from a fast charger. And it’s kind of expensive (although less than the roughly-equivalent Tesla.)
Anyhow, if I weren’t terribly price-sensitive, I’d consider the Polestar and the Audi but probably buy the Jag again.
If I wanted to step down into mid-range I’d go and have a look at the Ioniq 5 or very similar Kia EV6 and see if they’re as ugly in the flesh as they look on screen, because they seem to be really very nice cars, and charge fast.
But hey, I spend almost all my driving hours at low speed in urban traffic. So the rational thing would be to go pick up a basic Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt. They’re really good cars, very fully-debugged, and will get out of your way. And the price is right.
What it’s like · I mean, what buying a gas car is like in 2022. It’s like holding onto your flip phone in 2012. It’s like trying to find your hotel in a strange city after a red-eye with a paper map. It’s like putting your retirement savings into coal-mining investments. It’s over.