It’s a common sentiment from virtually any electric car owner I’ve met to date: once you have one, you’ll always have one.
Electric vehicles, or EVs, aren’t for everyone, but the data indicates that more and more Canadians are at least willing to consider one for their next vehicle, and that some are planning to give the whole EV motoring thing a try.
Some pros? You never need to go to the gas station, you never need an oil change, and you get to drive something with a powertrain that’s smoother and quieter than even a big-dollar luxury car.
Some cons? Your driving range is limited to a few hundred kilometres, recharging the battery fully can take hours and hours, and you’ll need to map out how the range of your EV will (or will not work) for your lifestyle, commute, available charging infrastructure, and more.
Also, in the dead of winter, the possible driving range on a full charge will drop — sometimes significantly, depending on the temperature and vehicle.
If you’re curious enough about driving and living with an electric car to give one a shot, I’ve compiled a list of models below to check out.
These are all used EV models, many of which are available on the (relative) cheap.
Smart ForTwo Electric Drive
The Smart Car was all the rage when it launched many years ago, and since then, it’s undergone various transformations, including its more recent electric drive variant. The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is a small two-seater that works best as an around-town runabout that’s perhaps ideal for the shopper who will primarily use it in and around town.
The 100 kilometre-range and limited top speed mean you’ll need a second vehicle in the driveway to handle longer trips — but if you drive less than 100 kilometres between charging, a used Smart ForTwo Electric drive could get you right off of gasoline.
If your daily commute to and from work is about 40 to 50 kilometres each way, and if you’re able to charge at home (and work), this one can get you right off of gasoline. A convertible is available too, and you’ll find used copies of this machine from the low-teens all day long.
The last-generation Nissan Leaf launched in 2011, offered up about 110 horsepower and nearly 200 lb.-ft. of torque, and boasted a real-world driving range of 100 to 150 kilometres per charge. With four doors and a flexible cargo hold, the Leaf might be an ideal second-car for your family, and one that’s ready for a variety of activities.
Upscale feature content like premium audio systems and heated leather seating was available, too. The Leaf is one of the most popular electric cars in the world and you can find a used copy from under $20,000. If you often drive less than 150 kilometres at a time before parking at home for hours on end, a used Leaf might be ideal as your family’s first ‘second car’ that never needs to go to the gas station.
Chevrolet Spark EV
Chevrolet marketed an all-electric version of their smallest car, the Spark. Dubbed the Spark EV, this small hatchback was big on manoeuvrability and ease of use in tight quarters, and offered a real-world driving range of about 120 kilometres.
Feature content included Bluetooth, OnStar, leather seating, and more depending on the model selected. This gas-free runabout won’t handle a lengthy highway trip without numerous stops to recharge, though it can handle the average daily driving of many Canadians (and especially those living in city centres) without using a drop of gas.
Charging, Range and Winter
A few additional notes.
First, electric vehicle range decreases in colder temperatures, because batteries do their best work when they’re warm, not cold. How much of a decrease? That depends on various factors — but expect driving range to fall by about 30 to 50 per cent in extreme cold. Your results will vary.
Best way to find out the “real world” winter driving range of the model you’re considering? Visit an online owner’s forum and do a search (or post a question as a potential owner of that vehicle).
Many EV owners are happy to share their experiences and expertise with perspective shoppers, and many model-specific online forums and Facebook groups can help connect you with them.
What about charging times? This also varies widely based on numerous factors, and a few things are worth understanding here. With a 240-volt Level 2 charger installed at home (I had one installed for about $1,000, all in), you’ll have little issue recharging the battery in any of the models above, overnight. Every morning, you’ll wake up to a full battery and full driving range.
So-called “trickle charging” on 110 volts can take much longer to fill the battery, though many owners simply leave their EV plugged in to a conventional outlet at home, and at work, at all times. For some, this mitigates the need to install a special faster EV car charger at home.
Determine the range of your EV and its charging times against your daily commute. If electric car charging is available at a mall or coffee shop you frequent, or at your work, it becomes even easier to keep the battery topped off at all times.