A bold statement but after spending a week with an electric car (reviews of which will appear at a later date) I’ve been very, very surprised that I can enjoy a car with no engine.
To those who don’t understand such matters, perhaps that isn’t such a shock. I know that some people, including my good lady wife, just can’t really comprehend why the firing of a certain number of cylinder is preferable to a slightly different number of cylinders. You either ‘get’ engines or you don’t. Naturally, I do. Whether it’s a screaming V8 dragster or the lusty grumble of a truck-size turbo diesel, I love the way that an internal combustion engine provides fitting sounds while it works. Just starting a vehicle feels like actually bringing it to life. Turning the ignition key of my Citroen 2CV really does feel like grabbing a lead and shouting ‘walkies’ to your favourite pooch. Though of late, it often seems that the 2CV looks at the weather and decides that going out is a bad idea.
But, I found myself clocking up 300 miles in a Nissan Leaf and really enjoying myself as I did it. For all their benefits, internal combustion engines have many downsides. I love torque. Most petrol engines (this side of a meaty, fuel-slurping V8) don’t have any. So, you have to rag them silly. Quite enjoyable in a 2CV or Sirion, but about as relaxing as hosting a children’s party, with E-number loaded jelly.
Diesels aren’t much better. Oodles of torque yes, but accessing it isn’t always fun. Non-turbo diesels have linear power delivery, but not very much of it. Turbo diesels just don’t work. No, I’m right. They don’t. They’re almost always laggy and even with modern diesels, if you catch them off-boost, they display all the pace of Stonehenge. These days, they’re absolutely loaded with emissions kit and are highly stressed so things go wrong. Especially when you load them with Dual Mass Flywheels and Exhaust Gas Recirculation valves.
With the above in mind, perhaps it’s not so unusual that I found the power delivery of an electric motor really rather wonderful. Press the throttle and the response is, er, electric. Instant power, instant torque.
Transmissions are another problem. I like manuals, but there are times where a self-shifter is nice. The problem is, there isn’t an automatic out there that doesn’t get it wrong from time to time. Modern autos in particular are far too keen to kickdown, sometimes through several of their up-to-eight ratios. This leaves us trying to relax at kiddie party time again. Autos with manual control are no better because if I’m having to think about what gear to be in, I might as well just get a manual and enjoy better fuel economy. An electric motor effectively has no gears. There’s forward and there’s the other way. It took all of about five minutes for me to forget about gears. They suddenly seem rather quaint and old-fashioned.
It seems to have taken far too long for electric cars to get good, but they now seem to have done just that. Sure, range is still an issue but only for longer trips. I’m sure the batteries are not very environmentally friendly to make either, but sucking oil out of the ground didn’t seem all that friendly to Mother Nature the last time I looked, and where does all that platinum come from to make ‘green’ catalytic converters?
Now, my only problem is that, given the state of my fleet, I’m going to have to wait for 15-20 years for electric cars to fall within my price range/interest level. By which time the batteries will probably be junk and hydrogen fuel cells will have taken over. Oh well. The price I pay for being dangerously old-fashioned I guess. S’pose I could always consider converting the 2CV…