From June 2009 to June 2010 I had the privilege of Driving an All Electric MIMI E for a year, it was a great experience, and got me hooked on electric cars. I've since moved on to other electric cars which I will blog about.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Driving the Volt

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm very interested in the chevy Volt. I had been reading everything I could about it since well before the MINI E was even announced, and it was one of the reasons I decided to sign up for the MINI E.
A few weeks ago Lyle at offered a contest entitled "Why I want a the Chevy Volt", with the 10 winners being invited to test drive the Chevy Volt. I submitted my essay and was lucky enough to be one of the 10 finalists.
I only live 40 miles from NYC, so my first choice was whether to drive the MINI E, into the event. Its been warmer lately and it has the range, but honestly I hate driving into the city, especially during rush hour which is when I'd have to go, do I took a different electric vehicle, the train in.
GM started with a presentation giving us a look at its new fuel efficient up and coming cars, first was the Spark, an all electric compact car, about the size of the MINI, with nice styling that seemed to take ques from the Scion, no mention of its range or when it would be released. Next up was a Ario RS (SP?) a sporty traditional compact car, then the Chevy Cruise a treditional mid to small size car, which shares many of the same components and is the same size as the Volt, and finally the Volt.
The Designers talked about the engineering, and showed off key features that increased its aerodynamics on a non-functional Volt prototype. Then we got our chance to see the real thing. The first thing I thought was wow it actually looks cute, this doesnt come across in pictures but its length seems a little compacted, and the lines seemed to flow together very well, something that wasnt obvious from either pictures or even the prototype. There was a silver and a dark gray version, and although I've told my fiancée again and again how much I hate that 90% of the cars on the road seem to be silver, I have to say it looked good, much better then the dark gray, where all of the cool black accent panels blended into the gray.
It was a rainy day as we got into drive and I had a big shock when I say the wiper blades, each of them was twice as long as a normal cars wiper blades, we had no troubles seeing through the light rain while driving.
At first I had to sit in the back seat, and I'm afraid the limited leg room in the back was my biggest disappointment from the whole experience. Luckly I dont plan on sitting in the back when I get a Volt, thats going to be someone else's problem, still 2 more inches would have made all the difference in the world.
I got to drive second and it was a very pleasant experience it was all in pure electric mode, unfortunately we didnt get to experience range extending mode. The car was so quite inside, I couldnt hear any road noise from the tires or wind or the electric motor, it made the MINI E seem down right noisy, something no MINI E driver would normally imagine.
The car has two modes an economy, or normal mode, and a sports mode, we got to try out both, and even in normal mode, it was quite peppy, with no hesitation from the dead stop, but when you kicked in sport the car jumped forward and I couldn't keep the accelerator floored for long, on the short course.
Handling was fantastic, the Volt has some very wide tires, and a very low and balanced center of gravity, and it held up to some tight weaving and sharp accelerations, and a wet track without any tire slippage, or spin outs, or even a traction control system kicking in. This car is a pleasure to dive.
In low gear you get regenerative braking when you let off of the accelerator, but even in normal Drive gear you get regenerative braking when you press lightly on the brake, and friction braking as you press harder.
We folded down the rear seats and this give you a lot of room in the hatchback, enough room for a bike, or two, or over 4 full backpacks. Well thats what I'm planning to put in there.
Yes I'm hooked, this is a pleasurable full featured car, that just happens to be electric, and I'm going to buy one the first chance I get.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Warm weather and the choice to renew

In the last week it seems that Spring is finally here on the east coast. The temperature has warmed up and the snow is melting, soon I hope to see green buds on the trees, Spring is a very happy time when you can feel the new year is coming and all sorts of possibilities are open.
I've been fairly lax about writing to my blog over the last couple months, part of that I can attribute to just being very busy with work, but much of it was not wanting to admit the limitations I've had with the MINI E over the winter. As you may remember for a month in December and January MINI E #304 was in the shop, then when I got it back, I was found running the heater on full barely kept the car warm, and killed my range, I've been averaging 70 miles per charge, vrs. 110 I was seeing in the summer.
So for the last two months I've been limiting my MINI E driving to just my daily commute, and using my Z3 to drive to my fiancee's house 80 miles away. There is a short distance route which actually takes longer but is only 70 miles, and maybe I could have gotten by using the MINI E. I would have had to leaving it outside on the 110 charger over the weekend, something even MINI USA doesn't recommend in the cold, then the car would have been VERY cold at 5 am Monday morning we've had a number of really bad snow storms and I was very worried about being caught in one of them while driving the MINI E. Even Lewis and Clark knew not to cross the Sierra Mountains in the Winter, and I was worried about ending up like the Dommer Party. Over the last two months I've only put 1000 miles on #304, while prior to that I was putting about 1200 miles on a month. Now that the weather has warmed up I'm looking forward to driving the MINI E to my Fiancee's house again, and putting many more miles on MINI E #304 until my lease runs out.
Today I received a letter from MINI USA offering me a chance to renew my lease for another year for $600 a month. Some people might consider that still a high price, but considering it covers everything but the cost of electricity and liability insurance it seems a fair price to me. But I have to ask am I right for the MINI E, during the weekdays the MINI E fits my driving well, I rarely drive over 60 miles, 80 miles tops, most days I only drive 40, for which the MINI E is a great commuting car. But on the Weekends I'm either driving to my Fiancee's or we are off to the mountains to go hiking on some back trail, or mountain biking somewhere new, we like to explore and get away from civilization, and technology. Unfortunately this means MINI E #304 usually spends the weekend sitting at one of our homes.
I'm afraid my life style isnt right for a pure electric car as my only car right now. I'm not giving up on Electric cars though, I think the Chevy Volt will be a better fit for my lifestyle. It offers the promise of pure electric driving for the first 40 miles then a gas generator kicks in and powers the car as far as you need, or to the next gas station. This will give me a almost all electric daily commute (All electric if I can convince my company to put chargers in at work), and it give my fiancee and and me the range and cargo room we need to explore the great outdoors, what could be better? Unfortunately the Chevy Volt wont be on sale until November at the earliest and then only in California, Michigan and Washington DC, who knows when it will be available in New Jersey. I may just have to buy it in Washington, and make service trips down there as needed, if they will let me get away with that.
But what do I do in the mean time? My other car a 1997 Z3 with 180,000 miles on it, is feeling her age and doesnt have the cargo space we need. As the weather improves I can drive the MINI E more and more, I'm hating the idea of returning it just as its at its getting to its peak usefulness time of year, and I have no desire to buy another car as a stop gap until I can get the Volt. I've asked MINI USA if the MINI E lease extension is only for a full year or if it could be for a few months, if I can I'd like to keep it a little longer, but not if it means driving it over the Winter.

Finally, stay tuned for a big announcement in two month, the date been set, the reservations made, the ring is being crafted, expect some amazingly beautiful pictures.