I thought electric cars were a good idea. You can’t go 700km to a tank, but that’s fine, I’d say, most people don’t do 700km in a day anyway! Then I drove one.

I was on holiday recently, not far from home, just trying to escape some work they’re doing to my train line that’s destroying my commute. I even left my poor sick MR2 at home, so nothing too exciting. The place I stayed had a Nissan Leaf available for hire, just $20 for a half day. How could I skip the chance to drive an EV for my first time when it’s practically free?

So I did. And so began many new experiences for me. The newest car I’ve owned is from 1994 so the newfangled Leaf was all kinds of different. In general I felt they’d tried very hard to make it some sort of appliance, or something like an iPhone. It even had a startup chime like you’d get from a Mac. It’s like they’re trying to convince you you’re not driving a car, but that you’re using a device to get to your destination. It was cool, but I sort of hated it too - it’s everything I don’t like.

Look at me, I’m a Mac

Then we got to driving. It was very much how I expected it to be I suppose. Quiet, refined, and though it wasn’t powerful the power was always there. I did engage in some wheelspin on the perpetually wet roads of Inverloch. We’d received grave warnings from the staff who gave us the car, not to aim for more than 70km of range, but we were going to a small cheese farm about 25km away so it should’ve been perfect.

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Then the Anxiety Kicked In

We started the trip with 130km of range left and with me feeling confident. The power surged, I was charging my phone, the heater was on, we had some hills to climb, the Leaf swallowed it up. But some 15km into our trip the range had dropped. In fact, it had halved, and was hovering around 58km. And the panic came on like a cold sweat. Part of me thought the 130km was probably optimistic, it’s probably learned a thing or two since we hit the road and adjusted the estimate accordingly. But another part thought we’ve got less than half our range left and we’re not even halfway into the trip. Only one of those explanations involves us making it back to the resort.

I should have been confident. The estimate when we set off should’ve been less hopeful, but I shouldn’t have been too worried regardless. They said a 70km range and surely that was under-doing it, right? Well, I’ll say this: the charging and the heating and the fun stopped. No matter how many times I told myself it would be okay, I still couldn’t take my eyes off the range meter. Or the little meter that tells you whether you’re using or regenerating charge. I watched those bad boys like a hawk until, some 10km from home, I was confident we’d be okay.

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So, was it the electric power that induced my waking nightmares? Or is this just what it’s like having a “distance to empty” gauge (something I’ve never had)? Is it something about seeing how many kms I have left that scares me to death?

Something about the (analog) fuel gauge in my car is comforting. It’s not some computer, dishing out wildly optimistic claims then slashing them because it clearly has no idea what’s going on. The smarts come from me and me only. The gauge tells me the accurate information that there’s 1/4 a tank left, and it’s up to me to calculate a distance to empty based on how I have been and will be driving. Is it so hard, people? Would you rather a computer like the one in the Leaf, and risk being told hopelessly inaccurate information, just so you don’t have to think? Open your eyes sheeple.

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Anyway, we made it, and the car was fairly nice and a good bit of fun. I’m sure if you owned one you’d learn how the range worked and it would be fine (but what’s the point then of the computer?). But it’s not really the car for me.