The Life Electric: How Five Years of Driving EVs Converted a Hardcore Enthusiast
A little disclaimer before we start this article. I don't consider myself an environmentalist and I don't constantly talk about things like sustainability or my carbon footprint. As a lifelong gearheard, I'm also not one of those who feels like every drop of fuel burned in the name of fun is a crime. Nor am I a tech-obsessed Tesla fanboy who kneels at the altar of Elon Musk and praises all things the company does. But after driving about 50,000 miles behind the wheel of EVs, I'm fully sold on electric cars for daily life and I want to tell you why.
I've been obsessed with cars of all shapes and sizes since I was a toddler. I love the sounds of engines, the feeling of shifting through the gears and the distinct ways different types of cars deliver their power. I dig big V8s, loud turbos, built engines screaming to redline and fuel-sucking carbs—and I always will.
I'm also a person who is constantly annoyed by the oppressive emission laws in my home state of California, especially the ones that have no real impact on emissions but make it difficult or impossible to enjoy the automotive hobby the same way people in other states do.
But despite all of this, I've become a convert of the EV movement, and after half a decade of driving electric vehicles day-in and day-out I'm at the point where I can't really imagine myself not having at least one of them in the garage.
For me it all started back in the summer of 2014 when I heard from some friends about how cheap you could lease the Fiat 500e EV for. With all of the upfront discounts and post-purchase rebates people were telling stories of driving a brand new electric car for less than they were paying for their cable bill each month.
And that's how I found myself signing papers on a Baby Blue 2015 500e that would sit in our garage for the next 36 months. Like many, I was skeptical of whether an EV with a range of about 80 miles could function as daily transportation and had a lot of questions going into it, but the sweet deal made it a pretty low risk opportunity.
As with most people who drive an EV for the first time, I was extremely impressed by the smooth and quiet nature of the 500e and by its instantaneous torque. On paper the little Fiat was far from fast, but at city speeds it felt impressively quick and was surprisingly fun to drive—even without gear-banging and exhaust notes we typically associate with fun cars.
Over the next three years, the little Fiat served as the primary car for my wife's 10 mile round-trip drive to work, our around-town errands and just about any other local driving we did. In the end, we couldn't have been more happy with the experience. For us the 500e fit our lifestyle perfectly, but there are few caveats that are very important in determining whether the same can be said for you.
First up is geography. We live in a city that's large but doesn't have the endless sprawl you find in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area. There's a population well over half a million, but very few people commute more than about 30 miles to work each way, and the vast majority have much shorter commutes. In other words, it's a perfect area for a short range EV that goes between 80-120 miles on a charge.
Second is that the 500e wasn't our only car. At all times the Fiat was complimented by at least one traditional gasoline car that could be used for long trips when needed, but the majority of our time on the road ended up being in the electric.
Right now there's a lot of talk about how EVs need a lot more range and how the charging infrastructure needs to be vastly improved before electric cars become mainstream, but I think they are already viable now as a second vehicle, and most American households have two vehicles at the very least.
Range anxiety is something I've been asked about a lot and I can honestly say I've never really felt it—aside from time or two when we simply forgot to plug the car in at night. Presumably most people should have a good idea of what their driving habits are, charging availability and other factors in advance. If you drive hundreds of miles on your average day or have driving commitments that vary wildly an EV won't be the best choice, but even the shorter range models should work for most people as a dedicated commuter or local car.
In our case ended up liking our experience with the 500e so much that when our lease was up in 2017 we decided to replace with with another electric car, this one a Volkswagen e-Golf that offered a similar range but with more space for a family that now included a baby.
While not as tossable as the Fiat, the Volkswagen delivered an even more refined take on the EV experience. And during our two-and-a-half years with the e-Golf we grew even more fond of the electric car life.
Depending on your priorities, the gasoline money savings or the low emissions may be the biggest reason for driving an electric car, but for me it was more than that. First up the simple fact of not having to bother with gas stations has been fantastic, the quiet driving and abundance of torque are addicting and lack of moving parts makes for low cost and trouble free ownership.
As I write the lease on our e-Golf has actually just ended and I'm currently trying to figure out what to get next as daily driver. I'm interested to see the new EV platforms that Ford and Volkswagen are working on, but those won't be on sale for a while and a Tesla doesn't fit my budget.
It should be said that the biggest drawback to an EV may be the depreciation that comes with them. With battery tech constantly advancing, electric car values go down extremely quick and that's why the majority of them are usually leased to offset the risk.
With that said, that also means there are some incredible deals on used EVs and as long as their range is sufficient they can be had for fractions of what a similar gas car would go for. Right now I'm going back and forth and buying a cheap used EV as a city commuter or just leasing another one.
One model that's struck my interest lately is the BMW i3, which has been around for a while and can actually be quite affordable despite its high MSRP when you factor in tax credits and incentives. Used i3s also seem to deliver great bang for the buck, and while it may not be a "sexy" Tesla, the i3's rear-drive layout, sprightly acceleration and carbon fiber construction give it some genuine enthusiast cred.
And going back to the idea of the car enthusiast embracing EVs, it's often assumed that an enthusiast should value driving fun and character over things like comfort and economy. And considering my personal experience with many different types of cars, EVs are typically much funner to drive and more interesting than your basic gasoline-powered daily driver.
To put it another way, in terms of ranking cars that excite and interest me I'd currently use the following breakdown:
1. Cool Gas Cars. Dedicated performance vehicles, classics, race cars, off-roaders, project cars etc.
2. EVs and Plug-Ins. All electric or plug-in hybrids for the daily life. Refined, smooth, full of interesting tech and surprisingly fun at times.
3. Mainstream Gas Cars Everyday cars with traditional gasoline engines but without any real excitement. Is anybody going to be devastated if EVs eventually replace four-cylinder Camrys as daily drivers?
There's also the very real and likely possibility of EVs being better enthusiast vehicles than everyday gas cars thanks to their impressive power delivery, good weight distribution, RWD layouts and ability to take many different forms, but that's a subject for another story.
Again, I will always love and always own gasoline-powered cars and I sincerely hope cool and exciting cars with loud engines and manual gearboxes will continue to be built for a long time, but I'm also 100% on-board with a future where those cars sit in the garage next to an all-electric daily driver or family car. If mass adoption of EVs helps the planet—that's great, but in my personal experiences there are plenty of other reasons to consider one.
So there you have it. After five years of driving electric cars as daily transportation I'm 100% on board with them for primary transportation. Yes, the infrastructure will need to improve and battery tech will need get cheaper for it to make sense for everyone, but I've tasted the EV future and it's pretty great.
Now how about an EV with the ability to bang gears? That's what Ford did with its new electric Mustang prototype.