The Agony and Ecstasy of Electric Motoring
Steve Schaefer, Tue, 18 Mar 2014 02:40:40 PDT
The Honda Fit EV is a great example of everything that's wonderful - and not so great - about living with an electric car. I just spent a week with a Reflection Blue one and it took me on a real adventure.
Nobody can argue that electric cars aren't cleaner than gasoline burners. Of course, how much cleaner depends on how the electricity you use was generated, but you aren't burning anything in the car itself - there isn't even a tailpipe. The EPA's green ratings for the Fit EV are a perfect 10 for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.
Electric motors are quiet and smooth. My tester made a little high-pitched whine as it gained momentum, but otherwise all I heard, even at freeway speeds, was a little hum from the tires and a minimal bit of wind noise.
Electricity is significantly less expensive than gasoline. My research showed that to go 30 miles in a gas version of the Fit would take one gallon of gas at $4.00; an electric Fit would use about $1.00 worth of electricity.
At this point, the biggest negative with electric cars, including the Fit, is range. Imagine if you had to fill your car's gas tank three gallons at a time - and it took hours to do it. With a 73-mile range like the Fit, you need a daily charge, if not twice a day, possibly at a public charger. Charging at home in reasonable time means installing a 220-volt charger in your garage; 110 volts is too slow.
If you plan to drive your EV only for commuting, and your daily mileage fits well within the car's range, then you can charge it up only at night. However, if you want to come home after work and use your electric car again, you may not be able to do it. Also, forget those 160-mile round trips to visit the grandkids or taking long vacation excursions.
The Fit EV drives very pleasantly, is well finished, and comes nicely equipped, but it's still Honda's cheapest car. You can buy the basic gas-powered Fit starting at $16,215, while the price of my test car was $37,415! The two versions look nearly identical, except for a chrome smile up front and EV badges on the electric.
There are significant federal and state rebates that can take up to $10,000 off the price of an EV, but it still costs a lot more than a gas-powered model. Good leasing deals are out there. Currently, you can lease a Fit EV for three years at $259 a month, although availability is very limited.
The challenge of driving an EV is learning how to live carefully on your meager energy budget. The Fit's instrument panel has a Power/Charge gauge that shows you if you're using electricity or generating it. On the other side is a full/empty battery gauge, and between them, a digital estimated range display. If you're careful, you can accumulate lots of little trees there.
You can select Econ, Normal, or Sport mode on the left side of the steering column. For me, using Econ, the 100% full range was 73 miles. Pushing the Normal button dropped that to 62, and Sport slipped further to 56. These numbers vary tremendously depending on how you drive.
Econ reduces the heater function to nearly nothing. Switching to Normal restores climate function, and also makes the car much quicker off the line when you press the accelerator. Sport mode gives another boost to acceleration, but seems unnecessary otherwise.
I used two different charge companies - ChargePoint and Blink Networks. I spoke on the phone with representative from both, and now have memberships. You need to do this to get access to the growing, but still widely spaced, charging networks, and cheaper rates, too. I received text messages from both companies telling me when the car was full - and also when the charger had been unplugged from the car (in case it was someone else!).
Despite some charging challenges, I enjoyed driving the Fit EV. It's stable and feels light and taut, although my driving was not on exciting roads. The motor's torque pulls you forward, and the expansive glass greenhouse and broad dash make it feel spacious inside. I played the audio system without any apparent impact on my electricity budget.
If you are willing to put up with the obvious issues of range and price, an EV may work for you. The Honda is nice to drive and handy to use, with its hatchback. If I owned one, I would be sure there was a charger at my workplace and install one in my garage. I would also have a reliable second car that burns gas available for longer trips.