We all know that different cars provoke different reactions from other road users. I suspect it’s an inevitable, if ugly, aspect of human nature that we often make judgements on sight, despite our intention not to. I had reason to dwell on this recently, having spent four cheerful months in our Nissan Leaf long-termer before swapping for our rather more brazen Audi SQ7.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was people’s response to the Nissan Leaf that irked me most. A remarkable number of other drivers seemed consumed with a need to go faster than that slightly dumpy-looking electric car ahead of them, even when said dumpy car was actually going fairly briskly and was entirely justified in being where it was on the road. More than once I had other drivers dive in for a slightly teeth-sucking overtake on a B-road while I was tooling along at a healthy lick, and on the motorway the tailgating was often remarkably aggressive, even though I’m a stickler for staying left unless otherwise necessary.
In the end I came to the conclusion that the Leaf incited this kind of response because people recognise it as an electric car, rather than simply because of its everyday hatchback status. If you want to avoid being judged by other drivers, an everyday hatchback is ideal. Something like a silver Ford Focus diesel with a few months' road filth in place is right up there. It could be driven like a maniac, it could be travelling painfully slowly, or it could just be rolling along moderately with a fine driver at the wheel. It’s the vehicular equivalent of an excellent poker face.
Anyway, am I imagining this attitude to electric hatches? Or is it the Leaf’s blobby looks that cause such a noticeable response in other drivers?
And moving on, there's Big Blue - the Audi SQ7. What I’ve noticed while driving it is that people no longer judge big SUVs quite as much as they used to. Sure, if you get stuck in the wrong lane and have to hope for another driver’s understanding to allow you to move over, you will experience less goodwill in the Audi than you would in the aforementioned poker-faced Focus or something that other drivers actually like. In my experience, the latter category includes all extrovert British cottage industry cars. When I ran a Ginetta G40 R for a year, other road users would go out of their way to let me out of junctions, give a thumbs up and generally wish me well. Drive a Morgan 3 Wheeler and you’d have to be wielding a knife before other road users started to think you might not be a likeable, fun kind of person.
The only other response the SQ7 elicits is the odd competitive streak from other enthusiasts in fast stuff, who sometimes fancy a pop at a red light drag race. I really don’t mind that, and those interactions are generally pretty good-natured. But otherwise – certainly on the M3 corridor and around my familiar stamping grounds of Surrey, Dorset and west London - nobody really reacts very much to the Audi. Big SUVs are officially the norm now. I guess it’s hard to hate SUVs when your best mate and your mum probably drive them and your other half really wants one.
So there you go. Who’d have thought that a heartily inoffensive EV would incite more unnecessary anger and impatience than a V8-powered SUV? Not me, but that was certainly my experience. If there is some unflattering stigma about electric cars affecting how people drive in their vicinity, here’s hoping that common sense will prevail as they become more commonplace - and that it doesn’t take as long as it did with the SUV.