This week, our man is impressed by the real-world usability of even a short-range electric car, ponders the relationship between average speed and efficiency and compares London's fearsome 20mph speed limit zones with Germany's limit-free autobahns.
Headed eagerly out of The Smoke for a weekend update in Autocar’s electric Fiat 500, because EV life keeps changing. Paused my usual London-Cotswolds trip at Membury services to try the Gridserve chargers that last year replaced those woeful Ecotricity units on motorways. Mine worked well: it connected quickly, read my credit card without drama and boosted the battery 30% by the time I’d downed a coffee.
Saturday and Sunday
Lots of local zipping about the Fiat’s speciality. It’s amazing how a semi-rural life advances your car’s odometer in 30-mile chunks, but our home charger obliterates short-haul EV problems. Still, I wasn’t confident we’d pull off a 127-mile round trip to meet a son for Sunday lunch – not least because Fiat has always been hopelessly optimistic at forecasting how far any 500 will go on a ‘tankful’. (Remember when it advertised the 50mpg Twinair’s fuel consumption as 68.9mpg?) The EV’s WLTP range is 199 miles but none of us has ever got closer than 150, and even a modicum of leadfootery slashes it further. This time we made it with 22 miles to spare.
Back to London in the Fiat, indulging my long-time preoccupation with the fact that aerodynamic drag rises as the square of speed. I’m no theorist but, as I understand it, if a car encounters an aero load of A at 50mph, it’ll be close to 2A at 70mph and one-third A at 30mph. Such considerations really matter as fuel costs head skywards (and as new EV drivers become more aware of energy consumption).
I believe there’s a trade-off in many a driver’s head between how much energy they aim to save and how much dawdling they can tolerate. For this experimental journey, I decided the right speed was 58mph – and was rewarded with a journey that took about seven minutes longer than usual, and an apparent range of 166 miles, which (for once) is a whisker better than what you’re offered on start-up at this time of the year.