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Battery Electric Vehicles

2021 Volkswagen ID.4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s all-new electric 2021 ID.4 shines competitively as a small crossover sport utility vehicle, with decent performance, range, inside space and ride comfort. But it requires a steep learning curve and a willingness to cuddle with the owner’s manual or sit through an extended class on operating it.

Perhaps it was the individual tested example. But rarely does a reviewer encounter a vehicle so confounding at first blush, some of it by design. Early puzzlements:

The start-stop button on the steering column didn’t seem to work. To get the ID.4 to the silent electric car “Ready” stage, you must twist a blob of a control behind the steering wheel to shift into “Drive,” “B” (for extra regenerative braking), or “Reverse.” 

Moving off, a view from the forward-facing camera sometimes shows up on the center screen, warning the driver to pay attention. It disappears after a few moments but it’s a distraction.

Underway, a message pops up in the instruments display, saying “Warnings and information not available. Drive with greater care.” There’s no answer to “What?” or “Why?” or how to correct the situation.

It takes a close reading of the owner’s manual to figure out the buttons to push or the digital displays to tap in order to crank up the automatic climate control. 

Trying to find the controls for the radio takes another trip to the owner’s manual and even then, it requires a flurry of fiddling to learn the SXM satellite radio doesn’t have an activated subscription. But you can get HD radio on FM.

Stop in a shopping center parking lot and touch the start-stop button to shut the ID.4 down. But the radio keeps playing — even when you open the door — and the air conditioning continues to blow cold air. Then suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, the center screen lights up and reads, “Goodbye.” Presumably that’s your cue to leave.

There’s an explanation. When you switch off the ID.4 and walk away, everything shuts down, although you might first get a message to turn the headlights off. If you don’t comply, they blink off after a few minutes.

It often seems that manufacturers of exotic or very different vehicles like electrics feel a snooty compulsion to make sure drivers are aware they are not driving a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) machine. So, some of the functions operate differently and the instruments deliver unfamiliar information. 

It’s as if the designers and engineers have never heard of the old political adage of K.I.S.S. for getting candidates elected: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Yet there are hybrids and battery electric cars out there as familiar to operate as our old gassers. Examples are the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, and Toyota Corolla hybrid.

To be fair, complaints about the Volkswagen ID.4 may simply be traced to driver decrepitude. Likely a 17-year-old would have zero difficulty learning its eccentricities in minutes. But kids don’t buy these vehicles; adults do, and not everyone is savvy.

Gripes aside, the ID.4 (initials for “intelligent design”) is a worthy crossover utility vehicle. It handles well and cruises quietly. Five passengers can ride comfortably in 101 cubic feet of space, about the same as in a midsize sedan, though as usual the center-rear occupant gets disrespected. There’s 30 cubic feet of air for cargo behind the back seat, more than you find in a full-size sedan.

The ID.4 gets its motivation from an electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels. It’s plenty of power for the 4,700-pound conveyance but doesn’t provide that instant shot of power that characterizes many electric vehicles. As with any battery electric, the maximum torque — or twisting force — arrives as soon as you mash the pedal. But the ID.4’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration is in the seven-second range, respectable but not among the quickest.

Volkswagen ID.4 1ST

The ID.4, fully charged, has a range of up to 250 miles and a towing capability of 2,700 pounds. City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent is rated by the EPA at 104/89/97 MPGe.

There are three ID.4 versions: Pro at $41,190, including the destination charge; 1st Edition, $45,190, and Pro S, $45,690. The tester’s standard equipment included two otherwise optional packages so its tested price was the same as the base price.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 First Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: Mid-mounted electric, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct with rear-wheel drive.
  • Battery pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 77.0 kWh.
  • Range: Up to 250 miles.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/30 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,700 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 104/89/97 MPGe.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,190.
  • Price as tested: $45,190.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2-Door: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. AukoferA vivid reminder of how far electric vehicles have progressed in a relatively short time is to compare the 2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop two-door with its predecessor.

It’s not widely known except by the cognoscenti, but Great Britain’s MINI delivered an electric MINI 11 years ago. The company brought one to the Los Angeles Auto Show and sponsored drives by journalists, including this one.

Though all of the driving was in LA’s traffic, the MINI had the moves of a fairly well developed electric car — instant torque, or twisting force, because electric motors deliver their maximum torque as soon as they are switched on, unlike internal combustion engines that need to build rpms to attain the same thing. It was the perfect bitty car for shooting holes in traffic.

The big drawback was that, given the state of the art of battery power then, the electric MINI hatchback was a two-seater. The battery pack, built up from more than 5,000 small batteries, weighed more than 550 pounds and took up the entire back seat space.

Called the MINI E, it was an experiment. Only 500 were built and leased in 2009 to selected individuals in California, New Jersey and New York.

The year before, the Tesla Roadster, from the company founded by Elon Musk, made its debut in the marketplace. It was followed by the Mitsubishi iMIEV and the Nissan Leaf. Since then almost every manufacturer on the planet has developed an electric vehicle, as well as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

Now we have the 2021 MINI Cooper SE, introduced as a 2020. It’s a two-door hatchback, not unlike that 2009 model. But its lithium-ion battery pack lies under the floor, so there’s space for four passengers. However, it’s still a MINI that is just 12 feet 7 inches long with 80 cubic feet of space for passengers and 9 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch. 

The front seats are supportive and comfortable enough for a long trip, though folks in back likely would start squirming and protesting after awhile. Surprisingly, given its short subcompact stature, the MINI SE has a surprisingly supple ride, soaking up bumps and uneven pavement without getting out of shape.

Of course, it also carves corners with aplomb. But as with the 2009 E, the 2021’s forte is the cut and thrust of traffic, both on city streets and crowded freeways. It can nail 60 mph from rest in a less than seven seconds and the throttle response is instant. Punch the pedal at a stoplight and you’ll quickly be looking at the big-bore bad boys in your mirrors.

One electric motor powered by the 32.6 kWh battery pack makes 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque to drive the front wheels. The transmission is a single-speed automatic because electric motors don’t actually need transmissions.

The MINI SE’s system is nearly identical to the one in Germany’s BMW i3 electric — no surprise because BMW owns MINI. Like the i3, the MINI has an aggressive regenerative braking system that enables so-called one-pedal driving. Lift your foot off the accelerator and the MINI immediately slows down as if the driver had hit the brakes. Time it correctly and you can drive to a stop without touching the brake pedal.

On the MINI, however, you can use a toggle switch (what else on a British car?) on the dash to select low or high regenerative braking. Using either enhances the range. Still, the maximum range, according to the EPA, is 110 miles — not the worst nor best among current electrics—and gives the MINI a city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) of 115/100/108.

You can also select from four drive modes: Sport, Mid, Green and Green Plus. The Sport mode makes the MINI feel quicker and more responsive. Mid is a balanced setting and Green and Green Plus help battery charging in concert with the regenerative braking. The downside is that Green Plus switches off battery-depleting systems like automatic climate control. Charging up to 80% can take as little as 36 minutes with a high-speed charger.

Like its immediate 2020 SE predecessor, the 2021 model has an arresting look. The tester was done up with an off-white body and a black top with yellow accents that included the outside mirrors as well as front and rear trim. An older woman, unsolicited, pronounced it as the cutest car she had ever seen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door electric hatchback.
  • Motor: Single electric with 32.6 kWh battery pack; 181 hp, 199 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 80/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,153 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 115/100/108 MPGe. 
  • Range: Up to 110 miles. 
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,750.
  • Price as tested: $37,750.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) MINI

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

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