Choosing our Second Car

We’ve been a one car, two motorcycle household for years.  Winters in the Seattle area are fairly mild, and you can ride a motorcycle year round with just a little preparation except for a week here and there when the temperatures dip below freezing.  It’s cold and not always pleasant, but you can do it.  We lived close enough to work that this wasn’t too bad, even in cold and rainy weather.

Then my office was moved, and my commute went from 10 minutes to 30.  I got some extra gear for my scooter which kept me warm most of the time, and if the commute became too uncomfortable, I could take the car and Michael still had a short motorcycle ride or could even walk to work.

Buying a newer home without breaking the bank meant increasing the commute time and distance for both of us.  I wasn’t looking forward to 45 minute commutes on my scooter in the cold and rain, and I didn’t feel good about forcing Michael into a 30 minute commute on his motorcycle while I took the car in comfort.  It was time to get a second car.

Choosing Electric

Since I was going to be the primary driver of the new car, I got the loudest vote on what car we were going to get.  I wasn’t initially considering an electric, primarily because the sticker price was high.  There were a few things which won me over though.

  • Great lease deals.  The purchase price was a concern given we had no idea what the resale value would be as this emerging consumer technology improved.  However, having a lease with a low monthly payment and ability to walk away after two years felt more affordable and safer.
  • Price of gas vs. price of electricity.  Gas prices were closer to $3.90 per gallon when we were shopping for a car.  Even though they’re below $3.50 per gallon now, the fuel costs are still higher than the amount of electricity which will take you the same distance.
  • Lower maintenance needs.  No oil and filter changes, no tune ups, the most expensive thing we may need is new tires.
  • More environmentally responsible.  Not only is electric less polluting than gasoline, but thanks to this area’s use of hydroelectric as its primary source of power, electricity is cleaner here than in many other parts of the country.
  • Geek points.  Because, electric car.

So, I was willing to consider an electric, and starting to get enthusiastic about it.  Next step was to see what was available and take some test rides.

The Contenders

Tesla Model S – The first electric car I recall seeing in the wild was the Tesla Roadster.  This car is no longer available in North America, but the Model S is out.  Tesla has a store in our local mall, and they have a Model S out on the floor to look at and even sit in. It’s a great looking car, with a 300 mile range on a charge, massive touch panel display screen, oodles of storage space, and fantastic performance.  However, at $50,000 for the basic model, and we being frugal consumers, there were more affordable options out there for my daily commuter vehicle.  It might be a car to consider when we decide we need to replace our long-range hybrid car, however.

Nissan Leaf – These started appearing in the area about a year ago.  I thought it was an odd looking car which eventually grew on me as looking kind of cute and quirky.  Nissan had some very aggressive lease deals in October which made this vehicle especially appealing.  We decided this one was worth taking for a test drive.

Our sales person only allowed us a short test drive, encompassing about 4 city blocks.  We did get to try one steep hill, which the car handled well, although maybe not with as much power as our Honda Civic Hybrid could muster.  The dash seemed a bit hard to see in direct sunlight.  It was otherwise a very comfortable car, and the handling felt quite natural, including the car moving forward when “idling”.  I appreciated the rear view camera and the built in GPS.  I also liked having controls on the steering wheel, and was excited about the Bluetooth audio functionality and heated seats.  This car had a ton of options.  The EPA reported range per charge was only about 73 miles, but my commute is only about 40 miles, so it would be adequate as a daily commuter.

Mitsubishi i-MIEV – I hadn’t heard about this car before doing a web search for electric cars.  It had a shorter range than the Leaf, but also had a smaller price tag.  There was a dealership in the area, although not as close as dealerships for other manufacturers. We decided to pay them a visit.

We were given a test ride in their minimum trim level version.  It was a nice, long ride, including highway and side streets, hills and flat areas.  It handled well, was able to charge right up a hill when allowed full power, and recovered energy well on eco mode going down hills.  It cornered great.  It’s a small car though, with very few creature comforts and an economy look and feel to it.  No backup camera, no steering wheel controls, no GPS.  Shorter range than the Leaf at only 62 miles. There is a more expensive trim level which has these things, but that brings the price back up to nearly what the Leaf was, and still wouldn’t match the Leaf.  Overall, this car just didn’t have the bang for the buck that the Leaf had.

Chevy Volt – Michael had taken a test drive of this car once before as part of a work event, and had been excited about the car ever since.  I have to admit, I felt a lot of pressure to like this car.  At the same time, I felt a little less enthusiastic about it, since it’s not a pure electric.  It only has 35 miles of range on the electric motor, and then switches to gasoline.  Since my commute is 40 miles, I would be driving on gas for at least part of my commute every day.  However, I wouldn’t have to worry about being stranded with no charge, which is what makes this car appealing.

We got to test drive this car without a salesman, which made for a more relaxed and self-paced test.  I took it on the highway for a bit, then onto some side streets and up a steep hill, all on the electric motor.  It handled beautifully, with plenty of power and acceleration.  It also felt quite luxurious, with most of the same features as the Leaf and a dashboard which I thought was easier to see in full daylight.  It was slightly more expensive though, and Chevy’s lease deal wasn’t as aggressive as Nissan’s.  I also didn’t like that I’d still be dependent on gas for part of my daily commute.  This would be my top pick for a replacement for our hybrid, but we really only need one car with long range potential in our fleet, and the hybrid is paid for.

Ford Focus Electric – I really wanted to try this car.  It’s a little more expensive than the Leaf, but it has longer range and a similar feature set. Unfortunately, when we called for a test drive, we were told that the closest available vehicle was in Idaho, and we wouldn’t see one locally for another month.  We didn’t know how long the Nissan lease deals would last, with the 2012 models being snapped up, and doubted the 2013 Focus Electric would be priced as aggressively since it was a newer model.  We ended up passing on this car just due to lack of availability, but I look forward to checking it out in the future.

Smart Electric – This car certainly has an attractive price tag at only $25,000 before incentives, but it’s not actually available yet.  The web site doesn’t say anything about range or top speed.  The Smart car is meant to be a city commuter, and I need something with more flexibility than that.

The Winner Is…

Unless you just tuned in to this blog with this article, you already know we leased the Nissan Leaf.  The Volt was a close runner-up, and the Focus Electric would probably have had a pretty good chance if only we could have given it a test ride.

I’ve been enjoying my daily commute in the Leaf a great deal, staying warm and dry in a zero emission vehicle.  Look forward to more posts on my experiences as a new electric car driver.


About Chris Johnson

I was born in Wisconsin at a very early age. I now live in Washington state with my husband, a very fluffy cat, and the latest in a series of bettas. When I'm not pointing out yet another "thing from Wisconsin", I'm reading, playing video games, playing Mahjong with friends, and occasionally working for a living for some company which makes software and stuff.
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