A lot has been written by professional journalists and car boffins about electric cars vs hybrids vs conventionally powered cars. I am neither a journalist nor a boffin (more of a “Statto” according to my wife), and hence the aim of this piece is to share my impressions of living with an electric car, or more precisely, a Battery- Electric-Vehicle (BEV) for a few days. Thanks to Gordon Thomson of Western Volkswagen in Edinburgh, I was loaned an e-up! and set out to see how we would cope with it over a family weekend at home.
I picked up the car at Gorgie Road on a cool wet Friday evening. Not being too familiar with this part of Edinburgh, I was delighted to find that the e-up! came complete with satellite navigation and heated front seats. I’d managed to get range anxiety even before arriving at Western, so at least I wasn’t going to “waste range” by getting lost. After a briefing (in the rain) where the specifics of the start-up and recharging processes were explained to me, I was ready to go. A quick turn of the key, a “ping” indicating the car was ready to go and I moved off, ninja like, silently into the stream of cars. Heck I was even dressed in black for the occasion, with only the e-up!’s LED running lights giving my presence away.
As most of the switchgear on the up! is standard VW fare, fiddling with the temperature controls, turning the windscreen wipers on and off, and using the indicators were second nature. The radio is unlike any VW offering I’d used before and had me flummoxed. As I couldn’t find Radio 5 Live on DAB, I settled for trying AM. Thankfully a previous driver had already tuned it in for me so I wasn’t destined for a completely silent trip back home. That said my son now has to explain most technical things to me, so it is more likely a symptom of my age rather than an issue with the radio fitted to the car.
As you put your foot down the 210Nm of torque from the 82PS engine is instant and linear for as long as you are accelerating. If you are using the recuperation mode, as you lift your foot off the accelerator the brakes are applied and the battery is charged via a generator. With a little practice, you can accelerate and decelerate using just the accelerator and get the added benefit of increasing or at least preserving your range. I had gone around a half a mile before my first wheel spin; when on a wet street wheel spin becomes a simple thing to induce which, as I discovered, can startle unsuspecting pedestrians waiting to cross (oops sorry). The torque combined with the size of the e-up! gave me the impression that the car was accelerating a lot quicker than the manufacturer’s figures would suggest (0-62mph in 12.4s for those of you for whom this is important). More than one motorist in a fast car was surprised when the lights turned green. Well up until we hit 30mph anyway…incidentally, the e-up! can hit a top speed of 80mph according to the manufacturer.
One of the key questions I asked Gordon was about the “real world range” of the e-up! When I left Gorgie Road, I had a maximum indicated range of 96 miles in Eco+ mode (this turns off non-essentials like air conditioning, reduces acceleration and top speed in order to consume less power and extend range). I made my way through Edinburgh and out onto the A90 heading for Fife. Having successfully negotiated the Friday night rush hour traffic across the Forth Road Bridge I headed towards home, which is around 10 miles away, with the e-up showing around 75 miles left “in the tank”.
The last five miles towards home is on a fast 60mph road with a number of significant inclines along the way. I discovered two things over these five miles. Firstly, the weight of the batteries combined with the skinny tyres ensures that you are circumspect going into sharp corners, and secondly that speed and inclines have a significant impact on your range. By the time I got home, I had an indicated 52 miles of range remaining having covered around 22 road miles in total.
Once home, I reversed the e-up! into the garage and set about trying to plug it in. It appears that in my haste not to get wet back at the dealership, I misunderstood how to plug the electric supply into the car. I simply could not get the plastic cover to budge.Given the dealership was closed by now, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by tweeting Gordon, I persevered and eventually worked out that although the car was unlocked, the plastic cover wasn’t. A quick click of the key and embarrassment was averted.
The rest of the weekend was relatively plain sailing. We did all the usual family things and, wherever possible, used the e- up! to see whether it really could work as a second family car. We went for lunch in Aberdour and considered parking in the “electric cars only” charging bay at the railway station. Charging points are popping up at various locations around the region and from what I can work out, within Fife you need to make a one-off £10 purchase of a card from the Council and the charging station will allow you to plug in and charge for free. A fast charge only takes 30 minutes to bring the battery up to 80% capacity, which is just enough time to have a cup of tea in one of the local tea shops (other beverages are available apparently).
In anticipation of a trip to the play park, we had loaded our five year old daughter’s bike into the boot. Rain stopped play… So instead we took the kids swimming at the pool and picked up some groceries. Not the weekly shop but still a decent haul which was all packed in successfully. On Sunday I took the kids on a shopping trip to Dobbies in Dunfermline, and later a trip to the skate and kid’s play park in Burntisland. At this point I discovered that the boot floor is adjustable and which meant my son’s scooter could be easily accommodated too. Disaster averted!
Monday came and a trip to work almost completed my test drive weekend. The e-up! generated considerable interest and numerous questions from various work colleagues who appeared to be just as interested in the new technology as I had been. I had one final dutyto carry out prior to heading back to the dealership in Edinburgh. To my daughter’s great excitement, I had to pick her up from school in the e-up! and was treated to a rousing chorus of “My Dad drives an electric car” which makes a change from the usual rust laden verse she sings to me.
So, what did we think of it? There is very little not to like about the e-up! It struck both of us how “normal” it was to drive. If you’ve ever driven an automatic car, you can drive the e-up! Over the weekend I reached the conclusion that if you have range anxiety then you have probably bought the wrong car. I think the biggest challenge to mass adoption of electric powered vehicles is one of cost rather than the question of range. All else being equal, could we live with the e-up! in the long term? Yes, it would work well for day to day running about where we didn’t have to carry full sized bikes, travel longer distances, or at higher speeds for extended periods of time, but then it is not designed or intended to fill these roles.
In my opinion, once VW and others in the car industry address the question of purchase price this will become a much more popular choice for the private cash buyer. At £19,270 the e-up! is expensive relative to its petrol powered brethren. For the company car driver however, with a ZERO rate benefit in kind, the e-up! could be a seriously tax efficient proposition. For the PCP buyer the total monthly cost is usually the key consideration and includes not only the cost of the vehicle, but servicing, tax and fuel costs. For them, the e-up! offers an enticing blend of zero road tax, cheaper fuel (electricity is not free after all), and reasonable monthly repayments which depending on your annual mileage, could leave you with significant monthly saving overall. It may pay to look carefully at the sums to see if it will work for you.
Personally, in the short term it is more likely I’d look at the forthcoming Golf GTE (or similar hybrid) for the additional flexibility it gives in terms of space and range, combined with lower running costs that it promises. If however, you don’t need the internal space, or to cover a large distance, the e-up! is a fine proposition with a great specification and low running costs. And you can sneak up on teenagers!
The final words have been left to my eleven year old son,“Dad, what is up! short for? Is it like, up!-lifting because it just like, glides along?”
I couldn’t think of a better observation to finish this review.
Brett Wells, Fife, August 2014
With thanks to Gordon Thomson and all at Western VW
Collecting the e-up! from Western VW in Gorgie
Opposite ends of the emissions spectrum, the e-up! drew a crowd
Adjust the boot floor, and both the bike and scooter fit perfectly
Use the right car for the job. Two different approaches to the problem.