On March 26, 2016, I went into a local car dealership and left, driving a shiny new 2017 Chevy Volt. A couple of years later, I had an electrician set up the wiring in my house to install a Level 2 Charger in my garage, so I could charge the car more quickly.
I have now been driving this car for longer than I have had any other car in my lifetime.
And I will tell anyone who will listen, that Chevrolet is one of the two brands to which I actually have any real loyalty. (The other is Apple.) With the exception of the Dodge Grand Caravan I bought after my kids were born, I have been a Chevy guy for my entire driving life.
So earlier this year, when Chevy announced the launch of the Bolt EUV Launch Edition, I decided to pre-order one of them.
Right now, that car is being slightly delayed by the worldwide chip shortage. I have test driven one and I absolutely loved it. So it’s basically a waiting game for me now.
So while I’m waiting, I figured I’d take a test drive of some of the closest competitors to the Bolt EUV. Although I can certainly wait for the Bolt to roll off the assembly line (I don’t owe any money on my current car and am enjoying not having any car payments, to be honest), that doesn’t mean that I can’t at least look around to see what else is out there, right?
The only real rule I have right now, is that it has to be fully electric.
If I don’t get the Bolt, the strongest contenders, at least based upon the reviews I’ve seen, are the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Kia Niro EV, the Hyundai Kona EV, and the Volkswagen ID.4.
(I should note that I’m not completely closed off to a Tesla, but their proprietary charging system is not compatible with the charger I already have installed and would prefer not to have to do anything different.)
So this past weekend, I figured I’d see what was out there, and take whatever I could for a test drive. To start with, nobody near me had the Ford, Hyundai, or Kia models. I did, however, find a VW dealership with an ID.4 that I could test drive so I tried it out.
The short review is that, given the choice between the Bolt EUV and the ID.4, I prefer the Bolt. This is based upon multiple factors, although, to be sure, some of those factors are kind of trivial. Both of them are a comfortable ride, with plenty of legroom in the interior. (Which is important for me, since I’m a big guy and in almost all cars, I have to push the drivers seat all the way back in order to be comfortable. My girlfriend sat directly behind me and found that she had plenty of room in the rear seat.
The total mileage you can get on a single charge in the ID.4 is greater than what you can expect to get on a single charge of the Bolt. (Approximately 260 for the ID.4 compared to just below 250 for the Bolt.) What’s interesting about this comparison, though, is what the EPA calls Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe for short. Since electric cars don’t use actual gasoline, they translate a gallon of gas into a total number of KWh and test how far the car can go on that much electricity. The Bolt gets about 130 MPGe, while the ID.4 gets about 100.
That means that the battery that propels the ID.4 is larger but less energy efficient than the Bolt. This makes sense, given that the sales rep informed me that the battery literally covers the entire undercarriage of the car.
I’m sure that VW, when they designed this, made the battery and its enclosure more than sufficiently durable but something about having it as a part of the chassis doesn’t strike me as the safest place to put a battery with that kind of power. Who knows how many small rocks and pieces of gravel get thrown up on a regular basis when you’re out driving? I’m no expert on optimum design in this place, so I guess that works, but it still makes me wonder what the shelf-life of that battery enclosure is. And that’s not even getting to my concerns about the safety and durability of the battery in the event of an accident.
It also means that it’ll take longer to charge from a completely (or nearly) empty charge. That’s significant and not to be discounted.
The car handled smoothly. When I started the test drive, I put it in Eco mode (the most energy efficient means of driving, but at the expense of having less pick-up), and set the car to the regenerative braking mode. (All EV or hybrid-electric EVs have that mode. Basically, ease your foot off the gas and it recovers your potential energy to add a little bit of charge back to the battery; I’ve gotten used to that feeling in my Volt.)
I didn’t like the gearshift. It’s not a stick but instead it’s more like a crank handle positioned behind the steering wheel, close to the dashboard. It’s a bit too responsive to the touch, as I was able to move back and forth between reverse, drive, and regenerative braking without any difficulty, but I couldn’t quite find the right “touch” to get the car into neutral. Putting the car in park, involved pushing on a button on the crank handle, so that was no problem. It felt awkward to be reaching for it, though.
The entertainment system clearly has a lot of bells and whistles to it, but to be blunt, it seemed excessive and a potential distraction while driving. And that stood in very vivid and stark contrast to the very flimsy joystick-like knob that is used to adjust the positioning of the outside mirrors. It felt like VW hasn’t changed that design in two decades.
One thing I absolutely did not like about this car was the way to turn the car on and off. I recognize that the days of inserting a key into a spot on either the dashboard or the gearshift are long gone. But this car doesn’t even have a push button to turn the engine on or off. To turn it on, you get in the car, sit in the drivers seat, and take it out of park. To turn it off, you get out of the car. I keep a portable air pump in my trunk at all times in case I need to add air to my tires. And that, by necessity, requires me to plug it into the DC outlet in the car. Some outlets have power going to them while the engine is off, while others require the engine to be on. How would this work in the ID.4?
This is a minor niggle, but still noteworthy. The charging port on most electric cars are somewhere near the front of the car, on the drivers side, as that’s generally where the battery is. With the battery taking up the entire undercarriage of the car, the charging port could literally be anywhere. And they chose to put it on the passenger’s side of the car, near the rear of the car, so it looks like a gas tank. My charging station in my car is near the charging port on my Volt (and near where the Bolt will be). I’m sure the cord is long enough to reach around to the back of the car on the opposite side, but that’s inconvenient to get to for a driver at any rate.
25 years ago, Volkswagen’s big advertising campaign was Fahrvergnügen, which literally means pleasure from driving. Although the drive was definitely enjoyable, it didn’t really excite me. It’s a worthwhile car that might serve as a substitute if I get tired of waiting for the Bolt EUV, but at least given everything else going on, I’d rather wait. All of the good things about the ID.4 are also true about the Bolt. And the Bolt has some nifty features that the ID.4 simply doesn’t have (like cooling seats in the summertime and a rear view mirror that takes advantage of the rear camera to give a much better view of what’s behind you.)