Why I’m not waiting until later to switch to an EV

The week of Memorial Day, I and dozens of other members of the media visited Toyota Motor North America’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, to see what the automaker is working on and to chat with execs. Thursday that week, we had the opportunity to drive any model in the current Toyota and Lexus lineups. Name a model, it’s yours to check out.

This was my first chance to drive a Toyota bZ4X. I have driven very few vehicles propelled by battery juice. (My first experience was with a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid from the press fleet some years ago. I was impressed with the electric drive, as well as the imperceptible switch to gasoline power after I drained the battery as I drove home down I-94 in suburban Detroit.)

As I cruised around Plano traffic in Toyota’s first all-electric model since the long-departed RAV4 EV, I was struck by how, well, normal it felt. The interior touchpoints felt normal, the huge infotainment screen felt normal, the propulsion felt normal — until I stomped the accelerator to take advantage of that instantaneous EV torque. It didn’t drive like a “golf cart,” a common refrain by know-nothing cynics on social media who have never spent a second driving an EV.

In the half hour I spent in the bZ4X, I didn’t drain the battery to the point of making me sweat — the front-wheel-drive version is rated at 252 miles, while all-wheel drive is good for 228 miles. Not bad, I thought as I handed the key fob back.

Early Friday morning, I flew back to Detroit and headed to the office. As I was leaving the airport, I saw gasoline prices had risen to more than $5 a gallon and I dreaded my next fill-up. I had been dodging the worst of the surge at Costco, but even the warehouse giant’s deeply discounted fuel prices are becoming hard to swallow.

That afternoon, I unexpectedly ended up with the key to a Volvo C40 Recharge electric crossover from the press fleet, which was charged up to the recommended 90 percent of its 226-mile range. I drove it to dinner downtown, then 35 miles home, with about a 65 percent charge to spare. Same experience as in the bZ4X: familiar form factor and a pleasant drive on the roads and highways.

Not so pleasant: the charging experience. Since I don’t have a charger at home and I had the Volvo in my possession for a few days, I figured I would top off at a nearby charger. I struck out at the biggest shopping mall near me — only two plugs, and it was Saturday. I should have known better. I used the Google Maps embedded in the Volvo’s infotainment system to quickly discover there are only three fast charging stations in all of Macomb County, where I live. However, there are plenty of slower charging stations, so I plugged into a ChargePoint station in front of my neighborhood Kohls, did some shopping and browsed the next-door furniture store.

I paid $1.65 for 1 hour, 19 minutes of charging and got 26 miles of range. Not jaw-dropping, but it beats handing over a Lincoln for roughly the same amount of combustion-powered distance. I ended up with enough range overall to get me through the weekend and the following Monday, plus the drive back to the office on Tuesday, where I plugged it back in.

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