February 04, 2014

OT: Electric cars that get you HOV lane access

Now that I’ll have a >2mi commute for the first time in a decade, I’m considering cars that qualify for single-occupant use of California’s carpool (HOV) lanes. In case you’re in the market, here are some quick impressions:

  • Chevy Volt. It was like driving a $40,000 bowl of oatmeal (and it seats just four). Its unique powertrain apparently sucks energy right out of my soul.*
  • Toyota Plug-In Prius: “It drives about like it looks,” a Prius-owning friend once told me. Yep. “Can I pass this right-lane car on the freeway?” I asked myself during the test drive. Nope. But at $31,000, the price is reasonable.
  • Toyota RAV4 EV: $50,000, and I couldn’t drive to SF and back without planning my trip around a recharge in the middle. Pass.
  • Nissan Leaf: Same range problem, but at $29,000, it’s much more reasonable. I haven’t driven it, but my friend seems happy with his.
  • Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid: Attractive, but $45,000 for a cloth-seat Accord? Cripes. (Also, on our 7mi test drive it somehow managed 16.7mpg. Soooo…)
  • Ford Fusion Plug-in Hybrid: Same as above, but $42k. Really? Didn’t bother to drive it.

…which of course brings us to that baddest of boys, the Tesla Model S. “Don’t drive it if you don’t want to buy it,” cautioned a Tesla-owning friend. He’s right: We tried it yesterday, and the power & smoothness are as terrific as you’d hope. Ay, but there—along with the (to me) eye-watering price—may lie the rub: It would make me want to drive a lot, when I really should try to use mass transit (specifically the Google bus).

Thus the smart call (ecologically, financially, and in terms of productivity) is likely to sit tight for now & to try the bus. Meanwhile we’ll keep enjoying the VW** TDI Sportwagen we bought last year. It’s fun to drive & gets 45mpg highway (but no HOV access). I just wish VW’s plug-in TDI CrossBlue (89 MPGe, seats six) were shipping today.

By the way, people here sometimes debate the wisdom of “Lexus lanes” that would let people pay extra to use carpool lanes. We are of course doing this already: pay a huge premium on an unremarkable car specifically for that privilege. It’s just a question of where we direct the funds—to private companies or to the government.

* I kept thinking of There’s Something About Mary: “You said she was a real spark plug!!” “No, I said…”

** I with other companies gave half the damn VW/Audi does about interior details. My little design shibboleth is the window controls: Give me one-touch down and up all around and you’re good; fail that & you show you don’t care. Tesla of course gets this right.

Posted by John Nack at 6:30 AM on February 04, 2014
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