The Adventures of Rob and Dorrit (the Toyota Echo): Sparky: The other vehicle

At the beginning of June, I was concerned about Dorrit. For the last six months, I knew I was going to be travelling home to Dublin for four weeks. I am sure the car would be safe enough outside my Vancouver abode, but a month is a long time. Thankfully, my friend Rory (from the Ikea blog episode) stepped up and offered me a parking space in his apartment complex. I was relieved and felt like a pet owner knowing his/her best friend was safe.

As my departure date grew closer, I was excited thinking about being home and seeing family and friends for the first time in nearly three years. I was also expecting to be able to drive my car back home, a late-build R53 MINI Cooper S. Like Dorrit, the MINI is a small car but unlike Dorrit, it is a sporty, hard-riding hatch with a supercharged 1.6 litre engine. This makes the MINI very fast, but also very thirsty. If Dorrit is like the nice girl you can bring home to your mother, the MINI is the wild pole dancer who you know is going to break your heart and bank account without any remorse.

You can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I flew into Dublin to discovered the MINI was in a dealership in Cork being serviced. There was a cornucopia of vehicles in my parent’s house ranging from a pick-up truck to a sleek F-13 6-series for me to borrow over my vacation. All these cars belonged to various family members and it was ultimately my brother-in-law’s all-electric Hyundai Kona that I found myself driving almost exclusively. Full disclosure here, I have never been too excited about electric cars. They have always struck me as one trick ponies. The instant acceleration and torque is addicting but after the thrill wears off, you are left with what I see as an efficient mobility device. Was this white Hyundai which I called “Sparky” for the obvious reasons going to convince me otherwise?

Coming home is never easy or stress free and this longer trip was a working holiday. I was planning an official Irish launch for my book along with joining a gym and getting an Irish SIM card to save on international roaming charges. I was given the keys to Sparky along with a quick tutorial on the gearing and after a few minutes of acclimatization, I was bonding with this car. Like Dorrit, it was designed to be effortless. Unlike Dorrit, it had a lot of new technology I had never used. Simple things like using Apple Car Play and reversing cameras to brake regeneration and fast charging. In the city, this type of vehicle makes sense. There is instant torque and acceleration and a cool sci-fi like whoosh as the car is in motion. I will admit to loving that. It was so easy and inoffensive, I was totally relaxed and cool (as Sparky has full climate control too) at the end of the day with all my errands completed I could understand the appeal of this type of car.

The next day highlighted some of the limitations. I was drafted into driving to Clonmel to collect my sister’s two dogs and bring them up to Dublin for a christening. This was a two-hour journey. Electric cars are wonderful in the city where they can regenerate battery charge but much weaker on motorways cruising at higher speeds for extended periods of time. Sparky was ready to go having been left charging overnight. I was given very strict instructions on dealing with both the car and dogs. Sparky would need to be fully charged again before I made the return trip to Dublin at the only rapid charger in Clonmel. Finding this charger was like a treasure hunt, even with Google Maps and I was unsure if it would even be available. Luckily when I arrived in the town and found the charger, it was free. I quickly plugged the car in and went to find a café, as even with the rapid charger I was looking at a two-hour wait.

Once the car and I were fully recharged I collected the two dogs and treated them like precious cargo on the return trip. The car made it back to Dublin with 50% charge or approximately 250 km range remaining. I didn’t have time to do anything other than throw the dogs in the house and leave them at the mercy of my mother and young niece and nephew before travelling into Dublin city centre for an important meeting. It was the last place I wanted to go, especially at around 3pm when traffic is beginning to get heavy. I was nervous about the range not knowing Sparky all that well and there would be nowhere to charge the car. Like in Vancouver, I placed my life into the hands of Google Maps as it had more up-to-date knowledge of Dublin’s roads. I turned off the air conditioning and set the battery to fully regeneration and drove off as gently as possible. I arrived at the hotel for my meeting with 45% range left and afterwards I drove home to be presented with 40% remaining range. I plugged Sparky in for the night and by the morning the battery was back to 100% (425 km range).

What have I learnt? Well, I can totally see the appeal of electric vehicles, especially in the city. If you are only travelling to the shops, gym and running errands, they are wonderful and so easy to drive. You need a proper home charging system though, and be more strategic in your planning of longer trips. It all costs money too and apart from the rather soulless nature of these cars, I do have a concern about longevity and resale value. We are all essentially beta testing battery technology and I remain to be convinced about these cars as safe long-term purchases. If anything, I think hybrid cars are the best compromise right now. Having both an internal combustion engine and electric motor gives you the best of both worlds and a degree of flexibility that poor Sparky can’t match. Yet.


Next Month: Costal breathing in Cork