single car ownership

Angelbiscuit had a school engagement in Nashville this weekend, and it conflicted with my new work schedule.  It conflicted because we still only have the one car.  Now, she got the school to agree to a rental car for the weekend, so this particular instance is taken care of, but it brought the limitations of single-car-ownership to the forefront.

Our whole marriage—all 11+ years—we've been a single-car couple.  Coordinating our schedules can be a little complicated sometimes, and it limits our options when one of us is at home while the other is out with the car, but all-in-all, it's a pretty painless state. We only have one car payment, one insurance payment, and it allows us to spend more time together than we would with two cars.

Yet, I believe it can't last forever.  With two separate jobs now, and Angelbiscuit taking on additional responsibilities this summer, it's becoming less and less feasible to get by with one car.  I don't know when it will reach a head, but I'm letting it sit on my mind as a potential to-do.  Buy or lease, big or small, new or used, etc.

If I had my druthers, right now I think I'd like to lease an electric car for around-town driving, and keep the Prius c for long-range driving like to Kentucky or Missouri to visit family or friends.  I read The Oatmeal's screed about the Tesla Model S some time ago, and though I'd absolutely love to get one, $80–100k is far and away outside my ability.  Tesla did just announce the Model 3, which at $35k is much more affordable, but it won't be delivering until late 2017.  So instead I've been researching electric cars with Edmunds, and I'm surprised at how many there are nowadays.

There's the aforementioned Teslas, of course, and I had the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf in mind as potentials, but I was surprised to also find the BMW i3, the Kia Soul EV, the Volkswagen e-Golf, and the Ford Focus Electric.  There's quite the selection of electric cars to look at.  So this past weekend, I took a gander at two of them.

The BMW i3 was launched in 2014, and gets 81 miles to a full charge.  It's cute, but I found the i3 to be very unconventional.  I learned from the salesperson that a lot of this is BMW's standard methodology, but I didn't like how it was so unnecessarily different from other cars I've driven.  It wasn't one big thing, it was a lot of little things.  For example: the turn-signal lever.  On most cars, you move the turn-signal lever up or down to indicate a right or left turn respectively.  It stays in that position until the turn is completed, at which point it returns to its neutral position.  On the i3 (and other BMWs, I was given to understand), you move the turn-signal lever up or down, and it immediately returns to the neutral position, but leaves the indicator blinking until the turn is made.  It's a little thing, but there were a lot of them that were unnecessarily different, and it turned me off.  Another oddity was the regenerative braking.  Now, I've driven hybrids as my primary vehicles since 2005, both of which have featured regenerative braking.  Neither of them have been as ridiculously strong as the i3.  When you let off the accelerator on the i3, it feels as though you've applied the brake—heavily.  The salesperson tried to make this sound like a feature, that I could drive the car with one pedal alone, but I wasn't fooled.  It was too radically different, and way too strong for my tastes.  Between that and the little BMW stylings (not to mention a starting price of $42,275), the BMW i3 is a no-go for me.

A couple of days later I happened to find myself at the Nissan dealership and I got to test-drive a Leaf.  Now the Leaf has been on the market since 2010, and the salesperson was surprisingly keen on telling me that the car hasn't really changed since its introduction, and that the 2017 or 2018 models will likely feature a model refresh.  It was as though he was telling me to hold off on getting the Leaf until then, which was weird.  Anyways, the test-drive went much better than with the BMW.  The Leaf drives just like a normal car (albeit a normal car with a continuously variable transmission and regenerative braking), with no surprise deceleration like the BMW featured.  It was pleasantly intuitive as I was able to initialize and engage the cruise control while driving and being unfamiliar with the controls.  If I had to describe it in one word, I would say it was 'smooth'.  If I had to describe it in two words, I'd add 'boring'.  It hardly seemed like an electric car!  It just felt like a normal compact hatchback, hardly any different that my current Prius c.  It gets 84–107 miles to a full charge, and the mid-to-high trim levels feature a really cool camera system that functions as a top-down, 360° live view of the car.  I engaged it after parking the Leaf, and realized I'd pulled over the line a little bit, and was able to use the camera system to pull back so I was completely in the space.  In the end, I don't know how I feel about it, really.  It starts at $29,010, which isn't a non-starter for us, but for a car that doesn't have any sort of 'wow factor' at all, feels a little much.

There's also the issue of charging these cars at home.  I don't believe I have a 220-volt outlet in the garage, which means I'd have to utilize a "trickle charger" that plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet.  Besides, since I'm renting, even if I do have a 220-volt outlet, I don't think I can install a charging station without modifying the garage beyond what the landlords would like.  A trickle charger can take upwards of 20 hours to fully charge a car.  Now, I'd rarely, if ever, be charging up from a practically dead battery, but I'm worried that I'd drive just enough to start a cycle of slowly not charging enough to compensate for the previous day until I had a dead battery and be stuck at home until charging is complete.  It's a small worry, but something I need to keep in mind.

What do I really want?  Aside from a Tesla Model S?  Gimme an electric Honda CR-Z.  The price is right, and the interior and exterior stylings are very cool without being unnecessarily different.  Unfortunately, the CR-Z is actually an underperforming hybrid that's currently pulled from the market due to airbag defects.  Oh well, I'll keep looking.

image credit: Honda CR-Z by American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (© 2016)
Daniel C. Hodges