Cowland on Cars

I’d own an EV, but I’m too busy charging about

by Paul Cowland
3 October 2023 5 min read
I’d own an EV, but I’m too busy charging about
Photos courtesy Subaru

After his first extended period with an EV, Cowland is quite smitten, but there seems to be an issue – and it’s not with the car.

In a bizarre twist of fate, in the month that the UK announces it will be rolling back the ICE sales ban to 2035, those nice people at Subaru have left me an example of their funky looking Solterra EV to play with. ‘Have a go with it!’ they enthused, knowing full well that I strongly favour the offbeat gruffness of a flat-four, or even six, at the front of my Subarus.

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I’ve worked with the brand since the mid ’90s, first selling Imprezas and Legacys to would-be McRaes and stylish farmers, before tuning them in the noughties and now marketing them right up to the present day. It means that I’m lucky enough to have a few in the garage to enjoy. And whether it’s the cuteness of the early 360, the Cannonball Run hat-tip that is the GLF, or the sheer supercar-killing ability of the Imprezas, I adore them all.

Subaru Solterra EV

So, the Solterra had a tough act to follow. That said, the last time Subaru got into bed with Toyota, things ended very well indeed. The resulting BRZ and GT86 that came from their efforts still ranks as one of the most entertaining platforms I have driven, at any price, so perhaps this new pairing of the Solterra and its identical twin, the bZ4X – the only vehicle that gives you its own Wi-Fi password on its rump – could be another dynamic victory.

Things started well as the car was dropped off. Styling is a very subjective issue, but I rather like the curves and angles of this thing. I’m not a huge SUV fan generally, unless you’re talking about the Isuzu Mu, of course, but I can see that this one hangs together visually. Besides, the resulting space gives the cabin a pretty decent feel, particularly if you open the roof blinds for a little more light. All good so far.

Where I was sure I wouldn’t like it, however, was out on the road. I was sure I’d miss the engine noise, and I KNEW that it wouldn’t work as an auto. But, it took about five miles of country lane driving, with the immediate torque delivery and really quite decent handling, for me to realise that, shock of shocks, this thing was actually quite entertaining. And in terms of speed and ‘butt dyno delivery’ this thing would easily keep station with my classic Impreza. A little more weight to carry, sure, but on longer, sweeping country lanes, a genuine surprise with enough AWD grip and wallop to keep the average Evo reader happy.

Subaru Solterra EV

Even charging at home was a doddle. I tried the 3-pin for a 16-hour overnighter, which it did perfectly, and I cannot deny the thrill that those EV evangelists espouse when you’re driving around, briskly, on about a tenner’s worth of cheap ‘leccy. Life was good. If I can clear the garage out to access the full EV charger that was fitted many years ago, by a generous electrician when free grants for such things were being given away like sweets, I’m sure that topping up that giant Duracell will be much faster still.

This was all going so well, I was about to call up Rishi’s people and tell them to call it all off. If an ardent petrolhead like me can see the appeal, then maybe it’s not so bad after all. Dashing about my local errands with a Jetsons-style whirr, a battery full of cheap amps and a smile on my face made life seem pretty good indeed.

But then, I had to plan my first long journey, and things changed somewhat. My job is a very strange one, y’see, and even looking at this week’s diary alone, you might be able to see the problem. Monday I was in Essex, then Wednesday in Leeds, before dashing up to Liverpool on Thursday and then down to Devon on Friday. As chaotic as it sounds, that’s a pretty normal week for me, and I’m used to spending a great many hours on the road, getting to know petrol station staff on first-name terms. I’m not saying that I spend a lot of time there, but I am starting to remember some of their birthdays now…

Subaru Solterra EV

When I’ve done this in a petrol or diesel vehicle, it’s been a doddle. The locations and hotels will regularly change at a hat’s drop, often literally hours before, so if I find myself in a random location with a fuel light coming on, it’s simply a case of finding a petrol station, filling up with the appropriate motion lotion, before peeling back out into the traffic perhaps 4 or 5 minutes later. If I’ve been unlucky and there’s a queue at the till, or the sausage rolls have caught my eye yet again, we might be looking at 10, but either way, it’s a mere blip in the timeline.

What I’m fast learning about EV life, is there’s no such thing a refuelling timeline ‘blip’. Each stop needs to be planned with the military precision of a landing party. Where? What connector? How fast does it charge? Which app do I need? How many chargers are available? What do the user reports say? HOW much per kWh? It’s a lot to consider.

A plea on Twitter, or X, as it’s become known these days, garnered a plethora of super helpful charger and app advice which really assisted me, but the underlying message was basically: ‘Plan, Plan, Plan for each journey!’ And I fear, based on my current usage model, this is where the whole EV thing might fall down for me at the moment.

Subaru Solterra EV

You see, despite what the comments on my YouTube videos say, I am possessed of a reasonably sound mind and intellect. I can plan meetings, organise calls, create copy and content, hit deadlines, make presentations and all matter of other grown-up stuff. What I genuinely can’t be bothered to do though is add another layer of planning on top of that. Unless it’s a big party, of course. In which case, I don’t care how busy I am, I’ll make the time.

What I’ve realised during my time in an EV is that I need my work car to be a simple tool. A faithful, reliable servant that can be simply pointed at the tarmac to allow me to deliver whatever it is that I have spent hours planning for that day. It can’t ever be part of the planning itself. It just needs to show up, do its thing, and park up, with the occasional fuel and coffee stop wherever we may be. And thus far, every petrol nozzle I’ve ever put into the Volvo has worked first go, and the payment has gone straight through. When you’re an hour from your 10:30 and it’s 9:15, then that’s a very, very good thing.

Putting politics, drivetrain preference, and ecological arguments entirely to one side for a moment, I think my EV driving experience was generally a positive one. The Subaru makes a compelling case for being a ‘battery botherer’ and it’s perhaps the first badge that I’d want to own, were I to make such a move. But the reality is, my current lifestyle and usage model really doesn’t work for this kind of car. It’s too hectic, too sporadic, and far too ad hoc. That said, if you know where you’re going to be travelling for the next seven days, and each of those hops is under 260 miles or so, it could very well be the thing you’ve been looking for – especially if some of those miles are down twisty country lanes. But for now, like Rishi, I’ll keep it 99 RON for just a little longer!

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  • Nick P. says:

    When oh when will industry & governments accept that this outdated battery fanaticism will not work and has never worked to the everyday requirements demanded of the motorist. The whole concept needs ditching so that investment and further research can be concentrated on hydrogen-electric for new vehicles and synthetic fuels for existing ones.

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