Mountain Wheels: Electric and hybrid vehicles with a touch of sportiness
After a spree of audacious automobiles, let’s take an old-fashioned trip to the future and visit a couple of electric and hybrid vehicles with real-world capabilities, and a touch of sportiness thrown in. And a load of shortcomings, sadly.
I was very excited to drive the Chevrolet Bolt when it first debuted a couple of years back, as it marked the first mass-market, all-electric vehicle to offer the range by which we measure distances in Colorado: Summit County to Denver, without recharging. Maybe even a return trip, too.
Since the Bolt’s arrival, GM has, like its competitors, largely dropped the ball on fuel-efficient vehicles. You’ll remember them canceling the hybrid Volt, doing away with the pleasant and fuel-saving Cruze and shifting attention to the mid- to full-sized SUVs or muscle cars that rule the roads nowadays.
That’s made the $36,220 Bolt and its 238-mile range something of an oddity in GM’s North American family, a vehicle that’s also now subject to direct competition from increasingly capable models such as the 226-mile Nissan Leaf Plus ($36,550) or whatever one actually pays for a Tesla Model 3 — the base price of which recently dropped to $38,990 (allegedly).
My 2019 Bolt Premier came in at $43,510, outfitted with a DC fast charger, automatic headlamps, enhanced driving safety features and upgraded audio; prices for all three brands’ vehicles are before the options are added on and before federal rebates, provided you can still land federal rebates.
During this second go-round with Bolt, I was a lot less thrilled about the experience, mostly as it was during an airport trip in the early spring and cold temperatures meant I was very much unsure how much power I would tap, or have when I came back. Despite many new facilities, the ongoing conundrum of charging an electric vehicle still remains.
With more time to think about it, I found the austere and plastic-heavy interior and the somewhat robotic driving character more unappealing. Not to mention the total disappointment of instantly losing up to 40 percent of my potential range by opting to drive with the heater on.
I did all my driving on flat, Front Range roads, so I was not blessed with the Bolt’s greatest tool, a brake regeneration handle that very quickly recharges the battery when you are headed down steep grades.
Sadly, when I did pony up to use a high-output Level 3 supercharger, a 45-minute session earned me just 70 extra miles of range, though that number increased as I drove a bit. Electric car users are maybe the ultimate distracted drivers in the world, if they spend as much time as I did focused on efficiency readouts and the often judgmental energy-use info the car provides.
I was, as a result, a little more happy to drive the marginally hybridized version of the Mini Cooper Countryman super-lite-duty-almost CUV, whose additional battery resources turn it into a 65 MPGe all-electric vehicle – for less than 20 miles. This will change in an all-electric Mini, which debuted last week in Germany, promising as much as 165 miles of range.
In the Countryman, however, that 87 extra horsepower of electric motor is mostly about performance boost for passing and blowing-the-doors-off blasts but also means the car can do about 270 miles total. The combined package is 221 horsepower, with 284 pound-foot of torque for quite impressive acceleration, and all-wheel-drive added for poise. Pricing was also nearly the same as the hybrid crowd, with a base model stickered at $36,900 — and some government incentives still possible.
Being a new-generation Mini, the name has got to have a dozen qualifiers, so the 2019 Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 PHEV Sport Edition with the John Cooper Works appearance package (that is indeed a mouthful) covers about as much of the Mini territory as one can.
And yes, there’s something more than slightly heretical about a Mini that now feels like it’s about the same size and shape as an old Nissan Rogue, but times have changed.
Does a maxi Mini make it easier to get in and out of? No, actually, though the upgraded and only somewhat stiff seating will give you a little more wiggle room up front, with surprisingly large passenger space in the rear.
Rigidity of suspension is also very much part of the experience, which makes me doubt the necessity for displays showing how much time you spend traveling off-road. Instead, play with the all-electric, green or sport modes, and watch all the bright lights swirl around the Oracle-styled central navigation screen.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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