This series on electric vehicles (EV) started last year as a natural outflow from the Sasol Solar Challenge. What an amazing event it was! Definitely looking forward to next year’s challenge.

What I have come to realise was that the field of electric vehicles reaches far and wide and South Africa is way behind. There is no way I would be able to cover all the aspects. So, I opted for the interesting parts. Like test driving some of the commercially available EV’s. EV just sounds so much better than ELECTRICAL VEHICLE.

The first one I drove, with kids in the back, was the Nissan Leaf. It is by far the best seller in the world except the US where Tesla has taken the crown for the first time in 2016. It is also the best seller in South Africa, thanks to some government support. At least SOMEONE had their thinking caps on - WITH a range extender.

Nissan LeafNo, the Nissan Leaf does not come with a range extender. It’s a true blue electrical vehicle. Not surprisingly, it was quite hard to find a demo model to drive. Fortunately, NISSAN HATFIELD was able to help me. I arrived there and immediately found myself drooling over the 2017 Nissan GTR which just so happened to be sitting in the executive spot of the showroom. (Sorry, all you purists out there! There’s just something about the thunderous roar of an engine which gives me goose bumps and makes me giggle like a school girl!) The very efficient and knowledgeable Jacques Steyn was able to drag me away once we started talking EV. We found the Leaf lounging at the charging station. It is being used as a run-around car by the agency. I was impressed with the fact that the charger plugged in from the front. It just seems a lot more practical to have your charging station installed in the front of your garage, rather than on the side. Another clever gadget is the dual charge adapter. This means you can charge at a BMW charging station, should you need to. However, unfortunately BMW has not returned the favour - yet.

Nissan Leaf Charging from the FrontOf course, when you get into the car, you’re a little out of your comfort zone. How do you “start” the thing? And the gear shift? Not anything like my Toyota RUNX, I can tell you that! Jacques gave me a quick rundown of what was what and off we went. Silently. But with immediate power at your disposal. When you step on the accelerator it does not wait for the fuel to get to the engine to start working. The power is immediate. The speed is acceptable. Thanks to high fuel prices and an aversion to speed fines, I have hung up my racing gloves a long time ago. The Leaf is ideal for city traffic. Not for high speed chases on the N1.  It clock’s around 144km/h top speed and reaches the 100km/h mark in 11.5 seconds. Joohoo! I suppose it will be a while until we have cars like the Tesla Model X in South Africa. But don’t they use the same type of battery system as a Samsung S7? Ok, now, let’s not go there! Too many Samsung S7 and Kuga jokes. (Just kidding, by the way, in case you took me seriously.)

I think part of the winning recipe is the affordability of the car. At the time of writing this article the price started at R 475 000. The maintenance is ultra-low, because you don’t have to change spark plugs or oil. And the recharge from 0 to full will cost you around R20-00, unless you have a Nissan or BMW charging station nearby. Then it’s free. The range is ok, according to specs it is 195km’s, but in reality it is a little less. Still, you should be able to drive to work and back if you live in the city. If you have a Quick Charging Connector you could recharge up to 80% in half an hour. Unfortunately I didn’t get to test it, but that’s what Nissan’s official brochure says. (For technical specifications click here.)

BMW i3Next was the BMW i3. Also pretty hard to find, but Leo Haese BMW in Hatfield (why’s everything happening in Hatfield?) was able to give me a test drive in a demo model. The beautiful i8 was also there, but I didn’t dare to ask if I could take it for a spin. Besides, I was looking for true blue electrical vehicles. (Yes, but that i8... Just a pity there’s no room for the kids AND the shopping.) Henry Quinn was extremely helpful, and I must say, the next time I buy a BMW, I’ll speak to Henry. The i3 is beautiful, of course, and this one had the walnut inserts, which is the top of the range model. It was a silvery grey colour with black and the seats were a light colour with a leather trim. All the bells and whistles. From cup holders front and back, to a digital dashboard. The driver’s position is raised, which is great in city traffic and the back doors open like, what they called, “suicide doors”. It’s actually incredible, because suddenly there’s a much bigger gap to get in and out of the car. I can understand the mob wanting suicide doors, what with machine guns and big overcoats. It couldn’t have been easy to get in and out of a car with all that going on.

BMW i3 DoorsThe charger is on the side, as in the traditional petrol cap, and there are BMW charging stations throughout Gauteng. Even if you need to charge after hours, you will be allowed to enter the premises to do that. BMW does have a Quick Charging Station but, unfortunately at the time I drove the i3, there were none in Gauteng. You can purchase a Quick Charging Station as an optional extra and, of course, you can also add the REX or Range Extender. This, in essence, is a 650cc motorcycle engine, which will increase your range from 160km’s to about 290km’s. Once again, I couldn’t test that, but that’s what they say.

Ok, so now the DRIVE. BMW. Sheer driving pleasure. Make no mistake, this little i3 makes good on that. I carefully pulled away. After all, this DEMO model was almost R 600K. But Henry encouraged me to “put foot” and I did! Yeehah! Incredible! Silent but violent! Wow! (Are there enough exclamations?) 0-100km/h in 7.2s. Top speed 150km/h – restricted. (I never took it that far, and I know it’s nothing like the Model X, but a lot better than I’m used to.) Thank goodness I drove the Nissan first. And can it stop?? Poor Henry would have ended with his face squashed against the windscreen, had he not worn the safety belt. All the bells and whistles – and then some.

Now this was an option! Except for two things. Price and range. When I drive to see a client, I often drive 200km’s. It’s not like I could arrive and ask the Receptionist, “Could you please put a lead through one of the office windows so I can recharge my car?” Even if I had the lead.  Installing the REX just doesn’t seem right, but it is an option. Talk about purists. Price – well, BMW can do financing and you’ll never have to buy petrol.... Once the motor plan expires, you buy a new one. Just like a cell phone. I don’t think you’d want to replace batteries, that’s for sure. (For technical specifications click here.)

Electric VehiclesIn conclusion. If you work less than 60 km’s from home, especially in the city, an EV is a great option. If I had to choose between the Leaf and the i3, there’s no contest. I’d pay the extra just for the comfort, the speed and the sheer driving pleasure. But that’s just me. Please note: these two are not the only EV's in South Africa, but they are the ones I was able to get a test drive in. Perhaps later in the year I will be able to report on a Tesla Model S, who knows. Mr Musk promised availability in South Africa in 2017.

I have to thank Jacques Steyn from BB Nissan Hatfield. Great guy and extremely helpful. Even though he knew I wasn’t going to buy anything from him.

Also, when I first started my research I contacted BMW Zambesi and there Chris Karsten really went out of his way to help me, but unfortunately they were sold out on the i3’s.

And last, but not least, Henry Quin from Leo Haese BMW in Hatfield. Thanks for an excellent BMW experience.