If you believe, as many of us do, that climate change means our children will live in a more dangerous and chaotic world — then at some point you’ve got to look in the mirror and wonder about the car you’re driving.
Transportation accounts for Vermont’s greatest contribution to climate change. Carbon pollution from cars and (especially) trucks means that for every historically destructive hurricane — think Puerto Rico — every driver is making those storms a little bigger.
So if you love the climate and cars, too, where do you come down?
Squarely in the seat of an electric vehicle.
At least that’s what I’ve concluded after many hours of researching hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles (EV’s) online.
It’s true that driving is a big cause of climate change. But we drivers can’t be expected to always wear that crown of thorns.
Most of the time we want to hit the open road. Or at least enjoy a pleasant commute cocooned in our little world, coffee in hand, weather report on the radio and, at last, a few minutes to ourselves.
The slow solution to vehicle pollution has been for the government to force manufacturers to produce higher-MPG conveyances. Almost all of them burning gas and emitting carbon dioxide, which is the primary culprit in climate change.
But thanks to the Electoral College, U.S policy is now headed in the wrong direction. The Trump Administration plans to roll back policies that are improving gas mileage and resulting in cleaner, healthier air. Carbon pricing remains a politically difficult dream, and we’re pumping out toxic tar sands oil and fracked gas at record rates.
But America is not an island, and vehicle production is a global industry. Even China is striving to stem climate change, and there’s an emerging shift to EV’s. Volvo, for example, plans to go all-electric.
In the meantime, I like my Subaru Legacy. It’s comfortable, and loaded with technology designed to keep an occasionally inattentive driver like me out of the ditch. It gets 30 MPG and is partial zero emission. The car also appears to be able to see around corners. Which is especially nice if you’re trying to back out of a parking space onto 22A in downtown Vergennes.
But the all-gas-burning Legacy is like almost everything else on the road: It still pumps out carbon dioxide.
Start exploring the alternatives and you’ll enter a world of acronyms: ICE (internal combustion engine); PHEV (plug-in hybrid vehicle), BEV (battery-electric vehicle).
Even for the new class of plug-in hybrids — meaning most of them can go more than 15 miles on battery alone — there are multiple options.
You can, for example, get a hybrid plug-in with all-wheel drive: the PHEV version of the Mitsubishi Outlander. Imagine that. An AWD vehicle that runs partly on greener, electric power.
Now here’s the bad news. Consumer Reports calls the Outlander “outdated and outclassed” with a “buoyant” ride and clumsy handling. It has a transmission that “amplifies the engine’s howl.”
One of the pleasure of online vehicle shopping is the colorful prose adopted by automobile writers. We used to say that only sports writers got to work in the toy department. Apparently the auto press has joined them.
Take Car and Driver’s assault on the Prius Prime.
The Prime’s spirit animal must be an anteater or platypus, the magazine said, calling the car “graceless, gawky, and odd,” with a design so off-putting “it’s almost an anti-car statement” that looks like “a protest against taste.”
Its basic Prius predecessor, the magazine said, was “obviously designed by people on psychotropic drugs.” The Prime’s one saving grace? “At least when you’re in it, you can’t see it.”
But for those of us who value car prose that is both funny and informative, the king of snark is Dan Neil, of the Wall Street Journal. To read him is to wish you could drive all the cars he gets to sample, while realizing you’d never be able to describe them as entertainingly as he does.
Neil, for example, loves operating the gear selector on the BMW i3, because it’s “like turning the right bolt on Frankenstein’s neck.”
Which brings us to the Chevy Bolt.
While Tesla expects people who want an affordable EV to make a down payment and wait 18 months for the Model 3, Neil points out that GM already has the Bolt on the market. (Which is, to clear up the frequent confusion, a different car than the hybrid Chevy Volt.)
In a review that should be pasted to the wall of every Chevy showroom, Neil called the diminutive, all-electric Bolt “a absolute hoot in the sack” and “the Prozac of range anxiety.”
With a range of 238 miles on a full charge, he wrote, “If I owned a Bolt I’d charge it about as often as I take the family van to the gas station. And the bathrooms at home are cleaner.”
The Bolt is so fast from a dead stop, he said, it “should come with a traffic attorney on retainer.”
And here’s where things get really interesting: For a general audience, Neil concluded that electric vehicles offer a better driving experience than internal combustion engines, “no matter how much Big Oil spends propagandizing against electric cars or if gasoline goes back to 30 cents a gallon.”
But through my Internet research, I’ve found that trying to buy a car online is like trying to find true love on an dating site: You’ll never know what that person is really like until you take them out for a spin.
OK, I’m ready for a test drive.
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