5 things I learned after driving an electric car for a week
There’s no hiding from it, Earth is in a perilous position, its natural resources and fragile ecological balance at risk of being forever destroyed due to humanity’s ongoing toxicity.
Collectively, we all have a responsibility to change how we live – both to give our planet a chance to catch its breath, and for future generations of people, fauna and flora to experience the beauty and magic of the world.
Small things – such as taking your own reusable cup to the coffee shop, buying dried foods and refillable detergent at BYO container shops, opting for second hand where possible – all add up, but there are areas where substantial change is needed.
One of these areas is transport, with electric vehicles (EV) one day expected to become the norm over gas-guzzling petrol counterparts. Volvo was the first established car maker to commit to all-out electrification and aims to sell only pure electric cars by 2030.
To give me a chance to see what EV’s are all about – and to see for myself that they are just as efficient as traditional petrol and diesel powered cars – they generously let me borrow a C40 Recharge for a whole week.
And, to be sure that I was really putting it through its paces and testing out as many of its features as possible, they added in a caveat: I would need to drive it to and from a wellness retreat in leafy Hampshire.
It was an irresistible invitation to a 5* bolt hole as luxe and eco-minded as the car itself. The final destination, Heckfield Place, has zero single use plastic on-site, offers only seasonally grown food (from on-site kitchen gardens and farms), and lots of lovely outdoor space to disconnect from the stresses of real life.
But more about the dreamy destination later, first I had to get to grips with my new whip…
5 things I learned from driving a Volvo C40 electric car for a week
1. Get ready to re-learn the basics
Sitting behind the steering wheel, suddenly I felt totally overwhelmed. I’ve been driving for nearly 22 years, but here I was, sitting in a car with absolutely no idea how to turn it on – there was no ignition for the key to go in, and I couldn’t even work out how to make the key ‘pop out’ from the chunky Volvo fob.
To start the Volvo C40 you just need to have the key inside the car. That is all. And it wasn’t the only thing that took me a little while to get used to! The car is incredibly quiet to drive – as there’s no physical engine.
But starting the car wasn’t the only moment I felt absolutely bamboozled by the basics.
The first time I tried to charge the car I struggled to work out how to pop open the bonnet – there’s no engine in there, it’s used to hold the car’s array of chargers – and then I found I couldn’t reach the charger from the charging point, and then, the final insult, I realised I was at the totally wrong charger.
The Uber drivers parked up nearby smirked at me, was this hooha a rite of passage for all EV drivers, or was I genuinely just an idiot?
Despite my initial fears that I would have to live inside a powerless SUV in a noisy and dirty layby on the A13 forever, I soon located on Google Maps where I could get charged up, and I was on my way. I found having access to Google Assistant was one of the many benefits of having wifi in the car (thanks to a tethered connection to my phone).
Another feature of the car that took me a little while to adjust to was One Pedal Drive. It’s designed with city driving (i.e. heavy stop/start traffic) in mind and lets the car be driven smoothly by simply depressing and releasing the accelerator pedal – no brake pedal required. However, once I got the hang of it I absolutely loved how it gave ‘Go Kart vibes’, and when the time came to return to my usual wheels, I really missed this more than anything!
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2. Charging *does * take time
The aim of Volvo’s Recharge Retreat was to encourage everyone to slow down and enjoy moments of calm and stillness – a situation I found myself in when I came to charge the car. To be honest, I was more than happy to enjoy a moment of quiet and read my book, but I can definitely see where it could become quite stressful, especially if you’re unable to charge your car on your driveway, or are in a rush.
It was reported over Christmas of chaotic scenes and long queues as so many people needed to charge their EVs – because, at the moment, charging points are few and far between and it’s not like filling a regular car, it’s not a 5 minute in-and-out job. I felt a snippet of that pressure during one charging session when a Lexus driver slowly did laps of a petrol station forecourt, shooting daggers at me that I could feel come piercing through the pages of my book.
However, the battery doesn’t only charge up when it’s plugged in. Regenerative braking means that the car recovers any energy saved when either the accelerator pedal is released or when the foot brake is used.
3. I felt really safe
As is standard for all Volvo cars, safety is at the heart of the C40 Recharge’s design. Its award-winning safety technologies can help drivers detect and avoid collisions, remain in their lane and reduce the impact of accidentally running off the road.
The car comes as standard with sensors which keep an eye out on the road ahead (and around, and behind) and ensure that the car can ‘see’ and react to obstacles with great precision. It also has pedestrian and cyclist detection systems.
4. The Volvo C40 Recharge is very eco-friendly
Many people are put off by EVs due to the ecological damage and child slavery associated with cobalt mining. It’s a rare metal that is crucial in the production of lithium ion batteries, which are used to power our gadgets, and EVs.
To combat this, Volvo has pledged to offering their customers full traceability, reassuring them that the material for the batteries has been sourced responsibly. To do this they use blockchain technology to monitor the raw material supply chain – it means the information about the material’s origin cannot be changed undetected.
Inside the car, the door inserts are made from recycled drinks bottles and other ‘ocean-bound’ plastics, and the seats made with recycled wool and vegan leather.
5. Long distances are doable
With a full battery, the Volvo C40 has a range of around 260 miles, which was more than I expected – and plenty to get to Heckfield Place near Hook in Hampshire. After arriving – frazzled by rush hour traffic on the M25 and M3 – I was more than ready for some RnR, and the C40 got some too, with a leisurely overnight recharge off site.
The hotel is, hands down, one of the most incredible places I have ever stayed in my entire life. It’s a Georgian Grade II listed manor house sitting in 438-acres of meadows, woodland and parkland that has been carefully restored by its current owner Gerald Chan.
It has a no single use plastic policy, meaning that all the bedroom furniture was gorgeous reclaimed wood and wicker, and all of the toiletries in the bathroom were contained in refillable glass bottles. Looking around, I immediately felt ashamed for the amount of plastic I have at home, and have used throughout my life and vowed to be more mindful of this.
There was freshly made juice and oat milk in little glass bottles waiting in the cosy bedroom’s refreshments cabinet, with metal tins of freshly ground coffee and loose tea. Snack-wise, there were delicious freshly baked flapjacks and apples from the kitchen gardens.
Heckfield has two restaurants, Hearth and Marle, the latter of which is situated in a gorgeous orangery in the hotel’s established walled garden. At both, the menu offerings were colourful and flavoursome, with every ingredient produced at the organic and biodynamic Heckfield Home Farm.
As part of the experience, we were asked to choose a hired outfit from Hurr to wear to dinner, a nice touch considering that every year it’s estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill.
Before heading home there was an opportunity to get back to nature with cold water swimming in the ponds, and a spot of forest bathing. For these, we were joined by proud Volvo C40 driver Alice Liveing, who told WH about her love of the outdoors.
Leaving the retreat that afternoon, it wasn’t just the C40 that felt ready for its next adventure…