The EV Diaries: Firsthand Experiences with Electric Vehicles

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What’s it really like to commute, run errands, and otherwise live and get around with a Nissan Leaf? How about smaller, lesser-known electric cars such as the Smart Fortwo ED or the Think City? Read on about the experiences of a few drivers who’ve gotten to give these groundbreaking new vehicles a whirl.

A Wall Street Journal writer with a prolonged test drive of the Nissan Leaf came away from the experience certain his next car would run on batteries rather than gasoline. But even though he thoroughly enjoyed driving the Leaf and felt that it was more than up to the task of day-to-day errands, he couldn’t imagine actually buying a Leaf—because the thing is just too darn homely. In addition wishing for a “sexier” electric car, the test driver experienced the much-talked about “range anxiety,” and hoped that the next round of electric cars could be driven further per charge (say 250 miles rather than the 75 or 100 miles most handle today), and that charging becomes quicker and more convenient:

Cutting charging time would be an absolute necessity for long-distance road trips. Family getaways from New Jersey to the Berkshires, Cape Cod or Bar Harbor, Maine would be easy if high-voltage fast-charging stations were available along the way.

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Over at, Joni Gray has been chronicling her Nissan Leaf experiences in a regular “Living With Leaf” column. Besides feeling a bit like a hippie revolutionary, on the cusp of the next big movement, she has ensconced herself in the curious EV subculture, which comes with its own terminology like SOC (state of charge):

The SOC is the equivalent of a fuel gauge for the battery charge in an EV. In conversation, it might be said, “With my SOC at 80%, my range is only about 67 miles.”

Yes, there’s range anxiety, but once you’ve driven an EV for a while and get to know others within the circle, there’s also “range envy”:

Range envy exists when you start comparing your car to other EVs that might get more range than you. It’s the equivalent of a bunch of gear heads standing around asking each other, “what will that baby do?” In our case, it’s more like, “how much to you get on a charge?”

Nissan Leaf owners may or may not also be adopting their own special “Leaf Wave” to be signaled on the road only to other Leaf drivers.

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TechCrunch’s David Cowan is another Leaf driver, recently explaining why, after living three and half years automobile free, he’s back to being a car owner. Here’s why Cowan chose the Leaf over the hybrid-electric Chevy Volt:

The Leaf costs 3/4 as much as the Volt, and 1/3 as much as the Karma. You get at least $7500 in tax credits, offset by the $2,000 expense of a home 220 volt charging station.

(MORE: Huh? Brand-New Chevy Volts Cost Thousands Less Than Pre-Owned Models)

Finally, over the course of a few weeks the New York Times’ Bradley Berman took turns (literally) driving around northern California with three tiny electric vehicles: Smart Fortwo ED, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Think City. Berman writes that the latter, designed in Scandinavia and built in Indiana, is “the most engaging and spirited car of the trio,” but that the vehicle feels more golf cart-like when it’s driven in its most energy-efficient mode:

My raves about the performance of the City, or its top speed, are limited to its D driving mode. The car also has an E (economy) mode, which robbed the throttle of its fun. On the highway, E reduced the top speed to about 58 m.p.h. That proved inadequate, so I kept moving back to D, which allowed a steady cruise of 65-70 m.p.h.

If the driver kept the City in E mode, the car should get 100 miles per charge. Driving in D, on the other hand, the range is supposed to be 75 miles, though the best the author could do was 69 miles on a full charge—leading, perhaps, to range anxiety and range envy at the same time.

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Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.