It was eerily quiet.
I was driving a Jaguar — my first time in the driver’s seat of any vehicle from the luxury British car maker — and there wasn’t much to hear save for the slight swish of the car moving along the road and the wheels turning against the pavement. No roar, rev, or vroom-vroom. But there was so much going on.
I was in the I-Pace, Jaguar’s first all-electric car that Waymo plans to use for its self-driving taxi service. It’s not the world’s first electric car, but it was the first I had taken for a spin.
A quick jaunt around the event center made me realize several things: my next car should definitely be electric and this weirdly felt like the car version of my smartphone.
It was still very much a car, but so many parts of the experience from the silent ride to digitized interior reminded me of using my iPhone — all the efficiencies, distractions, and annoyances included.
Screens, screens, screens
Everything felt digital inside the I-Pace from the speedometer to the air system to the radio. Yes, most modern cars have a digital display and slick infotainment systems, but the latest electric cars seem very screen heavy. It’s enough to keep your eyes on anything but the road.
The Tesla Model 3 pretty much has an iPad-like tablet mounted to the dash. The forthcoming Byton car is an extreme example of basically all screen everywhere, even on the steering wheel and back of the headrests. BMW’s iNext concept car went for a subtle interior design, but kept the focal point the digital displays. Also below is an inside look at Audi e-tron, complete with three different screens in the cockpit.
And look — more screens in the Mercedes EQC.
Still processing the interior of the #Byton electric, semi-autonomous car. That screen — whoa. Apparently it’s below your eye line, but I was distracted and we weren’t even driving. Oh and Spider-Man also checked out the new wheels. #TCDisrupt pic.twitter.com/yS4dxjJIHe
— Sasha Lekach (@sashajol) September 6, 2018
Even the more affordable Chevy Bolt is very screen focused.
After getting over the screen overload, I prepared to actually drive the car. Front and center was how many miles I had left on the charge.
The range was much more in my face than any other information on the various screens.
It reminded me of the option to track the exact percentage of battery remaining on your phone. I choose to live optimistically assume I have maybe 70 or even 80 percent of my battery’s life available when the icon starts to dip. I don’t need to know exactly until I get into more dangerous territory of 20 percent. Then I switch on the percentage stat.
Back in the car, instead of looking at important things like my speed, I was fixated on how many miles I had left. Even though I drove about a 3 miles and the car could’ve gone on for over 200. It drove me somewhat bonkers. I rationally knew that it didn’t matter on this quick, super short trip, but I couldn’t look away.
Range anxiety is real and the electric car makers know it and overcompensate for it, assuring you constantly that you’ll be fine, you’ll make it.
My Mashable colleague Chris Taylor wrote about his experience driving the Chevy Bolt for more than 200 miles and how the car’s software practically made him focus on improving his mileage and energy use, almost like a game.
Push the button
I never felt like I truly started driving because, well, I just pushed a button and off we went. Even to go in reverse I simply pushed an “R” button. It felt so strange. There wasn’t even the semblance of a gear shift.
Like on my phone, I can do some powerful things simply by using my thumb. With a push of a button, I’m moving a 4,700-pound machine forward or backward. Cool.
Another set of buttons on the I-Pace was so reminiscent of my iPhone I almost laughed.
I could see myself getting obsessed with “gaming” the mileage count and turning on the “high” eco-mode button that slows you down for regenerative braking. It felt like putting my phone ins “low power mode” and seeing how long it can last with limited capabilities.
It’s the first thing everyone notices, but these electric cars with their battery-powered motors are so quiet. Compared to an internal-combustion engine experience it felt like being in the front seat of a giant digital device. Think about it, your battery-powered cellphone, tablet, or computer doesn’t make any noise to run (OK, sometimes your computer fan gets noisy but that’s about it). With today’s phones you don’t hear anything while the machine gets to work. This is how the electric cars feel. Except it’s a vehicle that can move you forward — and fast.
Plug it in
The I-Pace is a plug-in vehicle, so you need to have a power supply at home or find a charging station like you would a gas station.
This week I visited Volta‘s headquarters in San Francisco where the company’s free electric charging stations were available out front. CEO and founder Scott Mercer explained the business model behind the fast-charging “fill-up” stations that don’t cost you a penny. Instead of paying money for electricity you are shown ads on the station screens and you have to find a station. You’ll notice the chargers are in places like shopping malls and grocery store parking lots — places where you’ll spend money on groceries or clothing while you wait at least 30 minutes for your electric charge.
After the I-Pace drive I didn’t get to (or need to) charge the car, so Mercer let me try it out for myself on a red Fiat 500e.
You literally plug in the car with what feels like a giant phone charger. Unlike a gas station nozzle nothing drips and it fits in snugly. I didn’t get electrocuted or feel a jolt of energy. All you need is a power source or a public (or pay-to-charge) station. It was all very anti-climactic.
All this to say the electric experience is fun, quiet, powerful, and may bring some of the problems of smartphones to our cars.
If we start treating our cars like we do our phones we are headed into trouble, with safety falling to the wayside for slick features, energy-saving tricks, and different things calling for your attention. Maybe it’s because the cars and its tech are fairly new and shiny, but it’s basically a distraction box on wheels. Those self-driving cars need to get here so we can sit back and push all the buttons.