The electric vehicle revolution is in full swing. Market share is still pretty low but sales are booming and will only continue to rise. Buyers are seeing the benefits of low running costs and obvious eco credentials in ever-increasing numbers.
But before they can go fully mainstream, there are some doubts that need to be addressed. Worries about range are largely a thing of the past, because most EVs now have a range in excess of 200 miles and some even 300 miles.
However, all the range in the world is irrelevant if you can’t charge the thing. Because eventually you’re going to run out.
For EV owners the easy answer is to install a charger at your home and charge whenever it’s parked. But this requires off-street parking, and various studies suggest around a quarter or a third of UK homes do not have this.
When you consider many people rent their property, so even if they have a driveway their landlord might not want to install a charger, that’s a huge number of UK car buyers for whom owning an EV could be awkward.
I am one of those people. Although we own our flat, we have a shared parking area out the front and could not reasonably install a charger. So when I was given the chance to run the Audi Q4 e-tron for a while I jumped at the chance.
Is it possible to run an electric vehicle without a home charger? Well, after a few weeks of ‘ownership’ the answer is yes. But, unsurprisingly, it entirely depends on your circumstances.
As a resident of Southampton, I’m fortunate enough to have access to chargers nearby that are free to use. They only provide 7kW, but they’re better than nothing. And, I reiterate, you don’t have to pay to use them. (Though with rising energy costs I fear this might not last much longer.)
They’re dotted around the local area in public car parks. There are two connectors at the gym I use, so I can charge while I work out at lunch. This typically adds about the same percentage that I use for the round trip, so I get home with the same battery as when I started.
Alternatively, there are a few in car parks about a 10-minute walk from my flat. These are free to park in between 6pm and 8am, so I can leave the car on charge for as long as I like between those hours to fill the battery.
This all sounds wonderful, and it is for the most part. The downside is that you’re at the mercy of other EV users. If the chargers are being used, you can’t top up. And if you leave your car for a few hours, others who might need that connector more urgently can’t use it. These are not issues those with home chargers will ever encounter.
As an aside, one of the most frustrating aspects of this is that DPD charges its electric delivery vans at public chargers. I’ve often found charge points taken up by their vans, a complaint that is shared by many locals, judging by a quick search of social media.
As you can see, it is entirely possible to live with an EV if you can’t charge at home. However, as is so often the case when it comes to EVs and charging, your personal circumstances might make things more tricky.
It’s worth looking into whether your local area has a similar charging situation to Southampton. Some councils use free chargers as a way to encourage EV ownership and show off their eco credentials, so you might be lucky.
If not? It gets more complicated. Charging at public points can be very expensive, and in some cases won’t actually be any cheaper than running a petrol or diesel car. In the past I’ve had to rely on running EVs by making special journeys to fast chargers, which can easily be an hour-long round trip, and it gets old fast, even ignoring the cost.
So if you can’t charge at home but want to make the switch to an EV, I highly recommend doing some research. It can work, if you’re lucky, but not for everyone. Even my situation is not ideal for those who have a long daily commute.
And what of the car itself? It’s excellent and I’ve really enjoyed my time with it so far. It’s quiet and comfortable around town and its range means that in my three weeks with the Q4 I haven’t had to factor in an en route charge to get to my destination.
One thing I will say, though, is that its motorway efficiency is terrible. I need to do more long journeys before knowing for sure, but as soon as you sit at 70mph for an extended period it decimates your range estimate.
This is normal for an EV but it seems to be particularly bad in the Audi Q4 e-tron. Aside from that, though, I’ve been hugely impressed at its urban runaround capabilities. I’ll provide a more in-depth review of the car in the next report…