It’s hard to believe, but we’re just about to enter the last third of our 2-year experiment with Buzz, our all-electric BMW ActiveE. At the risk of getting a little sentimental, it seems just like yesterday he was silently gliding into our garage for the first time.



So the decision is going to be upon us faster than we think about what comes next. One thing our experiment with Buzz proved to us is that having one electric car fits our lifestyle at The Aerie very well.

So — who are the leading production model EV contenders?

BMW i3: This is the car that the data from our field trial is being used to create. Due in early 2014, this “Megacity” car is supposed to have Buzz-like performance and range (80-100 miles) — actually a little better as the chassis is made from carbon-fibers and so is lighter than Buzz.

BMW i3

BMW i3

Price: $41,350 ($7500 Fed EV tax credit + $2500 CA rebate) + Yet-to-be-identified incentives for participating in the ActiveE field trial.

Pros: We like BMW. Buzz has beaten all expectations. Great looking interior.

Cons: “Distinctive” styling makes it looks not-so-much like a BMW.

Tesla Model S:  The S has won all sorts of accolades in its short lifetime, including Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 2013. Not Electric Car of the Year — Car of the Year. Very stylish, it is the “it” car right now among the technorati. With a range that dwarfs other EVs (250-300 miles), fantastic performance, and great lines, it’s a pretty sweet ride.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Price: $88,000 ($7500 Fed EV tax credit + $2500 CA rebate)

Pros: Beautiful design inside and out. Eschewed “egg” shape of other EVs.

Cons: Exorbitant price. Salespeople have been dicks when I’ve asked them about the car. Car is huge and do you know how small SoCal parking spots are?

Nissan Leaf: Easily the most sold EV here in San Diego according to my non-scientific “look around while I’m driving” survey. I see a lot of Leafs (Leaves?). From what I can tell, they are solid, somewhat unremarkable vehicles, with a slightly smaller range than Buzz (~70 miles), and with a diminished driving performance.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Price: $30,000 ($7500 Fed EV tax credit + $2500 CA rebate)

Pros: Affordable. Well-supported by Nissan.

Cons: Fugly, even for an EV. “Meh” driving experience.

Chevy Spark-EV: The Spark is a EV retrofit of Chevy’s smallest production line-car. The max range (75 miles) is on the low-side of acceptable and does not seem to have been embraced by GM in the way that the PHEV Volt has. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Spark on the road, but I’ve seen plenty of Volts.

Chevy Spark EV

Chevy Spark EV

Price: $26,700 ($7500 Fed EV tax credit + $2500 CA rebate)

Pros: Affordable.

Cons: Teeny-tiny. Only a few thousand have been manufactured. Also a “meh” driving experience.

Ford Focus EV: Unlike the Leaf, the i3, and other EVs, Ford has opted to keep their EV looking like a car, not a “futuristic” vehicle. This was the second EV to reach the mass market after the Leaf, though hasn’t been really touted by Ford and there are rumors they are not interested in pushing it. Range and performance are Leaf-like, though the price is about five grand more.

Ford Focus EV

Ford Focus EV

Price: $35,000 ($7500 Fed EV tax credit + $2500 CA rebate)

Pros: Decent looking.

Cons: Ford rumored to lack interest in support. Like the Leaf, but more expensive.

Fiat 500e:  To me, the Fiat 500e is like a juiced up version of the Chevy Spark. Reviews suggest it has good handling and has a Buzz-like range of 85-100 miles on a charge. There’s a “toy car” look that I can’t quite take seriously.

Fiat 500e

Fiat 500e

Price: $29,800 ($7500 Fed EV tax credit + $2500 CA rebate)

Pros: Feisty. Reviews suggest it’s pretty zippy.

Cons: Teeny-tiny. Fiat doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for reliability. Only sold in CA.

There are, of course, other EVs being developed — e.g., a VW Golf EV, a Mercedes Benz B-class EV, a Volvo C30 EV, and a Tesla X small SUV — but none of them are likely to be available by Spring 2014.

There are also several Plug-in Hybrid EVs that have a battery that goes short distances (typically 15-35 miles) after depletion of which, the car switches over to a gas-hybrid drive. Most notable there are the Chevy Volt and the Prius C Plug-in. Right now, we’re not really considering them as it seems to diminish the benefit of driving an EV and I wonder about the engineering of trying to make one vehicle two things.

So — there they are. Which one is your favorite? Which one do you think will be plugged into The Aerie’s charging station this time next year?


45 thoughts on “Buzz-worthy?

  1. My kids listen to a cd by They Might Be Giants called “Here Comes Science” and there is a song called “Electric Car”. It’s fun to sing and we think of you every time we hear it! :)

  2. Interesting timing on this post: I saw a Tesla on the road for the first time this morning. I was so startled (“Is THAT a Tesla?”) I almost drove off the road. It is a sleek-looking beast, but I was also surprised at how big it is. Given that I am the world’s crappiest parallel parker—my younger daughter, who has lived in some very congested urban areas where parallel parking skills are de rigeur, laughs at me—I don’t see myself behind the wheel of anything that big. We also have a number of small businesses with postage-stamp-sized parking lots, and it’s hard enough getting in and out of them without driving a large vehicle. (I don’t know how SUV drivers do it, and there are so many of them around our town.)

    You sound like you love love LOVE Buzz anyway, so why go with anything else? Though I am a sucker for cute little cars like the Fiat.

    • HG — it’s really large. Much bigger than my last car, which The Beloved didn’t like because it was “so big”. In a bit of cognitive dissonance, she has seemed to put that aside for the Tesla. However, not having put aside an extra $40k or so, I think it’s an outside choice at best!

  3. You know that I l-o-v-e the Model S, but it is so huge, so massive, so freakin’ big. I don’t think I would go for it. That being said, all the other egg and space age cars are not something I see myself liking for years (or even months really). Good thing I don’t have to worry about this for a while. By then I hope Tesla makes something beautiful that isn’t the size of a suburban.

  4. If you can’t get another Buzz, I’d go with the Tesla. The others are all way too small, and I routinely mock the Fiats when I see them on the road (they look like somebody left a Mini Cooper in the dryer too long, and their drivers are usually morons (like authentic Italian drivers, I suppose)). Dickish salespeople are a trial, though. Still…it IS mighty bad-ass looking.

    • Drude — the Field Test for the ActiveEs was designed for 2-years. Apparently, they are taking them back to be recycled (except for a couple that are going into the BMW museum and such). My guess is that since they were only designed for a limited run and that there aren’t any more there won’t be any replacement parts or service knowledge.

  5. I was going to ask what Drude did … about the possibility of getting ownership of Buzz. In lieu of that, I voted for the first one, only because your “cons” of it were less significant.

    A few weeks ago I heard a “news” report on the radio about Formula E racing … electric cars. Have to go 100kph in 3 seconds, maximum speeds of about 220kph. If racing companies (like the Andretti’s) are getting into these vehicles, the tech can only improve.

    • GOM — they are supposed to be taking them back after the Field Test is over — my guess is because they only made 1000, don’t want to warranty them, and probably don’t have the parts to fix them. I’ve heard a rumor that if we want an i3 (and the delivery is for any reason delayed past our lease termination) that we’ll get to keep them during the in-between time.

    • Lurker — I guess I better start buying those lottery tickets if I’m going to get that Tesla… :)

      And yes — the Fiat “clown car” certainly seems deserving of ridicule… :)

  6. Unless I missed it, you didn’t list the Honda Fit EV or Toyota Rav4 EV, both of which are available here now.

    For 2014 and beyond, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes and Volkswagen must comply with the new requirements California Air Resources Board – Zero Emission Vehicle mandates, and will each offer some ZEV in California.

    BMW – i3 that you mentioned, optional motorcycle engine and/or new DC fast charge standard
    Hyundai – hydrogen ZEV
    Kia – Soul EV with existing CHAdeMO DC fast charge capability
    Mazda – ????
    Mercedes – B-Class EV with Tesla drivetrain, optional new DC fast charge standard
    Volkswagen – eGolf with optional new DC fast charge standard

    Toyota and Honda will both likely go with hydrogen cars for 2015 – 2017 and discontinue their respective EVs.

    Also, I would be careful using manufacturer’s range information for comparisons. In my testing here in San Diego, driving the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Spark EV, I have found that a steady speed of 62mph (100km) ground speed (not the speedometer indication) on both cars, I found the following:

    2014 Spark – 97 miles driving range – EPA 82 miles rated

    2013 LEAF – 81 miles driving range – EPA 84 miles at 100% charge***

    2012 Rav4 EV – 146 miles driving range – EPA 103 miles at 100% charge***

    *** yes, you probably have seen 75 miles EPA for LEAF and that is because the EPA averages the 80% and 100% charge ranges… The Rav4 EV is the only other car EPA does this to, with 92 and 113 miles to average at 103 miles EPA rated.

    I don’t know what an i3 will do, but I do know that it doesn’t have any fantastic drag coefficient data or particularly small “flat plate area”. Those are both important for highway cruising range; moreso than weight improvements for level ground cruising. I have doubts it will beat a Spark EV.

    Tony Williams
    San Diego

    • Tony — thanks for the great comment!

      I had mentioned the Golf and Mercedes models in my closing with the note that I didn’t think (or wasn’t sure) whether they’d be available in early 2014 when we need to make the change.

      I forgot to mention the Fit-EV because it’s only a lease and I think we’re likely to buy. I never saw the Toyota Rav4. Thanks for that. And yes, the ranges I used were mostly based on manufacturers listings and those on

      We noticed on a road trip with Buzz that we got >100 miles in range on the highway averaging somewhere around 70 mph. During my typical drive around town/commute, I tend to get mid-80s. More than adequate for our lifestyle.

      • The BMW i3 won’t be available in early 2014 in North America, except for “special” deliveries. The Honda Fit EV is a lease, and they will take it back at the end nd crush it, just like your BMW ActiveE.

        You can buy or lease the Rav4 EV. The current offer at select dealers is $444 per month lease, $0 down, UNLIMITED miles. Why unlimited? Like the Fit EV and ActiveE, it will likely go straight to the crusher. But, again, unlike those other two, you can buy the Rav4 EV. I guarantee that the Rav4 will have more power, range, acceleration and interior room of any of the others by a large margin.

        Remember, any of these vehicles built for CARB-ZEV compliance must sell a certain number, and the price will fluctuate wildly as they attempt to hit the right volume of sales. It has nothing to do with profit for the manufacturers.

        • Being part of the ActiveE test group puts us at the front of the i3 line and San Diego is one of the first places it will be rolled out in 2014. I will, however, take some time to check out the RAV4 — sounds like a good vehicle.

          • We are having a BBQ at my house on Sat, Aug 24, 5pm -8pm. There will be a whole bunch of electric cars present, including Brammo electric motorcycle (bring helmet for test ride) and electric powered bicycles.

            You can check them ALL out at once, including numerous Rav4 EVs,. If you’re interested, shoot an email to:


  7. I’m sure yours is lovely but as you know, I couldn’t commute to work and home in it!

    I’d take a Tesla if somebody handed me one but I doubt it would clear the farm road…this applies to them all I think! :)

    One thing I notice about these small cars is how SMALL they are (and I drive a subcompact wagon but that’s by mid-00 standards). One day, I was comparing and contrasting safety specs on some of the new little cars (like SmartCar, Mini, Mazda2…) and they read so great! Then you see accident photos and while crash photos are always bad (duh, crashes), I was horrified.

    Most people haven’t been in a car that was literally ran over and landed on top of by an 18 wheeler — as I have been. If that car hadn’t been an OLD, solid Mustang (if it had been the current Ford Fiesta, say)? You wouldn’t have to put up with my shite. So. There’s that. Again, I’ve read all the safety specs. I like seeing the photos. One of my term papers was on passive restraint systems. You can see it’s a special ‘project’ of mine!

    • Lily — according to one of the other commenters, Toyota has a RAV-4 EV that could probably clear your road, though probably not give you the range you need. I missed that in my survey and will have to check it out.

      The Tesla S just got the best crash test safety rating ever for a car, and one of the other ActiveE drivers was in a horrible accident (totaled the car) but walked away with just minor stuff. Though I don’t know if they do the “Roll the Semi on Top of it Test”. :)

      • Thanks for pointing that out. I recently researched (for buying) many cars and test drove maybe 6? None EV. They had the eco-friendly (fake hybrid) version of one of the cars but it was sold, although on the lot, waiting for pickup, so I was not allowed to test drive it. Granted, it STILL only got something idiotic like 40mpg hwy.

        One of the things that does NOT work for me is the hp. That’s like 50hp lower then my subcompact and I DRIVE. The tonnage they mention has to dramatically affect that hp, too. It sounds funny, like I want ‘everything’ but I’m somebody who drives a lot — in different conditions, not counting weather, like gravel roads, ‘homemade’ roads, highways and stop-and-go traffic everyday. If they’d make something like the RAV with real POWER and maneuverability? Oh! And great mileage :) That’ll be the day, yo!

        • I’m amazed at how little “extra” mileage some of the hybrid and HPEV models get — I think it’s a combo of the extra weight plus the fact that the base models are pretty crappy to start with.

          Don’t get hung up on the horsepower too. Buzz has more torque than any car I’ve owned (included 2 previous BMWs). Electric motors are a lot more efficient than ICE one and don’t have to “rev up” to produce power. They’re ready from the get-go. The RAV has the clearance, though not quite the mileage you’d need.

          • Excellent point! I only ever drove an electric (original Prius) car once — it’s a hybrid but I was surprised at the quiet torque.

            These newer hybrids (original P was some years ago) did NOT have the same feel but they were far less hp than my Mazda.

  8. A) love the Tesla. Would love to drive one, despite the snotty salespersons.
    B) have you seen that nations such as the Netherlands and South Korea that are putting in roads that charge EV’s while driving? How cool is that!

    • At their store in La Jolla, they won’t even let you test drive a Tesla unless you put a deposit down. Nice, huh?

      How cool would a re-charging road be?!? In certain red states they’re looking at over-taxing EVs because they don’t pay gas tax for road upkeep — which is fine if you add one car’s worth of tax, but they’re taxing at ~3-5x what would be normal usage. Nice, huh?

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