“If you could have any car you wanted, what would you get?” I’m a guy who works in the automotive world, so I’ve got to have an answer to my wife’s question, right? But after this recent experience, my response is a bit less obvious.
I’m constantly on the move, driving thousands of kilometers every year. Besides needing a car that won’t break down and comfortably accommodates my 6 feet 4 inches frame, I have a definite opinion about luxury transportation. Now, I’m someone who appreciates technology in small doses, but my answer ended up being something like: “I’m not quite sure anymore. Maybe an electric car with a cool giant touchscreen on the dashboard.“
Fast forward to today, and I’m in the midst of a three-day rental – a Polestar 2 – that I drove from Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport to Lagos, a little over 600 kilometers round trip. I wasn’t actively looking to rent an electric vehicle, but it was only 80 euros per day, which was a super enticing deal for this kind of car. Aside from my 13-year-old son endlessly scolding me for not renting a Tesla, my question is… what’s the catch?
All the major rental companies now offer a range of electric vehicles, much like their traditional counterparts, covering various model sizes from small city cars to family SUVs. Among these, Sixt aims to be a standout by incorporating the most electric vehicles into their fleet. In 2021, electric vehicles represented nearly a quarter of their new vehicles. They offer about twenty different electric vehicle models, covering 80% of the market. Other prominent rental companies active in this field include Hertz, which recently ordered 65,000 Polestar cars for their worldwide agencies.
I have several thoughts, the most crucial being that I feel well-equipped to provide a genuine review of the car itself. My other thoughts revolve around what it’s like to transition from driving a standard car to an electric one, and even more so, what it’s like to rent an electric car compared to a regular one. So, if you’re considering checking out the next generation of automotive travel for a few days, here are some points to consider.
The American company has significantly evolved its lineup in recent years, intensifying electrification. Following a substantial order of 100,000 Teslas, the company has signed a partnership with Polestar, expected to provide the rental company with up to 65,000 electric vehicles, as announced in a press release. This expansion will bolster Hertz’s fleet, which currently boasts over 500,000 cars in various agencies worldwide. Hertz aims to become one of the world’s largest electric vehicle rental providers.
IT BEHAVES LIKE MAGIC
Perhaps the most surprising revelation as I leave the rental lot and hit the road is that the car seems much more an immediate extension of my intentions than a gasoline car. Stepping on the gas pedal in a gasoline car results in a tangible moment where the fuel catches up with the rest of the car to propel it forward.
Even before pulling the car out of the rental lot, I gained a newfound respect for the wonderfully simple interfaces of regular cars. At most, you have access to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, along with familiar volume buttons and radio presets. The Polestar’s tablet is very… tablet-like. It’s huge and beautiful, but I found it quite distracting at first. It took several minutes to connect my phone, go through an integration process to set up navigation, and get the rest of my digital ducks in a row before I could put the car in reverse. Every rental car I’ve ever driven has taken a fraction of the time.
The Polestar responds immediately, almost shockingly. It’s the same when it comes to cornering. Changing lanes and navigating the streets of Lisbon once I leave the highway feels more natural.But it feels really good. The act of driving is as new and exciting as it was for 18-year-old Michael when he got his learner’s permit for the first time. Only this time, I actually know how to drive, and I can appreciate everything about it.
TECHNOLOGY IS COOL BUT CAN BE OVERWHELMING
About 20 minutes into the trip, while I’m on the 25 de Abril Bridge at 100 km/h, I try to get the satellite radio working. The app is up, the music is ‘playing,’ but nothing is coming out of the speakers. The tablet suddenly goes dark and, after what feels like an eternity, it finally reboots. When it comes back to life, there’s the integration process again. All the satellite radio stations I had preferred are gone. I managed to get Google Maps working again, but I forgot the address I had entered, and it wasn’t saved.
ANXIETY IS NO LONGER REAL
As I’ve been on the highway for a while now, the anxiety that people used to associate with electric cars has completely vanished. Even though watching the battery slowly, but steadily, drain from 97% at the rental car’s garage to 60% doesn’t feel much different than when my phone’s battery drops below 50% in the early afternoon after heavy use – it’s more surprising than I thought. Think about your gasoline car, if you have one. When the tank is halfway, you probably don’t think much about it. Now with an electric car, the feeling is the same.
The first reason is that Portugal (Lisbon and its region are top-notch) is particularly well-equipped with charging stations, and the second is that the built-in charger locator on the Polestar’s giant tablet is highly effective. I could charge the battery later, but I stop for a break and decide to charge the car at a fast charger around halfway through the journey, at a large, modern service station designed to cater to road travelers.
To reduce the cost, look for charging stations that offer free charging times, especially at supermarkets. After all, grocery shopping is a must during vacations! Also, if you make the switch, do your research beforehand with dedicated tools like the Chargemap app. And in a pinch, there’s always a household outlet at your vacation destination!
For the second part of the journey, I surrender to an algorithm, no longer choosing when and where to stop. Technology knows better than I do. Eighty short minutes, a coffee, a walk by the sea, and 73% battery later, I hit the road again. The next indicated stop is only 61 kilometers away (knowing I could reach my destination without this stop, but my brain is programmed to leave a 100-kilometer margin of autonomy).
While a car still represents a symbol of freedom, going electric makes us adapt to a new way of thinking about travel. It strongly advises us to stop when and where it needs it. This could sometimes prevent an enjoyable detour through interesting places. Fortunately, the only hardship nowadays is the difficulty of finding fast charging stations. In our time, traveling by electric car is no longer just about planning – it’s more about embracing a new relationship with time. I hit the road without regrets, as voluntary detours are no longer on the agenda. I definitively hand the reins over to technology and focus on driving this Polestar 2.
Certainly, if you want to explore the area, it’s impossible to go a week without spotting a charging station. Luckily, in tourist areas, they’re never far away. Rental companies offer charging cards (NewMotion at Europcar, Chargemap at Avis or Sixt), free or at an additional cost, and they may have special offers. Hertz, for example, currently offers free Tesla charging.
POLESTAR 2 – THE PERFECT ROAD COMPANION
This one remarkably has both a strong appeal and a never-before-experienced presence, considering the brand is brand new. It’s astonishing to see that Tesla driver in the left lane shift over to the right side of the road when I arrive. Surely, he’s impressed by the sleek lines and the grille of the Polestar 2.
Just reading the discreet logo on the rear deck must make him think he won’t make that mistake again. Too bad for him, I’ve passed, and many other drivers will have the same reaction. In the city, the Polestar draws looks and thumbs up in an almost incomprehensible manner. The stunning white color (yes, white is beautiful) must be the main reason, as the overall design of the model is exceptional for such a rare species. Bold but understated, futuristic without being flashy, the Polestar 2 flaunts a sophisticated aesthetic that stands out with subtlety.
The Polestar 2 offers an estimated range of 440 to 539 kilometers on a single charge, according to the WLTP standard. Actual range can depend on several factors, including battery charge level, type of driving (highway, city, or mixed), climate control, weather, and terrain.
I finally arrive at my destination
in the late afternoon, and the sunset in Lagos is indescribably beautiful- it’s said to be the last sunset in Europe, and it’s priceless. What does come with a price, and it’s distinctly in favor of electric, is the cost of all my recharges, totaling 20.42 euros for this trip.
With a vehicle of the same size but diesel-powered, there’s very little chance of consuming less than 6 liters per 100 kilometers at the pace chosen for this road trip, which amounts to a minimum of 50 euros at the current fuel price. If time is money, taking an electric car can also save us time. Each person will form their own opinion.
With skyrocketing fuel prices, it might be time to change your car rental habits for your vacations! First things first, don’t wait. While tourism professionals expect an exceptional season in Portugal, France, and Europe in general for 2024, car rental companies are facing high demand and are struggling to replenish their fleets due to difficulties in producing new vehicles. As a sad consequence, this situation drives prices up. The average cost of a one-week rental for the summer of 2022 is 494 euros, which is 19% higher than in 2021 and 102% higher than in 2019. Another important factor this year is the cost of fuel, which has soared.
These days, the desire for ownership is experienced as an ephemeral experience. But, man, I already miss driving around the city, leaving it, and heading to surf in Baleal, with almost no latency between my neuronal intentions and the car’s reactions…
If you could have any car you wanted…
I’m still a fan of gasoline engines, and the world knows I’m not a renter of electric cars, that’s for sure. However, I’m now convinced that renting an electric car for a few days or weeks is just a reliable, straightforward, and incredibly enjoyable experience. Navigating a tablet in the car still takes one or two taps too many for me. Monitoring the battery’s discharge is no longer an issue. Finding a viable charging station would make even the Dalai Lama even more zen. Returning the car to the rental company brings a kind of satisfaction. These days, the desire for ownership is experienced as an ephemeral experience. But, man, I already miss driving around the city, leaving it, and heading to surf in Baleal, with almost no latency between my neuronal intentions and the car’s reactions…