Here’s What It Cost To Drive A Dirty Diesel 760 Miles Vs An EV 500 Miles

Fueltop

Thomas and I just got home from covering our first Detroit North American International Auto Show. I think I can say that we both had fun, even if the show was weirdly short on cars and automakers. But perhaps the most interesting thing that we discovered at the show is how much money it cost us just to get there. I drove to the show behind the wheel of a broken 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen diesel while Thomas rode in with a new Genesis GV60 Performance electric crossover. He went about 500 miles total while I went 760 miles. Guess which one of us had to pay more to get to the show and back?

On Tuesday morning, I departed my apartment in my 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI. This little black wagon has been my preferred road trip car since I got it. While my 2006 Smart Fortwo CDI gets far better fuel economy, the Volkswagen has more creature comforts, better seats, better suspension, and oh, working air-conditioning. Plus, it has an engaging manual transmission, which is why I bought it in the first place. That’s not to say that the Volkswagen guzzles diesel: I can get it to average about 42 mpg at and sometimes above 70 mph.

Detroit is about 350 miles from my home, well within range of my Jetta’s 16-gallon tank. I set off with 30 miles on my trip odometer from a full fill that I got three, maybe four weeks ago.

An Easy Drive

The trip in the Jetta was fun and somewhat uneventful. The 2.0-liter four under the hood provided 140 HP and 236 lb-ft torque when new. It now has about 230,000 miles, so who knows how many stallions are still in the stable. Still, the torquey diesel provided plenty of clickety clacky noises and bursts of power when I put the pedal down.

The car let me down just twice. Somewhere in western Michigan my car’s limp mode triggered twice in a span of about 5 minutes. The codes were for too little boost. Like most of my cars, this wagon isn’t perfect. It recently cracked its diesel particulate filter (DPF), which is supposed to clean up some of the vehicle’s emissions. That broken DPF is sending soot into my exhaust gas recirculation system, which in-turn is getting dirty.

My car also has a turbo actuator. This device actuates the turbo’s vanes, which allow the turbo to provide varying levels of pressure. The computer requests an amount of boost and if for whatever reason it can’t get that boost, limp mode is triggered. I’ve thus far found no vacuum leaks and no obvious leaks in my boost hoses. It could be that the actuator may be getting stuck or the vanes getting stuck. One issue is the actuator can rust, which tracks, given that my car has lived most of its life in Michigan. One thing I’ve noticed is that if I drive it frequently, the issue never happens. It only crops up after the car has sat for a month or longer.

Either way, when the limp mode triggers it can easily be reset by restarting the car. I did that and have since driven 500 miles without issue.

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By The Numbers

As for fuel economy, it held at around 42 mpg with speeds between 70 mph and 85 mph until I arrived in Detroit. Fuel economy took a huge hit in the city as a lot of my driving around town involved low speed, stop and go, and brief periods of heavy traffic. Because of my car’s efficiency, I made the 350-mile drive to Detroit and drove about 60 miles around the city, and still had about a quarter tank left. On the way home I tapped out at 515 miles when the fuel light popped on.

When all was said and done my average dropped to 38 mpg and I drove a total of 760 miles. I noticed that the price for diesel is higher on the highway than say, in a rural area. I paid $5.50 a gallon to put 13.31 gallons into my 16-gallon tank and paid $73.25 for the privilege. According to my calculations, the car ran at about 14.2 cents per mile on that first tank of fuel. At 38 mpg, if I paid for every mile of fuel used, it would have cost me about $110 to do the whole trip.

So, how does this compare to a brand new electric luxury crossover? I’ll hand Thomas the megaphone.

Can An 800-Volt Architecture Stack The Deck?

At the time of writing this, I’m eating my first proper meal in three days. Detroit was one hell of a trip, and I figured I’d do it in an EV. Genesis Canada kindly lent me the GV60 Performance, a jaw-dropping ideal of what the E-GMP platform can be. It packs a respectable range of 235 miles and an 800-volt architecture that should allow for compatibility with blazing quick 350 kW charging stations. While not the perfect tool for the job, the GV60 Performance seemed quite apt for the task. Would infrastructure be able to keep up?

The Way There

Genesis GV60 Performance
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Every EV road trip starts with a fundamentally solid plan. A plan for route, time, speed, and energy conservation. For the route, the plan was a straight shot down the 401, over the Ambassador Bridge, and to the hotel in Dearborn. The goal was to arrive well before the reveal of the Chrysler 300C, and keeping things slow while sticking to eco mode was critical for that. The faster you travel in a car, the more drag you’re up against, and it’s easier to save time by charging less than by driving like you’ve discovered the fiery aftermath of lunch. After a fairly uneventful drive to London, I arrived at my first charging station, fully hoping to make good use of the Genesis GV60 Performance’s 800-volt architecture.

After making the 196-kilometer (121.8-mile) drive, strike one: the 350 kW Electrify Canada charging station in London was somewhat broken. The point-of-sale terminal was inoperable, so the unit was for members only. Instead, I had to use a 150 kW station. Not optimal but not bad, right? Well, just because a charging station can spit out 150 kW doesn’t mean it will spit out anywhere near to 150 kW consistently. For the duration of my first charging session, I averaged 41 kW of current, translating to well over an hour to 80 percent charge.

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Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

So what’s there to do when you’re stuck at a charging station for more than an hour? Well, you file emails, check in on your friends to make sure they’re doing okay, admire a particularly strange record shop sign, wonder if said record shop has a CD copy of Turn On The Bright Lights, then remember that the car you’re driving doesn’t have a CD player because it isn’t from the past. You also get a great chance to stretch your legs and back because the seats in the Genesis GV60 are unfit for human use. Total cost of this charging stop? $43.27.

Right, back on the road. While Canadians have a reputation for being kind and welcoming, that’s at odds with the nature of the land. Even if you live in a flyover state, it’s hard to picture how vast and empty much of the Great White North is. While the stretch of Highway 401 from London to Tilbury is far from threatening, it’s still unbelievably tedious. In America’s flyover country, monotony is punctuated by crops, cows, and amusing billboards for Jesus and hardcore pornography. On this 129-kilometer (80.1-mile) jaunt in southwestern Ontario, there isn’t much contrast. Just stretches of monotonous fields occasionally punctuated by quaint postwar overpasses. It’s a blend of surreal and reassuring, the seemingly oversaturated greenery blurring past like a Monet piece, the blocky concrete overpasses reminders that although the world we were raised to survive in no longer exists, we can still romanticize the remnants.

After about an hour of driving, I arrived at the Electrify Canada station in Tilbury, located in the parking lot of a charmingly small Canadian Tire. While this nationwide chain of stores does sell tires, it also sells so much more. Picture a place where you can pick up valve cover gaskets, a new reciprocating saw, a stand mixer, and a gazebo. I should really write an article on this Canadian oddity. Anyway, the 350 kW charger in Tilbury was working, so I plugged in, tapped my Apple Pay, and watched the current shoot up into the mid-200s. Very good.

Unfortunately, that lasted for all of about three minutes, with charging current stabilizing around 67 kW. The Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. There’s no connection between those statements, but as a Torontonian, it’s my duty to force one. Thankfully, this stop was much quicker, getting to 80 percent state of charge 17 minutes and one second for the very reasonable cost of $10.87. Add in the time it took to get off the highway, get plugged in, and get back on the highway, and I ended up with a total detour time of around half an hour. Still, this would be enough to confidently get to the hotel and back to the charging station provided I didn’t need to drive anywhere else.

[Mercedes’ Note: Thomas informed me that he originally left home with about an 80 percent charge. Those delays meant that he wasn’t able to attend the Chrysler 300C unveiling. We took my wagon to and from the show because the GV60 seemingly had only just enough range to run back to Canada.]

The morning after the first media day, I was looking to hedge my bets with a quick splash-and-dash. The problem is that easily-accessible charging in Dearborn isn’t really a huge thing. My best bet was a Level 2 charger. After locating the nearest Level 2 charging station, I was able to add enough range to pad margins should my GPS try to send me through the tunnel rather than over the Ambassador Bridge. It turns out, I really needed that. Total cost? Free, surprisingly. I really can’t be mad at that.

The Way Back

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Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Getting back from Detroit was much easier than getting to Detroit. Getting back from Detroit took forever. Let me explain why these aren’t conflicting statements. After arriving at the border roughly half an hour late, I met a surprisingly chill guard who shared some great tips on sushi restaurants right near my apartment. If you’re that guard, you’re awesome. The jaunt from Windsor to Tilbury is almost entirely on concrete road surfaces. If you ever meet me in person, don’t talk to me about concrete road surfaces because I’ll talk your ear off about how dreadful they are from an NVH perspective. Anyway, I kept the climate control completely off for the return trip to conserve range. One episode of The Basement Yard later, and I was back at the 350 kW charging station in Tilbury.

This time, things were a lot slower. The station peaked at 71 kW and took 36:36 to replenish the GV60 Performance to an 80 percent state of charge. Figure a total cost of $23.52. Upon plugging in, I checked my DMs to find a message from Susan, one of my Journalism school professors. We chatted for a bit on the phone about EV charging and the Detroit show. She shared an anecdote about wanting to cry while covering NAIAS as a reporter back in its glory days. I wanted to cry over the Detroit show too, but for very different reasons. Think less scramble and more funeral.

Not long before reaching London, I caught up to an industry colleague in a BMW i4 traveling very slowly behind a transport truck. The overtake went something like this. Funnily enough, we both pulled off in London but for different reasons. I needed a splash-and-dash (jolt-and-bolt? Charge-and-retreat?), he wanted to check out a vintage videogame shop. Despite a peak charging rate of just 45 kW and an average of around 41 kW, the GV60 was ready to go in 35 minutes and four seconds at a cost of $22.57. Well, that and the cost of completely missing the game store because it had closed. Apparently it had a copy of Driver: San Francisco for Xbox 360 that I was looking for. Fuck.

The final stretch back to Toronto was marred by single-lane bottlenecks and heavy traffic. Good for range as I could lean on regenerative braking, but bad for time. I didn’t get back to my flat until nearly midnight. Truthfully, I would’ve arrived in Toronto a bit sooner if I hadn’t made a quick detour to try out a hard launch in the GV60 Performance with my childhood best friend. With roads glistening in evening dew and the frustration of a customer service rep, I tapped to boost button and ripped off a four-tire salute to everything this past week had brought.

The Aftermath

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Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

So what did I learn from this EV road trip? Well, almost every number attached to an EV is bullshit in the context of a road trip. Total range doesn’t matter nearly as much as range from 80 percent state of charge. Theoretical peak charging speeds don’t matter as much as actual sustained averages and properly-maintained infrastructure. Efficiency matters more than pure range. I wanted this road trip to be easy, relatively cheap, and fun. Instead, it was a little bit of a nightmare. I like electric cars, but it genuinely feels like they aren’t ready for prime time just yet. Electrify Canada is a Northern counterpart to Electrify America, which is a preferred network for Genesis. Stops at those stations should’ve worked well, but they didn’t. Oh, and my childhood best friend I made a detour to see? His dad owns a Hyundai Ioniq 5. After several months of running, it’s getting sold for a combustion-powered vehicle because charging is so much of a faff. Keep in mind, we’re talking about a homeowner with a proper Level 2 charging station installed in his garage. The current crop of EVs are almost all brilliant, but public charging infrastructure just doesn’t measure up.

Jetta SportWagen TDI Road Trip Stats

Total spend:  $73.25 at $5.50 a gallon for diesel.

Distance driven before filling up: 515 miles

Total distance: 760 miles

Cost-per-mile (cost / fill at 515 miles): 14.2 cents per mile

Cost-per-mile (cost / total distance): 9 cents per mile

GV60 Performance Road Trip Stats

Total spend: $100.23 ($75.51 USD)

Total distance: 825.2 km (512.8 mi)

Cost-per-mile (cost / total distance): 12.14 cents per km (14.73 US cents per mile)

[Note: Due to charging methods we weren’t able to accurately calculate cost per mile between chargers.]

Our Conclusions

The Genesis proved to be the more reliable steed, but getting it to and from Detroit was far more of a hassle than it should have been. For a similar cost, the Volkswagen was able to sprint the whole way from my home near Wisconsin to Detroit without stopping. Then it drove around Detroit and went some of the way home before finally needing fuel.

And since I was working with expensive diesel (which was more than a dollar more expensive than 87 octane gasoline), it seems that a regular fuel efficient car or hybrid would have widened the gulf.

Now, what are we trying to say here, exactly? We’re not trying to say that the EV is bad. Indeed, it made the trip silently, without emissions, and without breaking. Really, Thomas’ gripe is that the combination of the Genesis and the charging network made for a worse experience than a broken diesel. Hopefully, as infrastructure and the cars get better, situations like this will be a thing of the past.

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150 Responses

  1. There is something incredibly enjoyable about making it from Metro Detroit to the Charlotte area (and previously, East of Raleigh which is about 100 miles further) to visit the in-laws without stopping for fuel in our ’14 Cruze Diesel.

    I usually go run out sometime during our trip and fill back up in preparation for the drive home, but it makes things so much easier not having to stop anywhere along the way.

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