This article is part of a multi-part series. You can find Part 1 here.
It’s one thing to take a road trip, but just like any vehicle, you lose a lot of range with speed in an EV. Texas highways are already tough, with speed limits of 80 in the western rural parts of the state. You can either go 85+ in the left lane, or settle in behind a semi-truck going a governed 68 MPH in the right lane. All other choices are too risky. When those speed limits first got put in place, they were the fastest in the United States, but Texas felt the need to outdo itself.
SH-130, a toll road running from Georgetown to Seguin (and passing by Tesla’s Gigafactory near Austin), was designed with even higher speed limits in mind. The section from SH-45 to I-10 (from near Creedmoor to near Seguin) has a posted speed limit of 85 miles per hour. While not the fastest in the world (there are still places with faster limits or no limits at all), it’s the highest speed limit in the Americas. So, I’ve decided to do the corny thing and call the section of road the “Yee-Hawtobaun” (mom jokes can be just as bad as dad jokes).
One would think that in the US where we (at least in theory) value unfettered individual freedom, that there’d be roads with no speed limit at all, but we’re not quite that cool, and haven’t been that cool since 1999 when Montana instituted speed limits (and doubled its highway fatalities).
Honestly, though, after driving down the length of the highway (not counting unsigned sections going into San Antonio), I can see why Texas didn’t build an actual autobahn. Like in most places, there are just too many terrible drivers. One semi-truck tried to run me off the road when I didn’t get out of his way fast enough when he changed lanes. Too many other drivers to count didn’t understand that the left lane is for passing, and kept it clogged for much of the route. Plus, the state was dumb enough to subsidize tolls for trucks to get them off I-35, which made for some pretty bad congestion here and there for such a fast road, despite going on the weekend.
All of this really proves a recent piece at Autoblog correct. The US doesn’t give good alternatives to driving, so the people who hate driving and would choose transit given a good opportunity instead clog the roads with their stupid and dangerous driving (left lane camping, not checking blind spots, etc.).
Plus, we’d have to spend more money on road quality. There were a number of spots along SH-130 where there were enormous bumps that make driving at the posted speed limit very uncomfortable and even a little dangerous. Infrastructure just isn’t a very high American priority, so even if we got bad drivers to self-select away from cars, we’d still have roads that aren’t great for 100+ MPH.
Why The Bolt EUV Might Be The Cheapest EV That Can Handle This Road
With an 85 MPH speed limit, combined with the customary 5-8 MPH of leeway you get in most states (US cops generally don’t enforce speed limits strictly), it’s perfectly normal to drive 90-93 MPH if there isn’t someone clogging the left lane. The Bolt EUV maxes out at 92 MPH, so it can drive the road at the full speed you can go without getting pulled over.
There are plenty of EVs that can go those speeds, but notice that I said the EUV was the cheapest EV that can handle the road. EVs with faster top speeds are out there, but they’re not out there for $28,000 new.
Now, I know that there are other EVs, like the Nissan LEAF, that are in the same price range and have a similar top speed, but they’re not quite up to the task. For one, the lack of liquid cooling in the LEAF means that in the summer heat, going down the Yee-Hawtobaun will quickly heat the battery pack up, probably into the red. I know this from experience. Plus, the Bolt EUV has a much looser suspension that soaks up the bumps compared to a LEAF, which is more of a car than a crossover. Normally, a tighter suspension is a good thing, but with the big bumps on poorly-maintained parts of SH-130, that would be very unpleasant at speed.
Even at top speed, the Bolt has enough liquid-cooled range to go up the road and back, so if you used it to commute along that highway, you’d be able to do it. Even if you did need to charge on one end, I still got the car’s full 55 kW charging speed after driving down it at top speed, so it’s not a problem at all.
So, I’d argue that the Bolt EUV is the cheapest EV that’s up to the task of driving on the Yee-Hawtobaun, at least for now.
Electric Crossovers Are Probably The Best Vehicles For The 21st Century US
While I love low-slung tight-suspensioned sporty cars as much as anyone, the US is just not that great of a place for that kind of car these days. Worse, I just don’t see it getting any better. Just passing the 2021 infrastructure bill took moving political mountains, and that was only for $1 trillion. The estimates of what it would take to truly get caught up vary, but they tend to be from $2-3 trillion, both numbers that are politically infeasible.
For daily driving, getting a vehicle with a softer suspension, a tiny bit more clearance, and some plastic cladding along the bottom is probably the best move for roads that aren’t going to be upkept as they should. Add in the lack of pavement expansions and sometimes even repairs of dirt roads in rural areas that don’t happen, and it’s pretty clear that depending on good roads isn’t a good call right now.
As I’ll get to in the next part, the only upgrade I think is probably essential for the Bolt EUV is to put on truck tires instead of car tires. For both pothole and bump-ridden city streets, busted highways, and rural rocks, getting some slightly better shoes for the EUV is probably a good idea.
Featured Image: a picture of the EUV’s energy efficiency screen after driving the fastest road in the Americas. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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