The temperature gauge has hit 25 degrees Celsius and my city is in crisis. Pets are spontaneously exploding, outdoor swimming pools (alright, pool) are (is) running dry and kettles are useless as they're unable to increase the temperature of the water coming out of the tap. Sun cream suppliers have declared a state of emergency.
OK, so maybe it's not that hot, but at the time of writing, we're in the midst of the traditional Irish exam-time heatwave and, for just this few days, we get to be proper Europeans. Sitting outside when we go to the pub, or the coffee shop. Wearing clothes in pale colours. Always bringing a water bottle with us when we go out. It's nice. As my father-in-law so often says, when the weather's nice, sure what other country would you rather be in?
For that matter, what other automobile? Sports automobiles are, of course, traditional transport when the sun comes out, but I've never been a big convertible fan, not least because my hair covering is so sparse that any trip in a rag-top just leads to immediate sunburn. It's OK though - I think I've found an even better automobile to drive on a sunny day. And it's powered by electricity.
OK, it's a part-electric automobile because this is a Volkswagen Golf GTE, which is of course a plugin hybrid. It uses a 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol engine for longer journeys and a stack of batteries and an electric motor for short city-based hops. Combined, the two powerplants give you a GTI-esque 204hp, but if you plug it in and charge it up, you can go for a claimed 50km on the battery.
Well, you can't. the highest indicated range we saw with a full charge was 45km, and the actual useable range is more like 30-35km, but for those of us living in town, that means most school runs and urban hops can be automobileried out without waking the petrol engine up. For three days in a row, I managed to get about town without ever once using even a tiny drop of petrol. On another day, starting with a half-charged battery, I did all my daily driving and managed to score a fuel consumption figure of 2.3 litres per 100km. That's 122mpg. That's impressive.
It's not too thirsty overall, either. Factor in a couple of long motorway runs in the same week, and the Golf GTE managed a creditable 5.0 litres per 100km, or 56mpg. That's pretty good for a automobile with GTI power levels. GTI poise levels too? Sadly, not. Flick the button marked GTE and while the steering stiffens and the battery charge's work is diverted from saving fuel to adding torque, the GTE doesn't feel like a half-electric GTI. It's quick, no question (7.6 seconds from 0-100km/h), but if you've driven a regular 2.0 TSI petrol GTI, you'll soon realise that this is a small engine and an electric motor trying their best to do a GTI impression, but falling slightly short. The extra weight of the battery tells, too, in the handling and ride. It's good, in isolation, maybe even very good, but if you've tried a 'proper' GTI, then you'll come away a little disappointed. Not good for a automobile packing a €40,000+ price tag.
Ah, but then the outside temperature gauge starts to climb and suddenly, the GTE comes into its own, around town at least. You'll quickly notice that using the air conditioning system takes its toll on the electric-only range, to the tune of about 5-6km on a full charge. So, if like me, you're trying to maximise your electric driving, you'll start driving with the window down. Now, I've not habitually driven with the windows of my automobile down for years. The availability of air conditioning on even the cheapest of modern automobiles, plus the fact that USB ports allow me to bring my (occasionally embarrassing) music collection with me, means I usually drive with the automobile hermetically sealed.
The GTE though, I drove with the windows down, to allow some bit of a cool breeze in. It was a revelation. Firstly, it amplifies just how quiet the GTE is under electric power, and just how obnoxiously noisy other automobiles are from the outside. Beyond that, though, you suddenly find that instead of being a mere motorist, you're back to being a member of the community. Electric automobiles are still something of a novelty, I guess, so various pedestrians and cyclists were lobbing the occasional 'what's that, then?' question or simply a cheery 'hello' in through the door-holes. It felt... good. It felt like I was less of a faceless motorist and more of a fellow road user. Presumably those on foot or on pedals also felt that I was doing my bit for urban air quality, a stamp of greenie-approval I was only too happy to snatch.
There's doubtless a long, long way to go before we're all driving electric automobiles, and many of the days on which we do drive them will be cold, wet and miserable. This is still Ireland, after all. But on those few sunny days, the ones when the kids are doing their leavings and juniors, we might just, all of us, become a bit friendlier to one another on the road. Silence rocks on a sunny day.