I'd normally cover 700km to 1,000km in my review test drives. The figure fell considerably under lockdown as I tuned into the mindset that only half the amount was necessary. That made me ask myself if we really need to drive as much as we do. Side by side with that was the sense of loss in missing calling to see people down the country, or going to nice places on Saturdays, stopping for a coffee and chocolate muffin. I'm certain there is a happy medium that accommodates keeping in touch and using our cars more sparingly. I've recalibrated on a number of fronts and come to a different way of thinking.
I have had a great mix of cars to review here since March, ranging from diesel to petrol to electric to plug-in hybrid. In the course of less time driving, and more time thinking about the power sources within that eclectic mix, I have shifted my mindset to a new starting point. It's one of reality rather than the fanciful stuff so often spouted by me and the powers that be.
So here are seven things I've refocused on, got angry about or found out through my lockdown drives:
1 We have become slaves to our cars; unthinkingly driving the shortest of journeys. It has taken a lot of time, but I've got out of the auto-pilot habit that I need to drive 800 metres to the nearest shop. Walk? The thought never entered my head. Of course, long term, we couldn't survive at the low level of personal transport to which we've grown accustomed - schools will return, we will go back to the office, older people will travel farther afield - but we should be questioning if we need our cars to do the little things. I was at a stage where if I didn't drive somewhere at least once a day, I'd suffer withdrawal symptoms. Now? Well the Škoda Superb iV plug-in hybrid I had on long-term test sat there many a fine day doing nothing. Let's meet for coffee? Yes, but can we walk to meet, cycle rather than drive (costly on fuel as engines burn more in short trips) and park (double costly)? Just how much does that cup of coffee really cost?
2 Don't get me wrong: in country areas, a car is a must, a social conduit for something we now hold more dearly than before: meeting and staying in physical contact with family and friends. It's vital in lonely rural areas.
It prompts the need for recognition at official level that there are two transport constituencies out there: urban and rural. What suits an urban dweller/commuter may be anathema to someone living remotely or the farmer/small business owner who needs a powerful motor - to tow a trailer, for example.
3 My-oh-my! Plug-in hybrids require dedication and commitment. Otherwise you haven't a hope of getting anything close to what they can save you on fuel. Last week, I reported I got 5.7litres/100km from the Opel Grandland X. I kept it for a while longer, and by charging it up a few times extra, that figure came down to 4.4l/100km. It will easily do 4l/100km. Tipping around town was all electric on one drive (44km), for example. I also treated it more like a standard car; not the 300bhp performance SUV it can be. The more I drove the Škoda Superb iV like an electric car - smooth and at reasonable speed - the vastly better the returns. It takes a little time, but you get into the mindset. So please, plug-in or just don't bother with a PHEV.
4 Much the same applies to the electric cars I had. You require a routine and a commitment to charge regularly. I don't have such a home facility and I'm angry because it doesn't look like I will have one for a long time due to the type and location of my abode. There are tens of thousands like me, unable or unwilling to buy electric for that reason. I don't fancy continuing to have to use street parking, but that is my reality. Over to you ministers: you're the ones who want only new electric cars sold from 2030. There is not a hope if we go on as we are.
5 Following from that, it is glaringly obvious that we urgently need reconsidered direction from government on where we are going on our much-vaunted road to the electric era. We need them to understand the difference between trying to get zero emissions through setting impossible deadlines for electric-only cars from 2030 and doing the possible, which is to use immeasurably cleaner internal combustion engines alongside our EVs with a longer-term target to phase them out.
6 We need to alter how we drive. I've been appalled at how fast some people drive on our quieter roads. Slowing down doesn't just save lives, it seriously softens the impact on the environment, and a lot more than many an official draconian proposal purports to achieve, I believe. I know MPG doesn't count for as much as it used to due to lower fuel prices. But cheap or expensive fuel, when burned in haste, has the same impact on the environment.
7 I've left the thing I've grown angriest about until last: how scandalously we treat our safer cars. The safer they are, the more tax you pay. It is a disgrace that the inclusion of such elements incur additional VAT and VRT. How does stacking hundreds of euro more on equipment, such as pre-collision detection technology that saves lives, square with calls for greater safety on the road? Autonomous emergency braking, for example, could be the difference between life and death. But we tax it. How appalling is it that?