Hybrid and Electric Car Shopping Tips

Without Home Charging, EV Ownership is a Bust

Greenpeace probably won’t like this much, but unless you can charge at home, I wouldn’t recommend buying an electric vehicle (EV) that isn’t a Tesla.

That applies especially to those who live in cold climates. Like, for example, almost all of Canada, where charging infrastructure is inadequate at best. To illustrate why, I got my hands on this story’s bright yellow guinea pig, a Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition, for a week in early February.

It’s advertised to cover 418 km on a full charge. Plugging it into a DC fast-charger is supposed to get the battery from 10 to 80 per cent in 45 minutes in ideal conditions. As for specs that aren’t quite as crucial but a little more exciting, its two electric motors produce a combined 480 hp and 634 lb-ft of torque, and let it accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in a speedy 3.7 seconds.

As Ford points out via asterisks, those range and charge-time estimates are just that: estimates. And depending on how you drive, how much you haul, and, crucially, the temperature outside, those figures will fluctuate. Granted, the same kind of conditions impact gas-powered vehicles, too, but I wasn’t quite ready for what kind of impact cold weather would have on this Ford EV.

Granted, all EVs are different, and so are we as drivers. It’s also important to note that most of the issues I ran into were infrastructure-related and not really the fault of this Ford. Those of you fortunate enough to have a home charger probably won’t have as many problems as I did, either. Nevertheless, here’s a weeklong play-by-play of what happened when I, a condo-dweller with no home charging, tried to live with an EV in the dead of winter. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t go very well.)

Day 1 – Early Afternoon

I’m going to let you in on a little auto journalism inside baseball: here in Canada, reviewers like me are required to return test vehicles with a full tank of gas, just as you would with a rental. This hasn’t quite permeated the world of electrification just yet, and when I went to pick up the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT seen here I was informed that it was returned with just a 24 per cent charge, and I’d have to wait a bit if I’d like to start my test with a reasonable amount of juice. Red flag numéro un.

After dilly-dallying for a bit, I set off in the Mach-E with 75 per cent battery. According to the car’s own range indicator, that 75 per cent was only good for 202 km of range, equating to a would-be 269 km of range — quite a way off from the 418 km Ford claims. A big reason for the discrepancy is that the very chemistry of lithium-ion batteries like this one is affected by the cold, with the reactions slowing down as the mercury plunges. Previous driving behaviour also impacts the number displayed.

Day 1 – Night

Since quite a bit of that range had already been used up by the time I got home, I decided to take the Mach-E to a proper DC fast-charger both for the sake of starting this test week with a proper state of charge, and to see how quickly it could regain energy. To do this, I headed to the Petro-Canada DC fast charger in Scarborough, Ont. — one of just three within the Greater Toronto Area proper — mostly because these stations don’t require a dedicated mobile app, just a credit card.

Plugging the electric Ford into Petro’s 350-kW DC fast-charger, the 150-kW-capable Mach-E went from 58 to 80 per cent battery in — wait for it… a little longer… nope, longer still — 41 minutes. That’s almost the same amount of time Ford says the car should take to regain 70 per cent charge in ideal conditions. On this February night, however, it was only enough time to do 22 per cent. Petro-Canada, by the way, has a one-hour limit for charging.

And because the cost of a charge is based on the amount of time spent plugged in rather than the actual amount of energy dispensed, this prolonged top-up cost about $13. By my math, and given the projected range recouped, as well as the price of gasoline at the time, this is — purely in a kilometres-per-dollar perspective — equivalent to filling up a car that averages 9.0 L/100 km if it were able to achieve its full, adjusted, advertised range, which it certainly would not be doing in this temperature. (For the record, that 80 per cent charge was only good for 220 km, per the onboard computer.)

To add insult to injury, six per cent of the battery and 17 km of projected range was gone again by the time I returned home during a highway-heavy 13-km trip.

The numbers were so egregious that I thought there might be an issue with this particular car or charger. But when I recounted this experience to Ford, the company had engineers access the car remotely and they didn’t identify any issues, only pointing out that this particular press unit had yet to receive an update that would improve charge times between 80 and 90 per cent — not all that relevant to the test I had just conducted.

Ford went on: “With ambient temperatures below [four degrees Celsius] there is a limit on how much power is available from the batteries and how fast the vehicle can charge (especially when on a fast-charger).”

It was then recommended that I charge after the car has been warmed up either by driving it more or via its built-in preconditioning function, and to charge during the day when it’s warmer. In other words, no, there was nothing wrong with anything here. It’s just kind of the way it is.

Believe it or not, though, it wasn’t the disappointing technology or the monetary cost that bothered me the most — it was the 41 minutes I spent sitting in the Mach-E twiddling my thumbs that I will never get back. Within walking distance of this particular charger is an A&W, a college campus, and not much else. Because I had already eaten at home this particular evening like a healthy, responsible adult and, naturally, already possess a postsecondary degree I no longer use, there really wasn’t much to do other than lounge around staring at Instagram. Besides, think of what buying a hamburger would do to my carbon footprint.

Location: Scarborough, Ont.

Network: Petro-Canada

Charger Max kW: 350 kW

Energy Recouped: 58 to 80 per cent

Duration: 41 minutes

Cost: $13.53

Temperature: 1.2 degrees Celsius

Day 3

I mulled over that first winter charging experience and imagined what I would do in this situation if I were an actual Mach-E owner instead of a car journalist with a direct line to internal Ford spokespeople and engineers. If I were an owner, I’d probably try to address it with the folks who sold the car to me. I mean, if my MacBook were charging peculiarly slowly, I’d be inclined to head back to the Apple Store to see what the folks at the Genius Bar have to say.

For this experiment, I decided to roleplay as a real Mach-E owner and call up three Toronto-area Ford dealerships and ask whether or not they had DC fast-chargers onsite that I could use to charge. I have chosen to keep the specific dealerships anonymous, but Dealer A didn’t seem to have much idea of what I was asking about, transferred me between multiple departments, and kept me on hold for way too long; Dealer B had no chargers; and Dealer C had one Level 2 charger but put me on hold to first check whether it was a Level 2 or a DC fast-charger.

Day 4 – Late Afternoon

After approximately 150 km from that first charge, the Mach-E GT indicated 14 per cent battery remaining. It was time for another electricity-finding expedition. For this round, I decided to use a charger that was much closer to home: a Flo-branded unit at Fairview Mall in northeast Toronto.

Hurdle number one: finding the damn thing. As it turns out, probably because it is located on the lower-level of the mall’s vast parking complex, following Google Maps directions doesn’t actually take you to the charger but a part of the parking lot I suspect is directly above the charger. Pulling over to look at pictures of it on the PlugShare app combined with a bit of intuition-based wandering eventually got me where I needed to be, but if I was truly running low on juice, the last thing I would have wanted to be doing is drive around a big mall parking lot.

Gripe number two: it isn’t a very nice place to be. The Flo fast-charger (yes, singular, as in there is only one) in question is, as mentioned, underneath the ground-level parking so it’s quite dark. It’s also located in a relatively secluded corner of the lot where there isn’t a whole lot of traffic or eyes on it, and it just isn’t a very attractive or safe-feeling place to be. Contrast this with the big bank of 20 Tesla Superchargers located up a level at this same mall’s main entrance — well lit, in plain view of everybody on the main street, and sporting hardware that’s a lot prettier looking. As the meme goes, those are the chargers Flo would probably tell you not to worry about.

Complaint number three: you need a mobile app. I came prepared and downloaded the Flo app beforehand, but I still had to spend about five minutes signing up (setting a password, confirming my email, tapping in credit card information — you know the drill). But I digress. Plugging the 50-kW-capable charger into the electric Mustang, the Flo station started doing its thing. Soon after, however, I encountered annoyance number four: the mall gets old quickly.

This being a 50-kW charger and the ambient temperature still being quite chilly, I had abandoned all hope that the Mach-E would even get close to its advertised 45-minute 10-to-80-per cent charge time, made peace with the notion that I’d probably be there for more than an hour, and decided to check out Fairview Mall to pass some time. I did a lap of the shopping centre, frankly felt ridiculous wandering around in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, and realized I had nothing to buy.

So, I promptly returned to the car to do some more doomscrolling. It was at this point that another Ford Mustang Mach-E pulled up beside me and I met its owner, Dylan. Dylan, as it turns out, isn’t your average Mach-E owner. He runs a small side hustle selling stick-on trunk lid spoilers and tempered glass infotainment screen protectors for this car. He also happens to autocross his Mach-E and apparently has plans to track it. Dylan is far from a casual Mustang Mach-E fan, that’s for sure. But when I chatted with him about how much charge times and range have fallen short in the winter weather compared to the advertised figures, he wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Like myself, he happens to live in a condo and therefore relies on the public charging infrastructure and says that, in the cold, charge speeds up to twice as long and range figures cut by up to half of what is advertised in ideal conditions were pretty much the norm.

By the time my Mach-E GT was at a good-enough 78 per cent juice, the car had been plugged in for a total of an hour and 15 minutes, costing precisely $25.13.

Location: North York, Ont.

Network: Flo

Charger Max kW: 50 kW

Energy Recouped: 14 to 78 per cent

Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Cost: $25.13

Temperature: 1.6 degrees Celsius

Day 7 – Late Afternoon

The day before I was scheduled to give the Mach-E back to its corporate owners, I decided to continue this winter charging experiment and try my best to return it with as much battery as possible. Keeping it reasonably within the neighbourhood of North York, I headed to the ChargePoint location at Seneca College’s Newnham Campus. Right off the bat, there are pros and cons with this particular charge location.

Pro: it’s above-ground, so there’s plenty of natural light. Con: there was a bunch of ice and snow in front of each of the chargers, creating a genuine slipping hazard (ask me how I know).

In any case, this being a ChargePoint station, it requires its own app, so for the second time in a week, I downloaded one, gave it my email address, a password, and my credit card information, and plugged the Ford in.

Some 47 minutes and $15.37 later, the Mach-E GT’s battery, which started out at with a 50 per cent charge, was now at 80 per cent. This was honestly a bit quicker than anticipated — especially considering this was the coldest charge so far, with the thermometer reading -9 degrees Celsius.

Location: North York, Ont.

Network: ChargePoint

Charger Max kW: 62 kW

Energy Recouped: 50 to 80 per cent

Duration: 47 minutes

Cost: $15.37

Temperature: -9 degrees Celsius

Final Thoughts

The public charging network, if you haven’t already gathered, needs a lot of work. They aren’t very user-friendly, much too slow (especially in the cold), and, at the end of the day, there just aren’t enough of them around yet. During my week with the 2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT, I felt restricted — not just in terms of how far I could go in one trip, but as to how frequently I could go out without having to subject myself to yet another hour or so tied up somewhere I didn’t actually want to be.

Cars are supposed to be about freedom. The ability to (within reason) go wherever you’d like without worrying about whether public services like buses or trains can actually get you there. With an EV in the wintertime, I found myself planning entire afternoons and evenings around charging. Choosing to eat at one restaurant over another because of its proximity to a charger. Choosing not to venture out too far on the weekend not necessarily because the car didn’t have enough range to get there, but because of how much time that trip would eventually cost me at the plug. This, in my view, doesn’t feel like freedom.

It was also an experience that did not seem to respect my time. Whether it’s having to register for a mandatory app for each charging network, how long it took to get answers from dealership personnel to the simplest of EV-related questions, or the sheer amount of minutes it takes to charge an EV any significant amount in the cold, the time lost to charging shenanigans severely outweighed the monetary savings. I can make back the money I spend on gas. I will never recoup the three hours total I spent charging this Mach-E.

Add it all up, and in spite of what feels like every automaker beginning to offer an onslaught of EVs left and right, I still would not recommend one to any Canadian who cannot charge it at home.