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A tank full of electrons.

This is my co-driver’s story of our drive from Melbourne to Adelaide and back in Hyundai Kona EV in April 2019.

When Robert asked for volunteers to ride along on an extended EV journey, I was keen, then not so keen as the logistics started to look challenging. The same journey in a petrol or diesel vehicle would need almost no planning, just jump in with some cash or credit and go. We did some detailed research and made plans in advance (some of them even worked), but we did still get caught out.

This was to be the 3rd full EV (other than things like forklifts) I had driven, a short drive beforehand showed just how ‘normal’ the Kona was in regard to just jumping in and driving a few kms without having to adapt to weird control layouts or specific techniques. 

After the extended journey experience I’m comfortable with the suitability of a similar range EV for anything up to 500km in 1 day. The standard range won’t quite cover that distance, but finding 50-100km of charging during the day isn’t impossible and won’t put you much behind an IC vehicle. Above that distance the current infrastructure and lack of standardisation presents headaches, you can almost guarantee that the big box of charging cables and adapters you are carrying (instead of luggage, kids or dogs) has everything except the one you need, or the only handy charging point is a cold and bleak carpark without any handy café or entertainment. Even with a Tesla there is a chance (but a less likely one) you could get caught out if your journey doesn’t match their Supercharger network rollout.

This isn’t the EV that I would buy myself, but it’s fine to drive aside from some weirdness with a few things and what looks like poorly written (or to be fair, maybe poorly read) descriptions in the manual. Something with this range would easily handle the bulk of my daily type of driving. During one of our charging breaks I reviewed my driving log and just a few exceptions would have caught me out, when I move to an EV (which I will at some point) those exceptions will be handled with a rental car suited to the task.

I found the Kona to be a car of extremes, at one end it’s a simple and easy car to drive, at the other it demands elevated awareness in regard to your surroundings and understandings of the vehicle capabilities. Around town it can be a simple drive, no need for the brake pedal or mechanical sympathy (push the button and drive off at speed, what warm up?). On the highway, trying to eke out the last possible metres of range it is very different. You have to be really focussed and on top of the energy data as well as the road and terrain ahead, acceleration and deceleration changes, regeneration and coasting opportunities, gradient assisted acceleration/deceleration, trading speed or load for time and range. I found this aspect of driving an EV for range to be challenging but hardly relaxing. It was like chasing perfect lines and lap times on a racetrack, with any small error compounding into loss of range and a difficult recovery. At one point I spent probably 45minutes just trying to regain a couple of kms that had been binned due to what was either a slightly steeper than expected road or maybe a light breeze.

The EV is really unforgiving of poor driving or planning in this respect.

My most liked features of the Kona included the silence and lack of vibration at low speed, smooth torque delivery, ease of adapting to the regenerative braking and sensible presentation of data via the dash and touchscreen.

My least liked aspects of driving the Kona were the way the lane departure feedback was delivered back into the steering (felt like a bit of tramlining rather than a ‘hey you wake up’ warning) and the dumb way the cruise control would lock out until the car had been stopped and power cycled.

The technical mistake I think Hyundai (and some other manufacturers) has made is to equip the car with a 7kW single phase charger rather than a 3-phase charger. For a few additional dollars in build, we could have accessed up to 22kW on several available charge points, dramatically slashing our overall travel time. Plus as a bonus we could have turned the heater on for a while!

Yep, traveling via the famed coldness of Ballarat in winter without a heater.

Several kWs of toasty warm atmosphere would have been nice but would add several hours of charging time on the infrastructure available. I don’t accept this as practical and I can’t see the bulk of owners tolerating it in a southern winter, wearing bulky jackets in the car and running up and down cold and wet carparks isn’t a selling point. Hot weather would turn the sympton on it’s head but with the same basic problem.

When I jumped into my mud tyre shod, liquid dinosaur fuelled 4WD for the trip home, it wasn’t the onslaught of noise and vibration that stood out, it was how much I had come to rely on the regenerative braking of the EV. The first few km felt quite unsettling while I got my head back around the loss of that element of the EV experience.

In summary: Good thing, convinces me I may have bought my last general purpose vehicle that has a tank of liquid fuel rather than charged electrons.

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