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Around Melbourne then to Adelaide and back in a 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Can you really use an electric vehicle like a ‘normal’ car? We spent 10 days with the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric and drove around town and then from Melbourne to Adelaide to find out.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are here now, and more are coming whether Australia likes it or not – the Nissan Leaf arrived here this week. That’s because emissions standards are becoming ever more stringent, so the rest of the world is moving to EVs, and that means Australia will too. Eventually.

Just about every major manufacturer has announced that, not only will they electrify their complete range of vehicles by around 2025, but many have also stated they will no longer manufacture ICE (internal combustion engines such as petrol and diesel) in about 20 years time. The term “electrification” means a vehicle that is partially or fully propelled by electricity, either a pure electric or a hybrid electric/ICE.

To get a taste of the future I borrowed an 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric, drove it around Melbourne for a week, and then to Adelaide and back. There’s a lot to learn from the experience, but let’s start with what the Kona Electric is, and a bit about EVs.

The Kona is a small SUV and available in petrol and pure electric form. This makes comparisons of different powerplants easy, so here’s a table to show the differences:

  Kona EV Elite Kona Petrol Elite Difference
Price $65,040 $33,265 $31,775
Length (mm) 4180 4165 15
Width (mm) 1800 1800 0
Spare wheel Mobility kit Space saver  
Engine Electric, 150kW, 395Nm 2.0L 4cyl petrol, 110kW, 180Nm  
Gears 1 6 speed automatic  
Drive Front drive Front drive  
Tare weight (kg) 1700 1300 400
GVM (kg) 2180 1830 350
Payload (kg) 480 530 -50
Braked tow (kg) 0 1300 -1300
Fuel consumption (combined) 7.2
Fuel tank 64kWh battery 50L 0
Range (km) 449 695 -246

The striking point is the cost, which is calculated as driveaway in Victoria. Let’s be very clear; at this point no EV on the market is presently a cost-effective choice. As you can see, the difference is over $31,000 which buys you say 20,000L of petrol which will run a petrol Kona for well over 250,000km.  

However, there’s also servicing. The majority of an ICE vehicle service complexity and therefore cost is in the ICE; with no ICE, no complexity and even regenerative braking means brake wear on EVs is minimal. But even if that’s figured in, the EV maths doesn’t stack up. But that used to be true of hybrids, too, yet take a look at the next Camry taxi or Uber you see. Chances are it’ll be a hybrid, as those high-mileage drivers who also do a lot of stop/start and very low speed driving find that the premium of around $2292 for a hybrid is more than repaid in lower fuel and servicing costs.

What’s the Kona Electric like to drive?

EVs are easy to drive and the Kona Electric is no exception. Acceleration is brisk, smooth, seamless and just piles on in a way you simply don’t get with ICE vehicles, particularly not small SUVs.

The instant-on grunt poses a problem for the Kona’s Nexen tyres which seem to be oriented towards low rolling resistance rather than grip, because the Kona is in greater need of a limited-slip differential than any vehicle I’ve driven. Specifically, it is prone to spinning the inside front wheel when turning under acceleration, and particularly so in the wet. Of course, you can avoid the problem by driving slower…I measured the 0-100km/h time at 7.5 seconds, but reckon as the initial response off the line is a bit tardy it’s more comparable to a mid-6 second figure, and that’s very quick indeed for an SUV.

Acceleration aside, the handling of the Kona is only average and on-par with other small SUVs. Like all EVs, you need only a single pedal to operate it – as soon as you ease off on the accelerator the vehicle decelerates nicely without braking as the regeneration kicks in. Yes, it is a weighty car, some 400kg heavier than a regular Kona but, as ever with EVs, that weight is distributed low and centrally so the handling penalty isn’t as bad as you might think.

There are three levels of regenerative braking, including off. I really can’t see why you wouldn’t leave it on the setting for maximum regen as we did at all times unless testing. That way you recover the most energy, reduce brake wear and don’t need to touch the brakes.

What’s the Kona Electric like around town?

A big part of my car use is shortish trips around town such as commuting to work, shopping, takings kids to places, social visits and trading second-hand car parts. That might be a 30km trip to the office in the morning and back again in the evening, during rush-hour traffic, and maybe in the evening driving out to see a friend and then back, maybe 150 to 200km in a day. Then on weekends a variety of shortish trips, usually 5 to 50km, maybe three or four in a day because I never seem to have quite the right bolts in the hope bucket for the job at hand.

The Kona EV is ideally suited to this sort of work. The range is nominally 449km, but like a petrol or diesel-powered vehicle fuel consumption varies a great deal.  If you drive in rain with the headlights on and windscreen wipers going that increases rolling resistance and uses energy, which has a measurable effect on range. And if you put the heater on you’ll lose a significant amount of range straight away, maybe 80-90km off a full charge. That’s because an ICE car generates a lot of heat by nature, and has systems such as radiators to dissipate the heat, so there’s an instant, free heater. An EV doesn’t produce heat, so it needs to use energy that would otherwise be used in propulsion and that affects range.

Anyway, the Kona proved well and truly able to handle all my daily driving needs and I never worried about range, whether I should turn the heating on, or how fast I should drive. Every night I charged the car off my home 10A / 240v outlet at the rate of around 10km per hour, which meant if I got home around 18:30 there would be 110km of range added overnight, often more than I’d done in a day and the battery would be back to 100% for the morning. On the occasions I drove further perhaps the car would only get to, say, 80 percent, but that’d still be plenty of charge for the next day’s daily journeys.

Charging at a friend’s house

Range anxiety around town charging at my house overnight was not a problem for me, and I’m pretty busy.  And there are often many places to charge when you’re out and about, for example, at a friend’s house for three hours just plug it in there and there’s 30km. Many shopping centres have chargers, and there’s sites such as PlugShare.com which help you find ones close by. There’s chargers close to two supermarkets within 8km of my house, so I can charge the car there at over three times the rate that I can at home.

There is always the risk that there are no chargers available where you are at the time, but that’s fine – I use them as a nice-to-have top up, not an essential. I don’t have the facility to charge an electric vehicle at work, but if I did…then that’d be even better. I did an informal check of several friends and we all have more or less the same daily drive usage pattern of 30 to 200km a day, so my use is not unusual. 

The average car mileage in Australia is under 15,000km a year which, if you do a trip every weekday, is 58km a day. Or just on weekends it’s 144km a day. And that 15,000km figure includes long-distance drives…so, in reality, an EV with a claimed range of 450km and say 300km in hard usage is way more than enough for Aussie city usage. Range anxiety in the Kona EV is absolutely not a problem for city driving, and nor would it be for any similar EV.  

Given the price premium, why buy an electric vehicle?

Given that EVs are not yet cost-effective due to the high purchase price, are there any practical reasons to consider one for your daily drive? After all, modern cars are very reliable, cheap to run, come with five to seven year warranties and are easy to drive.

There’s no one big reason, but a few small ones. Firstly, the Kona Electric is about the easiest car to drive around town. You can drive it fast straight from cold, unlike an ICE vehicle which needs warming up first.  Acceleration is instant, and no gear changes, so, it is super nippy. The regeneration is great, so you never need to touch the brake pedal for slowing down unless it is when you’re coming to a complete stop. The gear selection of park, reverse, drive is just buttons so they’re easy to select too. You can sit in the car with the motor going, heating, cooling, listening to music and not worry about polluting fumes in an enclosed space, or noise. It is very quiet and refined, so it’s easy to talk in. Often you have specially reserved parking in many places, being an electric vehicle…

I think you’re less likely to get a nasty mechanical bill as there’s simply less mechanical parts to worry about, and the cars are simpler to work on. It is faintly possible that governments may provide EV incentives in the future as, for example, Norway has done, with tax and parking benefits. But I think the main reason to own an EV is because you just want one, and that’s fine. As a car nut myself, all three of my cars are ones I just wanted, so I’m hardly going to judge an EV enthusiast for their choice and I think other petrol-heads would do well to consider the same perspective.

Charging the Kona at one of my local supermarkets.

On the downside, you will need to replace the battery at some point, second-hand values are likely to be low, depreciation savage given the high purchase price with limited second-hand interest, and then there’s long-distance range. Speaking of which…

Driving from Melbourne to Adelaide…and back again

Having established that the Kona makes a great around-town car, it’s time to address the big question about electric cars and that is the out-of-town range.

We decided to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide and back again as fast as we could, selecting that route because it’s a reasonable drive of over 700km, and it’s not particularly well served for chargers in contrast to, say, the Melbourne to Sydney run.  

The Kona’s claimed range is 449km using the WLTP electric-vehicle standard, and we may have been able to get over 500km but preferred to plan on 400km. That would mean a recharge to the effect of at least 300km, maybe 400km. Given that a 10A outlet charges at 10km per hour, waiting 30-plus hours to charge wasn’t going to cut it so we needed much faster charging. And then starts the game of long-range EV driving – where and how long do you charge? Of course, there are apps and websites for charging and we used PlugShare.com which lists a number of public charging points.

Most industrial and commercial premises have 3-phase power which charges at around triple the rate of 10A. These may be publicly available, or you can always just ask to plug in return for a payment. Plugshare doesn’t have all the Tesla chargers, so we used Tesla’s own map to find more, and of course industrial outlets just require finding.  Caravan parks all have 15A outlets which charge a little quicker than 10A, so that’s also an option too.

Plugshare.com showing some EV chargers. Some of these are just 10A home outlets.

Now you may be wondering just how you plug your car into all these systems, and the answer is you need a variety of cables and adaptors for both ends of your charger – the plug you connect to, and probably also the connector for your own car. Here’s what we took:

This collection is both expensive and bulky, but you have to be prepared. It is a real shame that there’s no EV charging standard in Australia. But, where there is electricity there is a way.

The Kona Electric doesn’t have a spare tyre, but we took one (and my tools to change it) so with all of that packed there was little room left in the boot. Nor does the Kona have a ‘froot’, or front boot. I reckon Hyundai could have packaged the under-bonnet gear better. 

After some planning, we found Telsa destination chargers in Ballarat and Horsham, plus three-phase power in Keith, and Type 2 chargers in Murray Bridge. Adelaide itself is quite well served with a variety of options.

Leg 1: Melbourne to Adelaide

If I was driving this trip in my Ranger I’d simply top up the long range 140L diesel tank and plan on one, maybe two stops for half an hour, arriving eight hours after I left. But with an electric car…who knows. So we left at 5am, having been careful to charge the Kona to 100% overnight.

From previous testing with the Kona I’d selected a cruise speed. I knew that like any car, aerodynamic drag has a huge effect on the energy required to propel a vehicle. Running at 90km/h instead of 100 or 110 seemed to offer a good balance between range and speed, so that’s what we did. 

We also opted to do without the heater so as to conserve all the car’s energy for propulsion. So already the Kona was at a disadvantage to ICE cars – slower by 20km/h, and less comfortable. The things we do as testers.

Look closely. See the “driver only” and “heat” buttons? You don’t see them in ICE vehicles, you just turn the heating up or down. The Kona also has electrically heated seats and the steering wheel because that’s less electrical power than heating the cabin.

We arrived in Ballarat having used 26 percent of the battery and travelled 102km. The tourist attraction Sovereign Hill has a range of chargers, and we selected the Tesla Destination charger which uses a Type 2 plug compatible with the Kona. We plugged in, and charged at the rate of around 7.2kW/h, or around 46km per hour. The Kona limits the charge rate to 7.2kW, so you can’t always take full advantage of your power sources. 

It’s pretty boring watching an EV charge so we set off by foot to the Beechworth Bakery for breakfast. That immediately highlights an EV problem; when it’s charging, you can’t drive it so you’re relegated to walking. Hopefully the charge point will be near what you’re there for, but often that may not be the case. But the charge cost us nothing, as I suppose Sovereign Hill expects you’ll actually visit if you use their chargers. Sorry about that. 

We gave the Kona a long charge of three hours, back to 97% – and an estimated range of 451km. The last few % take a while so we didn’t bother with 100%, and set off for Keith, 393km away. This was an uneventful if rather slow drive and we rolled into town with 16% of battery remaining, and a range of 67km. Our charging point here was the local showground, which has three-phase power available. We used the Juice Boost 3-phase adaptor from our kit (not standard with the Kona) to hook up, and left the Kona charging again at 7.2kWh / 46km per hour, dropping some gold coins in the honesty box as payment. We charged to 45 percent and 200km of claimed range which took another three hours, during which we toured Keith. More than once. 

By the time we left Keith we’d covered 495km and spent six hours charging. The next destination was Murray Bridge, 154km away and we rolled in there with 11% charge and 45km range remaining. We used a Type 2 Mennekes cable for our third charge of the day, and third different type of charger. Again, the Kona charged at 7.2kWH and 46km per hour. I’d definitely say a key buying point for EVs is their ability to accept charge as while the charger may be high performance, if the car can’t handle it then you’re restricted to a slow charge.

Charging in Murray Bridge.

At this point it was early evening, 19:15. Adelaide was temptingly close at a mere 77km away, and we knew the last 10km or so would be a huge downhill run. So we charged to 21% and 90km, thinking that would be a decent buffer given the downhill, and left Murray Bridge at 20:15 after a charge that cost us nothing. And then began a harsh lesson in EV reality.

Gradients take a huge amount of energy to ascend compared to running on the flat. Murray Bridge is next to a river, so it is just 35m above sea level. The top of the Adelaide Hills is about 500m, so we had a vertical ascent of over 450m. We knew this, and had planned for it. We started with 90km range, 77km to go, so 13km over with the downhill for the last bit. Then it was 80 and 85…our buffer shrank and shrank, and at 20km out from our destination in Adelaide we had slightly less range indicated than we needed to travel. This was a problem…but luckily there was the option of a charger in nearby Stirling.  

We crawled up the last part of the hill, wondering if we should cut and run for the charger, or just keep going and assume the hill would recharge the batteries, all the time nervously watching the battery level drop…then it hit 3% and the Kona went into a battery save mode, restricting speed, power and energy usage. This was the deciding factor and we glided off the freeway into Stirling. It was by now very dark, and the PlugShare site said the charger was difficult to find, presumably in daylight. Not waiting to use any more electricity than absolutely necessary I stopped the car and dispatched my co-driver to locate the charger so we didn’t waste energy driving round in the wrong direction. I was also eyeing off the local restaurant and wondering if they’d be willing to let us plug in, although charging at 10km per hour didn’t appeal. But, at least we’d have a feed. 

That’s cutting it fine!

The charger was duly located, and we rolled in to charge at two percent, or 6km range. Close call!  We charged to 7 percent and 29km which took 25 minutes but cost nothing, and set off for Adelaide, reaching the top of the hill at six percent and 19km range. We re-genned our way down the hill enjoying the beautiful, beautiful sight of the battery charging at up to 60kw/h, and when we parked in Adelaide’s CBD we were ahead at eight percent charge and 34km range…purely having recharged the battery from the hill, dropping down from 500 to 50m above sea level.

Our plan was to use a DC (direct current) fast charger in Adelaide, quickly top the car back up to 100% and depart that same night for Murray Bridge. Sadly, that plan didn’t work as the Franklin Street charger has three types of plug, but only one we had adapters for and it wasn’t the fast DC option. So, we decided to use the slower AC charger, again limited to 46km per hour, and spend the night in Adelaide. 

Adelaide back to Melbourne

We left early next morning at 05:15, finding the Kona had managed an 80 percent charge overnight which cost us $4.13 via the Chargefox network. Would have preferred 100%, but we set off anyway for our old friend Keith, arriving at 08:08 with 28% left and 116km claimed range. This seemed like a good time for breakfast, so we had a decent feed while the Kona was plugged back into the showground’s three-phase outlet, and then a second breakfast followed by a snack. We left Keith 3.25 hours later at 11:22 with 61 percent charge and a range of 221km, bound for Horsham and a Tesla destination charger. 

We rolled into Horsham at 14:00 with 15% charge and 63km range remaining. We paid the hotel its flat rate of $10 for the charge, and considered how long we should leave the car there. It was 292km to home…do we charge it to 300km plus and do it in one, or stop again at Ballarat? What effect would the downhill from Ballarat to Melbourne have on range? In the end, we spent 4.5 hours recharging up to 62% and 270km which wasn’t enough for the home run, so we dropped back in to Sovereign Hill with the Kona showing 16 percent and 67km. We spent a chilly and wet 45min charging to get 25 percent and 101km, needing exactly 100km to get home – banking on the downhill to see us right. We couldn’t even sit in the car with a warm heater because that would have slowed the charge rate.

We left Ballarat at 22:00, and cut the speed from 90 to 80km/h. This had the desired effect on range, and we also both thought that Ballarat was the highest point around and it’d be downhill from there. Well, that was wrong…it took 30km before we stopped climbing but when we did descend, there was beautiful, beautiful regeneration and our buffer of claimed range to required range to make it home climbed nicely from 5 to 15km. On such margins do you work with electric vehicles.

With only 15km to get home with a range of 25km we switched the heated seats on, activated the heater and stopped driving for maximum efficiency, rolling into my driveway with 2% charge left and a range of 10km at 23:28, tired but triumphant and much educated on life with EVs. 

Number crunching…

Why drive interstate in an EV?

Okay, so the journey by EV took almost twice as long as it would have by ICE, and wasn’t as comfortable. We had to work as a team, find charging points, plan the route and once there, often leave the car in a less than ideal position and walk elsewhere. We spent way, way longer in towns than we would have done. So why would you?

Because sometimes it’s about the journey not the destination. It’s kind of the same reason I go 4X4 touring, just discovering random places. It’s fun to work together to get a vehicle from place to place, and if you look hard enough, no town is boring. I’ve driven the Melbourne to Adelaide route dozens of times, but never stopped in any of the towns for more than half an hour before. And yet when you take the time to discover, we had interesting conversations with fellow travellers and locals, went on walks, found amazing murals, and settled in at cafes where I was able to work…all I need is a laptop and an Internet connection, so why do I need to rush home or to any place in particular when I can work anywhere? What would you otherwise be doing, scrolling through social media on your phone? You can do that anywhere. 

I’d like to do more long-range EV trips. It’d be an amazing adventure with good friends, and you’d get a feeling of accomplished satisfaction an ICE car couldn’t give you. Reading through blogs of others who have done long trips by EV it’s the same theme, unpredictable adventure. They all know an ICE vehicle is more practical, but too easy to be interesting. But if this interests you, do it now because as EV range increases, chargers become more widespread and charge times drop, soon an EV trip will be as easy, quick and uneventful as an ICE trip.

The Tesla option

Tesla is the market leader in EVs, and has invested in its own charging network, actually paying a substantial part of the cost of charger installation. There’s 41 high-performance superchargers around Australia either here now or being built, either in capital cities or strategically located on major interstate routes. The huge advantage is a very short charging time – around 90 minutes to fully charge an EV’s battery…and if we had access to them, then we’d have been able to drive to Ballarat at speed and with heating, probably take 30m to get back to 100%, then Ballarat to Keith for another supercharge, then Keith to Adelaide so only two charge stops maybe of a total of three hours, tops, plus speed-limit cruising between charges. We also know the Horsham International Hotel will be adding a supercharger to their destination chargers.

Tesla also supply destination chargers which charge at a much lower rate, intended for overnight stops, for example. Happily, these chargers are a standard Type 2 Mennekes plug and work on other EVs such as the Kona, and a Range Rover Sport PHEV.  Only Tesla vehicles can use Tesla superchargers, even though the plug is the same.

Right now, interstate trips are much easier in a Tesla, mostly due to the supercharger network. Tesla’s navigation systems also know where the superchargers are, and do the maths needed to figure out where to stop, and for how long. Teslas also have apps for your phone so you can monitor and control the charge progress remotely, and there’s similar coming for the Kona.

So, what did we learn about interstate EV driving?

  • Not all charging locations are marked on sites like PlugShare, which to my knowledge doesn’t show all Tesla destination chargers and cannot possibly know of all the 3-phase outlets, either. You need to go hunting and plan, which might mean phoning local councils about showgrounds, or asking industrial businesses about their three-phase power. Caravan parks all have 15A outlets, slightly better than the 10A standard at homes, useful if you’re in a cabin or tent overnight;
  • There’s a tradeoff between charging time and range. We needed say seven hours charging…and whether that was 2, 3 and 2 hours or 5 and 2 hours didn’t make that much difference. If we spent an extra hour at one stop, that was one less at the next. However, charging the last 5-10 percent of a battery takes longer, and the access times to each charger need to be considered, as well as backup plans if the charger is unavailable;
  • The gradient, temperate, even rain makes a difference to battery usage;
  • Charging rates vary with all sorts of factors from the charger, car, sharing of the station, temperate and more;
  • You want a car that can use all the electrical power it is given. The Kona’s 7.2kW AC charge limitation slowed us down. The Jaguar I-Pace is 11kW as is the forthcoming Audi e-tron, which would have been more like 70km per hour charge, 50 percent quicker. That makes a big difference on multi-hour charges. Teslas range from 11.5 to 17.2kW;
  • You definitely want to start with a 100 percent charge, and may well finish with a two percent charge. This means you, in effect, lose use of the car immediately before the trip so don’t use the battery, and after the trip whilst it charges back to something usable;
  • There are so many plugs and charging systems…you need to take a lot of cables and adaptors for flexibility;
  • Speed matters. There’s a big difference in consumption between 85 and 110km/h. At 110km/h, the drag is such that on some downhills you don’t get any regen, although you do use less energy; and
  • You’ll probably eat a lot of cakes and drink a lot of coffee while you wait.

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Chris Percival
Chris Percival
4 years ago

Thanks Robert. Very instructive. My question is, while there are charge points available now while EV’s are a novelty, what happens when everyone has one? Taking up a charge point for one vehicle for two or three hours means a long wait or many many charge points. You might need a hectare of land to accommodate a hundred cars where previously six petrol pumps would have handled the same volume.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper