It costs an absolute bomb to put an electric vehicle in your driveway. Can you justify the extra expense through lower running costs?
We put three efficient engine types to the test to see what one might be cheapest on your commute.
A new car might claim ultra-high efficiency, but there’s no way of telling how it performs in the real world. The Hyundai Ioniq gives us the perfect opportunity to compare as the range has a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and an electric vehicle. We took one of each out for a week’s worth of motoring to get a handle on their pros and cons.
The Ioniq is your typical family hatch. There’s room for five inside, though the sloping roofline restricts the room for taller passengers in the rear. It has all the mod cons you’d expect in a new car, from phone connectivity to safety features such as lane keep assist, which warns if you wander about the lane too much. I jumped into it from my 2008 VW and quickly decided it was a much better place to be.
You have a choice of three motors. The cheapest is the Hybrid, which comes in at just under $47K. The PHEV is next cab off the rank at $54K, while the Electric is $66K. On top of motor choice, there are two levels of refinement – Entry or Elite. The premium Elite model cost an additional $6000 and gets you better safety features, leather interior, heated seats and steering wheel and other bells and whistles.
The electric motors in these cars can run in reverse and act as generators that’ll recharge the batteries. This action slows the car down and is known as regenerative braking. All three Ioniq models have this feature, which you can set to three levels of power. When operating, the car starts slowing when you lift off the throttle. It’s a bit jerky in the Hybrid and PHEV, which doesn’t help carsick passengers on the trip over the Remutaka Hill. The Electric’s system is much smoother and, once you learn to use it properly, you reach a point where you only need to touch the brakes to come to a complete stop.
The Hybrid has a small electric motor and battery that is recharged by the petrol engine and when slowing down by regenerative braking. The electric motor is powerful enough to drive the car at low speeds, but it’ll generally run out of juice when you approach highway speeds. You don’t need to plug this one in and it works just like any other car you’ve driven.
The PHEV is the next step up. The electric motor and batteries are bigger, to the point where you can get upwards of 52km of electric-only driving. The batteries can be recharged on the fly by the petrol motor and regenerative braking, but the bulk of charging should be done by plugging it in at home each day (there’s no fast-charging capability in the PHEV).
The Electric is stuffed full of batteries and a large electric motor to drive the wheels. When fully charged, the car gave us a read-out of 250km of range. The Electric has the most powerful engine of the three, coming in at 100kW compared to the 77kW petrol motor in the other two.
We put each of the Entry spec cars through a normal week’s worth of driving. This involved commuting 30km to and from the office on weekdays in the rush hour crawl, a trip to the supermarket and a weekend drive. In this case we went from Lower Hutt to the Wairarapa and back to see how each one handled the winding trip over the Remutaka Hill and some typical state highway speeds. The total distance covered ended up at just over 250km.
We measured the electricity usage with a power meter and, in the case of the PHEV and Hybrid, petrol usage was taken from the trip computer that was reset when we picked up the car. From here we calculated the running costs for a week’s worth of motoring. Electricity was priced at 0.26¢/kWh, while petrol was priced at $1.97 per litre for 91.
The smaller battery was mostly recharged by the time I got to the bottom of my 3km downhill ride to the motorway to get to work. From there it’d run in electric mode at up to about 70km/h and the petrol motor would shut off every time I coasted down from higher speeds as the traffic in front slowed down.
The petrol motor is really quick to seamlessly cut in and start driving the wheels, so you’re never left short of punch. It has more than enough power for cruising through town and on the motorway. There was one major downside, the Entry Hybrid doesn’t have adaptive cruise control, which is a feature on the other Entry models. You get ruined after experiencing adaptive cruise just once (which keeps you moving at the same speed as the car in front of you) and you’ll really miss it once it’s gone.
By the end of the week, the computer told me I’d used $23.27 of petrol.
The PHEV is all about eking out the range and using as little petrol as possible. This means it spends most of its time powering you about in EV mode. It’s cheaper to run the car this way but the electric engine only puts out 44kW, which is piddly for a vehicle weighing 1.5 tonnes. That made it feel a bit sluggish when driving up steep hills or trying to hit gaps at busy roundabouts. The petrol motor does kick in when required or if you have a heavy foot.
I had the PHEV on a particularly cold week, so the heater got a hammering on the commute to and from work. The electric motor didn’t have the guts to power both the car and the air con, so the petrol motor kicked in quite a bit (when I turned off the air con the petrol motor also stopped). That affects the overall fuel economy, so it’s an important consideration if you’re thinking of buying one of these cars. The Elite model with heated seats and steering wheel would be able to drive you in EV mode and keep you warm without burning fuel at the same time – it takes very little power to heat your bum and hands compared to heating a whole cabin of air.
At the end of the week it cost $21.58, but I’d expect the petrol costs to drop in warmer conditions when the heaters weren’t required so much.
As soon as I jumped in the Ioniq Electric I noticed a massive change – the dash and auto gearstick are replaced with a digital display and an array of buttons for gear selection. While the display is great, the buttons take some getting used to, especially when parallel parking or doing a three-point turn – rather than flicking a gear lever backwards and forwards I needed to find and press the right button.
Once under way, it was clear this is the best car of the range. It’s powerful and smooth and handles better than the others. The handling improvement comes down to extra load of batteries in the floor, which gives more heft and a lower centre of gravity.
One week of motoring cost just $12.39. So the Electric is the cheapest to run by a long way. You do have a big trade-off though, with it being the most expensive model.
You wouldn’t buy the Electric for saving money, but you would buy it because it’s easily the best car. I made savings of $9.19 a week for the Electric over the PHEV. That works out at $478 a year. Not including service costs, it’d take me 25 years before the $12,000 price difference was accounted for – easily more than the lifespan of the batteries and car themselves.
Servicing is something that also needs to be considered when you’re looking for a new vehicle. It’s cheaper to service an electric vehicle as it’s a much simpler beast than a PHEV or hybrid. The latter two have the normal servicing requirements for a petrol motor with the added complication of the electric motor and batteries. As well as this, having two drivetrains also means there are more components that can potentially go wrong down the track.
If I had the choice and the funds, I’d buy the electric version in a heartbeat. I wasn’t so sold on the PHEV – having a foot in both camps meant I had the daily plugging-in faff of an electric vehicle, but it felt underpowered and wasn’t nippy enough in town. I’d take the Hybrid over the PHEV – it’s easy, works just the way you expect a car should and uses way less petrol than anything I’ve ever owned.