One of the biggest concerns and questions people have about electric cars is range. As a nation as big as Australia, how could we possibly enjoy our long-drive road-tripping lifestyle when EVs have such low range? Well, let me put that to the test in the Kia Niro with a 1,000 km round trip to visit my mum.
I’m driving the Kia Niro, a $70,000 electric car. Kia describe the Niro as an “electrified crossover SUV”. While it has a hatchback form, it’s far bigger than a Kia Cerato, but smaller than the mid-sized SUV that is the Sportage.
In perfect conditions, at 100% charge, the Kia Niro has shown me range of 480km. Now, as we’ve learned that can be most affected by the temperature (cold temps mean you lose range), and the style and speed of your driving.
Most critical to the “road trip” concept is the speed. As soon as you start driving at length over 90km an hour, you start to burn through the battery. It’s basically the opposite of a petrol car. You know around town you’re getting 12-13l per 100km, but on the highway it drops down to 7 or 8l per 100? In an EV it’s more efficient around town.
On average, over the 2,000+ km of driving I’ve done in the Kia Niro, we’re using 16.2kWh per 100km of driving. I noticed on a punchy 110km/h country road it was using over 20kWh per 100km.
So, the first lesson here is, if you think your EV has a range of 480km, don’t expect it will go that far if you’re doing a big freeway run. That’s not to say it will drop down to 400, but you might lose 20% of the range.
Plus, we want to be comfortable, so air conditioning being on is also a drain on that “possible” range.
Here’s the thing though – that only matters if you’re trying to go 400+km and there’s no point of charging on the way.
For the most part, at least in NSW from what I was looking at, there are chargers every 200km on the main highways.
I drove 250km to the first charger on my trip – at Scone. This is an NRMA charger located out the back of the main street shops in a car park.
We were down to 41% battery. Because this is a 50kW charger, that means it’s sending up to 50kW power in at any given moment, compared to the 2kW your home power point would do, I only needed to stop for about 25 minutes to get up to 80% charge.
A walk down the street, grab a drink, make some phone calls, then back to the car and we’re at 83%, with 380km range – enough to easily get to Mum’s some 200km away.
But, I would stop again, because at Mum’s there’s just a power point, and I learned through testing that at 3% battery this car would take 35 hours to fully charge. So I wanted to stop again at Tamworth to hopefully get more than enough battery for a large chunk of the return journey.
In Tamworth, the NRMA charger is located just off the main drag, in a car park opposite Officeworks.
This was lunchtime, so 30 minutes later we were again past the 80% mark and plenty of juice for the remaining trip and then a big chunk of the return journey too.
Made it to mums with 61% battery, having travelled 450km, and stopped for just an hour in total on the whole trip.
I brought with me the standard power wall charger, plugged it into a normal power point at mums pub, and went inside for a chat, a meal and a long rest.
The car projected that it would be 15 hours until 100% charged, meaning I would easily be starting the return journey at full battery.
With that in mind, the next day, I decided to take a different route home.
I’d drive the twisty Oxley Highway through Wauchope to Port Macquarie. Reason being, the NRMA supported chargers on the Pacific Motorway are Chargefox operated, and are “ultra-fast”.
One key advantage of the ChargeFox system is their app. You can look at any charging point, and see if its in use. And when you get there, it’s all initiated and paid for using the app.
While the NRMA chargers at Scone and Tamworth are free now, long term they will be free for NRMA members, and a fee applicable for others.
ChargeFox was 40c per kWh. So I paid a touch over $9 at Port Macquarie for my fast charge to 80%.
I noticed this one get to 69kW charging, I believe the Kia NIRO is capable of 75kW. The reason I didn’t see it much higher is because the fastest charging rates will be seen in the lowest charged cars. The higher your “tank” the slower the power comes in. As soon as you get to 80% the chargers drop down to 22kW and lower as they approach 100%.
Onward to Karuah, and this little down which has been bypassed by the motorway, has its chargers at a little old BP service station. There’s a bakery across the road, snacks in the BP so you’re good for a quick top-up.
Here our charging rate got up to 73kW early on because it was down just below 40%, but after that it dropped down to above 50kW before heading to 80% charge.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the stop at ChargeFox Karuah was the arrival of two other cars. A Nissan Leaf and an Audi e-tron. Of the thousands of cars on the road, these were the only other two I saw at charging locations during my trip.
Finally, after a run down the freeway, and into my driveway, after 999.8km on the road, 12 hours and 24 minutes of driving at an average of 16.8kWh per 100km, I was home.
Zero battery anxiety. None at all. This was a breeze.
Sure, it required more research than a petrol road trip – there are petrol stations everywhere, so never a concern. For this trip I used a website called PlugShare to check for charging locations and plot out my trip.
Inside the Kia Niro the in-build Satellite navigation does allow you to add charging stops. However, traditional car companies just haven’t nailed this part of the experience.
Get in a Tesla in Brisbane, tell it you’re going to Adelaide and it will plot a trip, with charging stops and tell you how long to charge at each location.
The new Polestar 2 has Google’s Automotive platform built in, so your Google Maps will allow you to see charging locations and time of charge.
Kia’s Navigation didn’t even know there was a charger in Scone, so heaven help me going forward. Your Smartphone is king here. Plugshare is the best “all station” charging locator, but I think we need Google Maps to allow any user to do EV road trips, then we’re on a winner.
The Kia Niro has a WLTP range rating of 455km. Given I was on track to do 450km to mum’s that was only ever going to be just enough. With some comforts in use, I think it would have made it 440 or maybe 430. But in reality, only a 5 minute charge at either fast charger would have been required to “get” there. When you consider your stationary time at destination, wall charging is probably going to be enough most times, but the reality is, with a charger ever 200km, you’re mad not to stop for a coffee and a quick recharge at the same time.
Stop, Revive, Survive as they say.
Apart from my documenting every EV stat along the way, this felt like a normal drive. Quiet, easy, relaxed.
The adaptive cruise worked a treat on the highways, though I will say it had a tendency to pull back when trying to regulate speed on downhill runs. A strange feeling of braking unlike anything you get in a petrol car on cruise control.
We’re heading down to see family in Young this coming weekend, there’s chargers at Picton, Goulburn, Yass and Young, so absolutely zero worried about taking the Kia Niro!
Soon I’ll compile a list of all the questions I’ve had during this trip, and answer them in a separate post.