The pure EVs

BMW i3s 94Ah REx

WORDS ANDY ENRIGHT, BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS & CAMERON KIRBY

IF THIS is the future you can keep it. I’m watching punters pull up to the bowser at the Shell servo in Euroa, fill up and nip off. Meanwhile, I’m faced with a bank of out of commission chargers and a Jaguar I-Pace, a BMW i3, a Nissan Leaf and a Renault Zoe that need charging. Only one of the four DC chargers works. The highcapacity ABB chargers’ software won’t talk to the battery array. The Zoe can’t charge here at all because it needs AC power, not DC and Renault hasn’t even supplied us with a charging cable. Having just hypermiled up the Hume at 80km/h with no air con, both tolerance and deodorant have worn pretty thin. Using a borrowed charger and an uprated 15-amp power supply, we learn that the Zoe will take 17 hours to charge sufficiently to cover the distance back to Melbourne.

The Tesla Model X has already charged to 100 percent at the Supercharger in Euroa, making the travails of the other EVs look like the most unnecessary drama. To compound the issue, only two of the six plug-in hybrids were delivered with charge in their batteries and the Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel-cell car could only be fuelled to half pressure. Any potential owner taking these vehicles out of their cosy commuting milieu and out into the wild would find their patience taxed, and the first time they find themselves stranded at a dud charger could also be their last. This nation of vast distances, relatively cheap fuel, exorbitant electricity charges and little political will to change isn’t anywhere close to the forefront of the EV revolution.

As such, it’s difficult to recommend an EV right now as a genuine alternative to internal combustion. The fact remains that the people they suit best – namely those doing low-mileage urban/suburban commutes – are often low-involvement purchasers who won’t see the benefit in spending a good deal more on an electric vehicle. That’s compounded by the fact that many in urban high-density housing have no means to charge their vehicles at their place of residence.

The significant take-away from this test is that owning one requires you to modify your behaviour quite markedly to accommodate the car’s shortcomings. That will change fairly quickly, and the Tesla network is workable, but it was the opinion of most testers that were they spending their own money right now, they’d stick with the added utility of a plug-in hybrid. Compromise, it seems, isn’t always a dirty word.

BMW i3s 94Ah REx

Bavaria’s bespoke EV plays catch-up

TIMING is everything. Back in 2014, the brilliant i3 60Ah was the first EV to scoop COTY, bringing enigmatic and audacious design, packaging and engineering, while still encapsulating BMW dynamic appeal. Perhaps more so than many of its stablemates.

Created as a premium urban runabout, that early version’s circa-160km range was par for the course given its 22kWh battery capacity, though – for a price – Tesla’s Model S has easily doubled that. In the i3’s defence, it also offered a twin-cylinder generator in the $6K-pricier Range Extender (REx), adding up to 150km of range. Anxiety be damned!

With a 2016 battery upgrade to 33kWh boosting range to 200km and last year’s facelift bringing tech updates, let’s see if the i3’s virtues prevail today.

The Bavarian EV certainly hasn’t aged badly, retaining a commanding presence, while the deep glasshouse and its vision-enhancing airiness, dashboard minimalism, ergonomic simplicity, creative (and mostly recyclable) material deployment, lovely detailing and pillarless access continue to enrich an impressively roomy cabin.

SPECS

Model BMW i3s 94Ah REx

Motor single synchronous

Generator 28kW/56Nm 647cc 2cyl

Battery 33kWh lithium-ion

Max power 135kW

Max torque 270Nm

Transmission single-speed reduction gear

L/W/H/WB 4011/1775/1598/2570mm

Weight 1487kg

0-100km/h 7.7sec (claimed)

Consumption 12.5kWh/100km (claimed)

Claimed electric range 200km

Plug standard CCS

Price $75,900

On sale Superseded by i3 120Ah,

February 2019

• Design; cabin; packaging; driveability; dynamics; quality

• Not cheap; options pricey; middling battery range; i3s ride

The driving experience, too, remains extraordinary. Perched high SUV-style yet sat back sports-car-style behind the achingly cool two-spoke wheel, the i3 is an enthusiast’s machine, whether leaping straight into action with startling speed in the regular default setting, or should the driver choose the efficiency-prioritising Eco Pro, gliding along with ample power in reserve. Whichever, the BMW’s acceleration always feels energetic. Opting for the 10kW/20Nm stronger 135kW/270Nm i3s (as tested) brings immediacy, oomph and a harder edge.

With the front wheels free to steer only (as in all great BMWs), the i3’s steering brings delicious, crisp, connected directness, though novices may find the i3s’s helm a tad nervous initially. Just hang in, folks, because the rear-drive chassis is actually profoundly planted due to its low centre of gravity and seamlessly nuanced electronic nanny smarts, to ensure this tall boy stays on course.

We’ve never been enamoured with the i3’s firm ride quality, however, but the 10mm-lowered i3s/20-inch wheel combo is harder and louder again – classic case of more equalling less. Stronger regenerative braking force for off-throttle stopping would be welcome, the clap-hand doors won’t allow the rears to open independently of the fronts, and then there’s the price… north of $70K before options. The ‘E’ in BMW’s EV equals expensive.

Happily, our biggest i3 bugbear – that off-the-pace 200km range – has just been addressed with the larger, 42kWh battery upgrade, out from February in the i3 120Ah, with 260km between charges. At no extra cost. Not before time.

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

REx in peace

With a 260km ‘real-world range’ from the new 42kWh batteries, BMW has dropped the optional REx petrol generator for the MY19 i3, saying it’s less necessary now. Apple CarPlay, wireless smartphone charging and keyless entry are also standard. The electric motor outputs remain the same, as do charge times – 80 percent in about 42 minutes with a 50kW DC charger, 3.5-7.3hrs with a home/work ‘iWallbox’ (about $3K installed), and up to 19.5hr plugged into a 10A household outlet.

Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Australia’s most affordable EV aims to be the new normal

EVERY time the man from Hyundai mentioned the words ‘Ioniq BEV’ I couldn’t stop thinking of a movie pitch featuring a crime-fighting superhero lunch-lady. The reality isn’t quite as exciting, and thankfully the Koreans are now calling it the Ioniq Electric but it nevertheless carries a pretty snappy tagline. ‘Australia’s cheapest EV’ ought to guarantee a decent return at the box office for the Koreans.

The Ioniq Electric is but one part of a threepronged hedge from Hyundai, offering a base Ioniq hybrid, a plug-in version and this, the range-topping EV version. While the duller plug-in could well be the more pragmatic pick for most Aussies, the comparatively extrovert Electric is the car that’s going to mop up the column inches and with good reason. Pitching in at $44,990 for the Elite and $48,990 for the Platinum flagship, it features a 28kWh lithium-ion battery for a real-world range of 230 kilometres. The 88kW permanent-magnet synchronous motor delivers a peak of 295Nm in Sport mode which eases back slightly to 265Nm in Normal or Eco.

SPECS

Model Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Motor single synchronous

Battery 8.9kWh lithium-Ion

Max power 88kW

Max torque 295Nm

Transmission single-speed reduction gear

L/W/H/WB 4470/1820/1450/2700mm

Weight 1420kg

0-100km/h 9.9sec (claimed)

Consumption 11.5kWh/100km

(claimed)

Claimed electric range 230km

Plug standard CCS

Price $44,990 – $48,990

On sale Now

• Value; accessibility; equipment

• A trifle dull; modest grunt

It’s not the quietest EV we’ve ever driven, and at a modest 90km/h cruise, your passengers probably wouldn’t even guess it was electrically powered, such is the drum from the 16-inch Michelin Energy Saver tyres and muted bump-thump from the torsion beam rear end, while wind roar is higher than you’d expect from a vehicle with a drag coefficient of just 0.24. Flicking the paddles shuttles through four levels of re-gen, and only on the more aggressive modes does some whine enter the cabin. Plant the throttle and the instant torque can easily overwhelm those ecooriented front tyres. Keen drivers will also yearn for a little more steering feedback. It’s really not that sort of car, though. It’s a car for the undemanding buyer who wants an EV that’s as close to fuss-free as this price bracket allows. It’s an unthreatening entry point to full EV ownership, with $160 annual servicing and charging to 80 percent in 23 minutes on a 100kW DC fast-charging station. This blows out to 12 hours on a household outlet using the standard In-Cable Control Box (ICCB) but most customers will fork out another $1995 for the 7kW AC home wallbox that brings a full charge down to a more manageable four hours and 25 minutes. The interior features bronze highlights that lift the otherwise Tucson-looking dash, while the centre console is model-specific and swaps out the hybrid and plug-in’s utilitarian shifter in favour of a neat cluster of buttons.

If, after some contemplation, you come to the conclusion that it’s all fairly unexceptional, you may have arrived at the Ioniq Electric’s greatest achievement. It makes what was once exotic technology seem wholly accessible. Not all heroes wear capes.

ANDY ENRIGHT

In full gear

Included in the Ioniq Electric Elite is a stack of active safety equipment, parking sensors, rear camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, an 8-inch touchscreen with sat nav plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a smart key and auto headlights and wipers. Stump up another four grand for the Premium model and you’ll get leather heated and ventilated seats, wireless phone charging, LED headlights, front parking sensors and a glass sunroof. Only around 18 of the Australian network of 170 Hyundai dealers will be authorised to carry the car.

Jaguar I-Pace

Pours petrol on ye old pipe and slippers

THE 1948 XK120. 1961 E-Type. 1968 XJ. Jaguar has a history of smashing moulds, and into that elite group quietly rolls the I-Pace.

Engineered in Britain (good) and built in Austria (great), the battery electric dual-motor AWD five-door, five-seater crossover is conceptually similar to the epochal Tesla Model S, which it has been designed to conquest (brilliant), but – 400km-plus claimed range aside – that’s where the similarities cease between the luxury EV grand tourers.

SPECS

Model Jaguar I-Pace EV400 AWD

Motor 2 x synchronous

Battery 90kWh lithium-ion

Max power 294kW

Max torque 696Nm

Transmission single-speed reduction gear

L/W/H/WB 4682/2011/1565/2990mm

Weight 2133kg

0-100km/h 4.8sec (claimed)

Consumption 21.2kWh/100km (claimed)

Claimed electric range 480km

Plug standard CCS

Price $119,000

On sale Now

• Bold design; lovely cabin; dynamic grace; pace; comfort

• Some sub-par lower cabin plastics; rattles; exxy options

Be prepared for a shock (no pun intended) when first encountering the I-Pace in person, with its nearmonobox proportions and cab-forward silhouette that’s pure concept car. Wearing the optional 22-inch alloys certainly adds to the drama.

It’s inside, though, that the hushed EV really amps up the glamour, with what is undoubtedly Jaguar’s most alluring presentation in modern times, underscored by an elegant dashboard that’s big on intuitive ease, tactility and quality, sumptuous seating with an SUV altitude and space to spare for five (thanks to nearly three metres of wheelbase) and a flawless driving position. It’s even practical with 656L of cargo capacity. Some lower-lying plastics that seem beneath the brand, the lack of a sun block-out blind for the $3380 glass roof, and the odd rattle in these pre-production examples are the only real initial cabin disappointments.

We ought to save the superlatives for the I-Pace’s driveability, however, since in no way does the Coventry Cat feel like a luxo SUV barge. Quite the contrary; engage ‘drive’ and the sole (for now) EV400’s moon-shot acceleration is literally akin to mainlining speed; terrifically tactile steering and tenacious grip allow for Olympics-level iceskater alacrity (hooray for mass-saving 94 percent aluminium construction, double wishbone front suspension, a multi-link rear, and 50/50 weight distribution) and the ride – sampled on 20-inch wheels and steel springs through to optional air suspension and 22s – varies from cushy to comfy.

There was little to sour our initial I-Pace taste – our available range readout fluctuated wildly, halving quickly for around 300km of real-world distance – someway short of the claimed 480km; the $2K air suspension did occasionally induce a queasy motion over speed humps; and even a mild raid of the options cupboard can have prices soaring well over $150K.

Still, imagination runs rife throughout this beguiling new luxury crossover slingshot from Great Britain. For decades its glittering back catalogue mired Jaguar into retro pastiche when instead it should have inspired the brand to innovate.

That’s what the I-Pace is all about. Breakthrough and break free. Company founder Sir William Lyons would be proud.

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Pace notes

The I-Pace’s 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack containing 432 pouch cells is sited centrally between the driven axles, requiring 40 minutes for an 80 percent charge using a rare, rapid 100kW DC charger; investing a few thousand dollars more in a 7kW AC wallbox stretches that to about 10 hours, or 20 plugged into a regular 10A socket. Additionally, on top of the (disappointing) regular three-year/100,000km warranty, the batteries come with eightyears/160,000km of cover.

Nissan Leaf

World’s best-selling EV sheds oddball quirks, boosts mainstream appeal

TOUTED as the world’s first mass-market EV, in Australia the original ZE0 Leaf suffered the growing pains it had to have.

Injured by the oddball design, starship dash and dull dynamics, it was high pricing (initially $51,500) and low range (about 115km realistically) that dealt the fatal blow, resulting in just 635 sales in the four years from 2012, against over 250,000 globally.

In contrast, the ZE1 Leaf II out in June is the result of hard lessons learned, with stronger performance, a 16kWh-larger battery that doubles real-world range to 270km, and a slightly larger, longer, wider and lower body on offer. Progress – though some of the old Leaf’s friendly/dorky flair has been exorcised in the process. Note the doors and bonnet are no longer aluminium, but steel.

Nowadays, the dash is as simple as the previous one was sophisticated. It’s now ho-hum conventional, down to an analogue speedo and wheel nicked from the Qashqai (that it’s built alongside in Britain). There’s still no column reach adjustment, annoyingly, we miss the old car’s eyelevel digital speedo, and the electric park brake gives way to a foot-operated relic. Boo!

SPECS

Model Nissan ZE1 Leaf

Motor single synchronous

Battery 40kWh lithium-ion

Max power 110kW

Max torque 320Nm

Transmission single-speed reduction gear

L/W/H/WB 4445/1770/1550/2700mm

Weight 1580kg

0-100km/h 8.4sec (claimed)

Consumption 14.6kWh/100km (claimed)

Claimed electric range 270km

Plug standard CHAdeMO

Price $50,000 (estimated)

On sale June 2019

• Decent range; strong performance; e-Pedal; dynamics

• Tilt-only steering; foot-operated park brake; it’s dull

At least Leaf’s now quieter. DAB+ digital radio and CarPlay/Auto debut. And cargo capacity grows to a family-friendly 435L (though battery packaging means a flat boot floor remains elusive). Carry-over toggle auto lever aside, there’s precisely zero alienEV weirdness inside.

Plenty of EV poke though. Performance livens up considerably, with hasty off-the-line dispatch and seamless overtaking yours to enjoy; the steering finally feels connected, with newfound feel and responsiveness; and while there’s an underlying chassis tautness that brings fresh dynamic nimbleness, the firmer-ride trade-off is perfectly acceptable. Enthusiasts no longer need ignore.

The fresh ‘e-Pedal’ regenerative braking system offers off-throttle braking, providing 0.2G of retardation, adding range and assisting in smoother driving – especially as brake pedal feel is still a bit snatchy. Furthermore, newly standard AEB, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise and surround-view monitor should help cement the Leaf’s mainstream aspirations.

Finally, just as before, charging via a regular three-pin socket could take up to 24 hours, but a circa-$3K-installed wallbox slashes that by almost two-thirds. Additionally, improved battery cooling means owners will be encouraged to seek out DC fast-charge outlets for 80 percent of capacity in about 40 minutes. And now bi-directional charging can provide electricity back to your house or grid.

Only Nissan offers a second-gen EV when most rivals still struggle to muster their first; that the ZE1 has matured into a more mainstream-focused proposition might finally see the Leaf flourish in Australia. But the price must be right.

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Eucalyptus Leaf

Did you know the Leaf contains an Australian-made water-jacket cover and lid with a tiny kangaroo stamped on it, among the 2.5 million die-cast aluminium parts and over 25,000 accessories exported throughout the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance universe annually? It’s the remnant of the company’s local manufacturing years (1972-’92), an era in which the Nissan Casting Australia Plant employed nearly 200 people working three shifts six days a week at its peak. Fair dinkum!

Renault Zoe ZE40 Intens

Lack of DC charging capability limits usefulness and tests patience

WELCOME to Australia’s oldest yet cutest electric vehicle, as well as Europe’s EV bestseller, the Renault Zoe.

Launched in 2012, and based on the, ahem, current Clio IV supermini, the electric Frenchie five-seater city hatch has been systematically improved since then, so don’t worry; you’ll still manage an easy 200km-plus range, even when driven with gay abandon.

SPECS

Model Renault Zoe ZE40 Intens

Motor single synchronous

Battery 41kWh lithium-ion

Max power 68kW

Max torque 220Nm

Transmission single-speed reduction gear

L/W/H/WB 4063/1732/1448/2589mm

Weight 1470kg

0-100km/h 14.5sec (claimed)

Consumption 13.3kWh/100km (claimed)

Claimed electric range 300km

Plug standard Type 2 Chameleon Charger

Price $49,490

On sale Now

• Design; range; comfort; steering; handling; attitude

• AC recharging requirements too limiting; high price; no AEB

Have no doubt. That’s precisely how things could end up, given those Clio underpinnings and a low centre of gravity provide such a solid and enjoyable dynamic base. Quick, responsive steering, nippy handling, excellent grip and an isolating ride make the Zoe more than just the keen driver’s choice.

With an instantaneous 68kW and 220Nm on tap, the ZE40 (denoting the larger 41kWh battery pack) is also sprightly off the mark in that typical, dodgem-car EV way; there’s also a fairly hefty shove if you mash the throttle out on the open road, though watching your available remaining charge tumble as a consequence isn’t as much fun. We’d love to see even stronger regenerative braking resistance for single-pedal driving, though the anchors aren’t as touchy as some, thankfully.

For a four-metre city car, the Zoe’s pleasingly accommodating, with supportive front seats, sufficient space and comfort out back, and a reasonably sized boot at 338 litres (though note there’s no spare – just a tyre-inflation kit). There’s also a decent wedge of kit, including a reverse camera, sat-nav, EV-specific climate control (to minimise consumption), keyless entry/start, up-spec audio and DAB+ digital radio.

But then you digest the $50K (before on-roads) pricing and realise that the dated dash, hard plastics and missing kit like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would be an embarrassment in a $25K Clio; dig deeper and AEB and other active driver-assist tech isn’t even available; and why aren’t Renault’s EVs subject to a five-year warranty, instead relegated to just three years’ cover?

However, value-for-money concerns would soon be eclipsed by the almost total unavailability of fastcharging infrastructure for the plucky Zoe. That’s because it uses an AC rather than the DC system of more modern EVs, which means that while it’s fine to replenish those batteries from a regular 10A 240V household plug (albeit slowly, at over 20 hours!), that’s your lot. The ZE40 is essentially limited to city and ’burbs.

That’s a shame, but then the Renault is getting on for seven years old, and as its diminutive proportions clearly imply, this is an urban commuter EV; the company’s demographic profiling reveals that most owners own two vehicles and drive no more than 40km daily.

If that sounds like you, and you dig its unique, youthful, playful chic, then Zoe may be the one.

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

And a plug for the Wallbox...

Though all Zoes come with a Type 2 cable, you’ll want the circa-$1700 Wallbox (up to $3K installed), since it provides up to 7kW for a full charge in eight hours; conversely, some commercial premises offer three-phase outlets, delivering 22kW for a three hour charge. Get a quote before committing. The five EV specialist Renault dealers nationally provide further AC charging outlets for the 50 or so Zoes Renault retailed in 2018.

Tesla Model X 100D

Not the newest, but still leads the charge for range and ease of operation

DURING three days of electric and plug-in hybrid testing we discovered one hard, undeniable kernel of truth. If you want to own an electric vehicle, right now, in Australia, that makes owning one feel relatively easy, there is only one manufacturer that answers the call – Tesla.

While we fretted and fussed over the available range and closest charger for our other test vehicles, finding chargers inoperable and realising some cars were achieving half the range their gauges claimed, the Tesla was a stress-free experience, with the testing team able to drive the car however we desired, knowing there was a supercharger within striking distance, and a healthy estimated range up our sleeve.

The 100kWh battery provides a class-leading 565km of range according to the official NEDC test. During our testing we saw similar numbers. Ideal for those particularly susceptible to range anxiety, Tesla’s on-board computer and Google-powered navigation will calculate estimated remaining charge following a return trip, and include necessary supercharger stops on longer ventures.

Additionally, Tesla Australia has installed a supercharger network that runs from Adelaide to the Sunshine Coast, which combined with the Queensland Government’s new electric superhighway to Cairns, has a large proportion of Australia’s population covered. You could genuinely live with a Model X without a home charger.

SPECS

Model Tesla Model X 100D

Motor 2 x synchronous

Battery 100kWh lithium-ion

Max power 330kW

Max torque 700Nm (estimated)

Transmission single-speed reduction gear

L/W/H/WB 5037/2070/1684/2965

Weight 2447kg B 5.0sec (claimed)

Consumption 20.8kWh/100km (claimed)

Claimed electric range 565km

Plug Type 2

Price $142,900

On sale Now

• Acceleration; range; Tesla’s charging infrastructure

• Complex rear doors; steering; price

The Model X is a great illustration of what Tesla stands for in many ways. It’s irreverent, confounding, brutal, and unapologetic. Looking like a Model S which has undergone a hall-of-mirrors photoshop makeover, the Model X’s weird, loaf-shaped silhouette has an undeniable on-road presence.

With the batteries placed low between the front and rear axles, the Model X does a reasonable job of hiding its two-tonne-plus weight, though it’s evident in the way the car crashes over bumps. Turn the heat up dynamically, and the Model X initially feels lumbering, but push harder and the clever torque vectoring from the electric motors gives it an agility that belies its weight. As you up the pace, the Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tyres, at 50psi placard, become the dominating soundtrack.

There are three steering modes of varying artificial weighting, with Sport being the sweet spot, and the others offering a light American boulevard cruiser feel.

You could get so carried away with the ‘easter egg’ features that are scattered throughout the Tesla Model X’s coding that you forget to drive the thing. There are Christmas-themed dances, old-school Atari video games, and of course those needlessly complex ‘Falcon Wing’ rear doors.

Then there’s the price. The range opens at $142,900 for this non-‘P’ version of the 100D before you even think about options or taxes. The Model S sedan is lighter, more attractive, and cheaper. But if gimmicks are your thing…

CAMERON KIRBY

Lunch order

Tell anyone you’ve driven a Tesla, and invariably the first question will be, ‘what’s the acceleration like?’ While our test car didn’t have the optional Ludicrous mode, it is still quick enough off the line to shame all but the most unhinged internal combustion vehicles. But for all its bombastic, chest-crushing torque, we found the Chill driving mode to be the most agreeable for general driving, as opposed to the quicker settings, which can be great for giving your passengers a ‘return to sender’ moment with their lunch.