Driving interstate in an electric vehicle is old hat. We’ve done it, and we’ve proved that range anxiety is no longer a thing.
Between Chargefox’s and the NRMA’s charging infrastructures, it’s no longer a challenge to drive between Australia’s two most populous capital cities using nary a drop of fossil fuel.
Thanks to 350kW UltraFast Charging (UFC) stations and electric vehicles (EV) with real-world touring ranges beyond 350km, it’s easy to hop from Melbourne to Sydney with a travel time close to that of a petrol vehicle, with careful planning.
But what if we ramp up the degree of difficulty? What if we take the family, and do the trip at one of the busiest times of year on our roads?
Before you accuse us of stacking the deck against the EV, these hurdles all came about naturally, which is how family holidays usually happen. And it’s how they fall apart by putting so much stress on the family unit that another holiday is needed to restore relations between once-loving family members.
Our interstate adventure was for a wedding. A mate was getting hitched on Easter Sunday in Sydney, and my wife and I really wanted to be there.
But first, who plans a wedding on a popular holiday long weekend? It’s almost as rude as planning one between Christmas and New Year – which I’ve also experienced.
The Easter and Christmas public holidays are sacred because they coincide with school holidays. These are the two times a year that Mum and Dad can take the offspring somewhere exciting without using up all their annual leave. To plonk a ‘must-attend’ social event in the middle is not very kind. But we sucked it up and made plans to attend.
The problem then became: how do we get there with two kids under two years old; where do we stay; how do we arrange a babysitter; how do we get around; and how much will Qantas charge us in excess baggage?
Flying is no fun when you’re lugging travel cots, prams, car seats and enough nappies to build a bridge to the moon. So we decided to drive instead. Which is when I made the big mistake of pondering out loud in front of James Ward and Kez Casey, “What would it be like to use an electric car for an interstate family holiday?”.
And so, our version of The Griswalds’ EV Adventure was born.
Hyundai agreed to loan us the car you cannot buy: an Ioniq 5 rear-drive with 72.6kWh battery priced from $71,990 plus on-road costs. Well, you can buy one, if you’re quick when Hyundai release the next batch of 100, and even then you’ll wait six months to receive it.
The Ioniq 5 looks like a small hatchback in photos but is much larger in the metal. At 4635mm front to back, 1890mm wide and 1605mm tall, it is not far off a Hyundai Tucson mid-size SUV. But that didn’t impress my wife when I told her what I had lined up for our Sydney trip. And when I told her we’d need to stop every three hours to recharge for half an hour, she was even less impressed.
Her attitude softened when I showed her a video of the first-class recliner that is the Ioniq 5’s front passenger seat, but that’s like saying a baseball bat is softer than a metal bar when it hits you in the head.
The Ioniq 5’s claimed touring range of 420–450km would present more challenges than a 600–800km fuel tank on our 2000km round trip, but I wasn’t worried because I had the Chargefox app. I knew there was a UFC in Euroa and Barnawartha south of the border, and beyond that in Gundagai and Goulburn.
Hyundai says the Ioniq 5 can recharge from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in 18 minutes on a UFC. That’s barely enough time to take a toilet break and then get swindled into buying double the amount of chips and soft drinks in the petrol station, because the second bag and bottle is only 50c more than the ridiculously overpriced single bag or bottle.
Departure day Monday coincided with day one of the school holidays, so we weren’t the only people heading north. Nor were we the only people with a car packed to the roof line and all rearward vision blocked, which explains why many of those people fail to clear the freeway’s overtaking lane for kilometres after completing their overtake.
The Ioniq 5 was fully charged when we left home, its trip computer boasting of a 410km expected range. That wouldn’t be enough to reach our overnight destination, grandpa’s house in Bowral, but based on that I saw no reason we couldn’t do it with just one recharge.
We made it as far as Euroa because the kids had other ideas. Let’s face it, nobody likes sitting in a soiled nappy for hours, and nobody else in the car should have to smell said soiled nappy for hours either.
I was also a tad worried about how fast the Ioniq 5 was chewing through its ions at an indicated 110km/h on a freeway with zero opportunity for energy recovery under brakes. We’d covered 170km and used 45 per cent of the available charge. That’s 32.6kWh at an average of 19.1kWh/100km. At that rate I’d be lucky to get 380km from a full battery.
So, I figured if we had to stop for 10 minutes for an F1-style ultra-fast nappy change, we may as well top up the electrons at Euroa’s UFC at the same time. If it can add 50kW in 18 minutes, then 10 minutes should get us back over 80 per cent.
When we pulled into the Euroa petrol station, one of the 350kW UFC bays was occupied by a BMW iX. No worries, we’ll use the other. Except it was out of order. This turned out to be an ill omen, although I didn’t realise it at the time.
With a cavalier derring-do typical of early onset road-trip delirium, I backed up to the slower but vacant 50kW fast charger and began rejuvenating the Ioniq 5’s battery at 49 of a possible 50kW.
Fifteen minutes later, nappy changed, Macca’s muffins bought and consumed (with optional hash brown inside for added crunch), and we were on the road again. The battery had absorbed 11.5kWh in that time, which got us back to 64 per cent and an expected range of 256km. Barnawartha was only another 120km and one hour up the road, and our arrival time would coincide nicely with lunchtime.
We got to Barnawartha’s bucolic charging station with just 21 per cent battery left, which the Hyundai told us was good for another 68km, not the 136km it should have had based on its Euroa projection. We had averaged 22.2kWh/100km for this purely highway leg.
Luckily for us, the UFC charger at Barnawartha was operational and about to be unoccupied by a black Porsche Taycan that had just sucked its fill. We got chatting to the owners who were heading back to Canberra after going to the Australian F1 Grand Prix.
It’s funny how you feel a little bit smug, standing there at a charging station chatting to other ‘enlightened’ EV owners, looking down your nose at all those gas guzzlers heading in to top up their fossil-chewing, carbon-belching planet-killers.
Once our new best friends headed off, I plugged the Ioniq 5 in and set up a picnic for the family. It all felt very civilised and carefree as I watched older son frolic through the shrubbery, dropping his cheese sandwich on the ground only to pick it up and eat it, gravel and all.
Meanwhile, the 350kW CCS recharger was feeding the Ioniq 5 at a peak of 148kW, which seemed a bit stingy to me. I didn’t pay it much thought, however, because it promised 22min to 80 per cent, 46min to 100 per cent.
It’s fair to say our picnic was a leisurely one, giving the Ioniq 5 time to suck down 60.5kWh of power at a cost of $24.19. The battery was back to 100 per cent and our expected range said 390km. Bowral was still 460km away, so another stop would be needed. Goulburn in 385km, maybe, and then we could shoot for grandpa’s place and be there in time for dinner with an almost full Ioniq 5 and two tired grandkids.
After 180km we’d used up half the battery. When I say we, I mean my wife because it was her turn to drive. She’d averaged 19.9kWh per 100km, which is marginally better than my last leg, but still not the stuff a 420km range is made of, and not enough to reach Goulburn.
So, Gundagai here we come.
Finding the chargers in Gundagai is not easy. They’re hidden behind the big Oliver’s fast food joint, out the back near the loading dock, which means driving down a dirt road churned up by delivery trucks when it’s wet, leaving ruts big enough to swallow a small Tesla.
There are two ranks of chargers, one dedicated to Elon Musk’s faithful and another to all other (heretical?) EVangelists. When we pulled in, the two UFC bays were out of order, and even had two technicians looking at their innards in a perplexed ‘Do we cut the red wire or the green one?’ way.
Of the two 50kW not-Ultra but still Fast Chargers, one of those was out of order too. And the other was occupied by the same black Porsche Taycan we’d met at Barnawartha. This time there was no EV-tribe camaraderie and no warm charger-side chats. They stayed within the Taycan’s confines, windows up, looking intently at their phones.
Silently rebuffed, I checked the charger’s readout. It said their car had 20 per cent and had only latched on five minutes ago. They were going to be a while. Not even the sight of myself and my wife standing around with two grumpy kids sick to death after five hours in car seat restraints could get them to lower their windows and engage us in conversation.
So, rather than hang around in a muddy loading bay complete with algae-covered water feature, we decided to make a run for Jugiong in the hope that its 50kW charger was available.
Unlike the Chargefox app, the PlugShare app that lists NRMA’s charging points as well doesn’t have real-time occupancy, unless the user chooses to ‘check-in’. Previous check-ins suggested the station was operational because another Ioniq 5 had topped up there earlier in the day.
When we got there 30 minutes later, we found a red Tesla plugged in and a grey Hyundai Kona Electric parked alongside, waiting its turn.
It was now 3:20pm, seven hours after we had left home. The excitement of our pioneering EV family road trip was rapidly wearing off. We were 200km from our destination, but only had enough battery for 107km – if the Ioniq 5’s range estimations could be trusted.
Our spirits lifted when the Kona got sick of waiting and took off. I don’t know where they charged instead, but I hope they made it.
Shortly after that, a couple walked over towards the Tesla, and I experienced elation akin to winning the lottery. If the Kona had waited they could be plugging in now. But their impatience was our gain.
“We’re going to be another 40 minutes,” the Tesla owner told me.
It’s hard to be angry when they were here first, but I wasn’t happy. My two angelic boys were now doing demon impersonations, screaming like banshees demanding to be unleashed from this cross-country hell.
Their vocal exhortations did little to sway the Tesla owner’s commitment to maintain station. He went back across the road to the coffee shop, presumably to have another ethically sourced chai latte.
My wife and I debated heading for Yass, a further 60km away. But what guarantee would we have that (a) the Ioniq 5 would make it, (b) the station would be operational, and (c) available?
Instead, we stuck with the devil we knew and took our two demons for a play in the park while waiting for Red Tesla to finish being so bloody selfish and charging at the one bloody charging station that I bloody needed.
Mercifully he detached after 30 minutes, not 40, for which two frazzled parents were grateful, and said so. If it sounded insincere, it wasn’t meant that way and I apologise in retrospect. By then we were happy for any small mercies because we knew dinner in Bowral was not going to happen.
At 4:00pm we plugged in and started recharging. By 4:26pm we had taken 18.5kW on board and had 57 per cent charge. If Hyundai’s 420km range claim was to be believed that should get us 240km. Bowral was 221km away.
I didn’t trust it, so we waited some more.
By now, the bustling tourist town of Jugiong had become a ghost town. The Long Track Pantry had closed up and the staff gone home. The only people left in town were a dishevelled couple with two tired kids and their Ioniq 5 still slurping juice at 41kW/h.
At 5:00pm we pulled the plug on the charger and on Jugiong. The Ioniq 5 had consumed 35kWh and was back up to 79 per cent. We loaded the kids back into the car and returned to the Hume.
Now we had a different problem. As any parent of an infant knows, the hours between 5:00pm and 7:00pm are dominated by feeding, bathing, playing and then bed.
When 7:30pm finally comes around in our house, you will find my wife and I sitting on the couch in front of the TV, some form of alcohol close at hand and battle-weary looks on our faces, silently suffering through offspring-induced post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not on this day, however. Every kilometre between Jugiong and Bowral was travelled in fearful anticipation of an infant hollering with an insatiable hunger. As we left Jugiong, they were both quiet and we prayed it would stay that way for as long as possible. We knew the car would make it to Bowral, but we also knew the kids wouldn’t without being fed.
They lasted almost to Goulburn before the older one screamed for sustenance. The younger one joined in because he knows two screaming kids will get fed faster than one.
We stopped at Goulburn’s UFC, which also happens to be right next to a McDonald’s. My wife fed our eight-month-old in the front seat while the Hyundai fed itself at 183kW and I took my older son to Macca’s for his first-ever fast food. At 6:35pm we unplugged with 85 per cent charge and finished the trip in the dark, with two back-seat demons now snoozing contentedly.
We pulled into Bowral at 7:45pm, 11 long hours after we left Melbourne. We had covered 768km at an average speed of 70km/h with an average consumption of 21.1kWh/100km. At best that’s a 350km range. At Chargefox’s 40c/kW our fuel cost just under $65. By my estimate, a petrol-powered car would have done it in two hours less at a cost of $120.
We stayed in Bowral for five days, charging the car via a domestic plug every time we so much as used it to check the mail. We drove to the wedding in Sydney on Easter Sunday and watched our friend get hitched to the woman of his dreams. Seeing these two lovebirds so deeply enamoured with each other partially repaired our own travel-damaged domestic bliss.
Then we drove back to Bowral and plugged the Ioniq 5 in. By the next morning it had enough charge to get to the Goulburn UFC, where we juiced it to 100 per cent. Then we headed for Cootamundra where we stayed overnight. Why? Because we had learned three things on the northbound journey:
- Never drive interstate with infants, ever
- If you have to drive interstate with infants, don’t do 800km in a day
- If you have to drive an EV interstate, avoid school holidays and the day after F1 when the rest of Australia is driving their EV home too.
This trip proved to me that while range anxiety is no longer the issue, charger anxiety is. If one 350kW charger is down, it takes that day’s EV traffic up to five times longer to charge on 50kW stations. That’s assuming they’re all working.
The last day of our round trip from Cootamundra to Melbourne was bucketing with rain, and I learned yet another thing: EVs get 10 per cent less range when it’s raining. Something to do with the tyres having to move water as well as grip the road.
I’m sure petrol cars do too. But with the proliferation of petrol stations and an ICE car’s greater range, rain range is less of an issue. In a Hyundai Ioniq 5 with a claimed 420km of range managing at best 350km on the Hume Highway, we didn’t have another 10 per cent to spare.
We got home, but only after stopping again at Barnawartha and Euroa.
But at least I got to show my sons the house in Bowral where Sir Donald Bradman lived, and the house in Cootamundra where The Don was born. And we did it all without burning a single drop of petrol. It’s just a shame they won’t remember it. Or maybe that’s a blessing because they won’t be scarred by the experience.
Interstate EV travel is possible, but until the infrastructure catches up, it’s far from enjoyable.
We asked Hyundai Australia to help us understand a few of the driving range and charging speed inconsistencies experienced during our interstate trip. Here is the company’s response.
Q: The fastest recharge we saw on a 350kW Ultra Fast Charging station (both Barnawartha and Goulburn, twice on different days) was 188kW at a burst and a sustained 148kW. Why would this be, given other media outlets have seen a sustained 225kW?
HMCA: Without trying another Ioniq 5 on the same chargers or knowing whether this vehicle charged at the higher rate on other chargers, it would be pure speculation [as] to why this occurred. Charging stations are impacted by supply voltage and by multiple vehicles being charged at once. (For example, one vehicle on a 350kW charger and another on a 100kW impacts the overall power the charging station is using or able to use). The charge of the vehicle can impact as well. If only topping up for a few minutes the charger may not ramp up to full speed.
Q: The maximum range on the drive up to Sydney was 380km at indicated 115km/h. Driving back the range prediction was 350km, but this was in constant rain. A Porsche Taycan driver told us EV range can be 10-15 per cent less in rainy conditions. Is this plausible?
HMCA: There will be a minimal impact on wet days from the power required to run the wipers and a minimal aerodynamic impact from wiper operation. There are no figures that I know of for a definitive impact on range. The wet road itself won’t make a difference but there are usually changes in driving behaviour on wet roads which could impact range (drivers vary speed more in the rain causing other traffic to be impacted). The more likely reason is due to driving in Sydney traffic before the return to the open road. Range is based on driving history so if there was some urban driving in Sydney, this would be taken into account when the 350km figure was displayed.