Driving an electric car for the first time is almost magical. Turning it ‘on’ and silently moving away – with no engine starting – is gleeful; as is the whoosh of noiseless, punchy acceleration.
The perks keep coming, like no more visiting stinky petrol stations, wincing at the cost of regular unleaded. And you’re doing your bit for the planet – forgetting, perhaps, the size of the mine all that lithium (for the battery) came out of; and that if you live somewhere like Victoria, your electric car will be mostly powered by brown coal. Moving along…
Those niggles aside – one day Victoria will be entirely renewably powered, like Tasmania, we assume anyway – there are plenty of pros and few cons to making your next car electric instead of petrol. Especially as some electric models are now rivalling petrol and diesel ones when comparing lifetime cost-of-ownership.
With dozens of electric models now on-sale in the Aussie market – and more than 70 more confirmed – here are eight questions you should ask yourself when picking your EV.
1. What range do you need?
A fairly fundamental question when buying an electric car. Be realistic – are you only driving 25km to and from work every day? If that’s the case, do you really need to pay extra for the model with the bigger battery and longer range? Save yourself a few quid and opt for a smaller battery option – even if it means some inconvenience come time for a longer trip.
2. What’s your budget?
Once upon a time – in the not-so-distant past – an electric car was solely how the wealthy advertised that they cared about the environment. Not now, though – you can get a very good EV for as cheap as $38,990, in the case of the 51kWh MG4 hatch. Electric cars now exist all up and down the price spectrum and are only getting cheaper. As we write this, the cheapest electric car in Australia is the $38,890 BYD Dolphin.
3. Where are you charging it?
In 2023, it still makes an abundance more sense to only buy an electric car if you’re able to charge it using a wall charger at home.
When charging at home, you don’t need to pay much attention to the “fast charging” rates. Some manufacturers such as Kia and Hyundai boast “350kW” fast-charging capability, but Australia has precious few chargers with that output. Meaning unless you want to make a (bold) bet on EV recharging infrastructure improving seismically in the coming years, you don’t really need it.
If your EV is always going to be street-parked, your future self is poking the eyes of a voodoo doll version of your current self – with pins – as the current public charging infrastructure is insufficient and often plain unreliable. Broken EV chargers are a scourge at present. And for the ones that do work, as more EVs hit the road, EV charging ‘etiquette’ still has a way to go.
4. How much do you care about acceleration?
Many electric models come in ‘single-motor' and ‘dual-motor versions’, like the Tesla Model 3. Most people who don’t really care for acceleration will find the single-motor versions punchy enough, and not least because you get the torque instantly. In the example of the Tesla, by opting for the “Rear-Wheel Drive” over the dual-motor Performance, you save a handy $26,000. But if you want to live a little – and love the thrill of silent, sometimes supercar-like acceleration – you might want to pay extra for the more powerful twin motor model. We certainly endorse such a decision.
5. Look at the total deal from the brand
If you’re charging your EV at home, some car-makers – the prestige ones, mostly – include things like wallbox installation and subscription to public charging providers such as Chargefox. Lexus is a good example – while its new RZ450e is an eye-watering $123,000, Lexus at least includes the aforementioned wallbox and Chargebox subscription in the price.
EV servicing is another thing to consider – mostly so you’re not getting stung by the carmaker. With so many fewer moving parts, EVs should be cheaper to service. Make sure the car-maker is passing this on to you. We’ll give a shout-out to Nissan here, comparing costs to service its petrol Juke versus electric Leaf – $3908 over six years, versus $2164. The Leaf is almost half the price to service over the same timeframe.
Also consider warranty for the battery. Eight years is the current industry norm.
6. Will you be using it for towing?
If the answer is yes, you might be ready for an electric car, but we’re not sure electric cars are ready for you… as we write this, hydrocarbon-powered vehicles are still the best option for towing anything of heft such as a boat or caravan.
7. How much do you care about pre-cooling or pre-heating?
Some EV makers, such as Tesla, allow you to connect your car to your phone via an app, so you can pre-heat the interior in winter, or pre-cool in summer, with a few taps of your thumb. If that sounds useful to you, check the EVs you’re shopping for are app-enabled.
8. Will you be taking it camping?
Might seem an odd question to ask, but many new EV models now offer “vehicle-to-load” – basically, they’re a giant power-bank with a 240-volt outlet like the wall at home. If you go camping regularly – or see any benefit to using your car like a giant powerpoint, you might want to check if a particular electric car has this very handy feature.
Choosing an electric vehicle: conclusion
Once you know your budget, you can pick a cheaper car with a smaller battery depending on your range requirements – or shell-out for a bigger-battery car that can go further. You might decide a single-motor car has enough performance for you, and you’re okay to charge it at home – making 7kW AC charging capacity more than enough.
Whatever your needs, and whatever you decide, enjoy trading hydrocarbons for pure electrons – once you’ve gone EV, there’s no going back.