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A 250km drive in a hardworking Hyundai and a zingy Zoe helped changed our perceptions on electric cars and an electrified future.

10 Jul 2018

Anyone who has previously heard my opinions on electric cars, or any form of electrified powertrains for that matter, might have thought I was an activist for some sort of 'save the combustion engine' movement.

Apart from a lack of aural delight, the limited range of electric cars was another of my concerns
That's because until about a month ago, I thoroughly detested the idea of an electrified future. I thought electric cars were dead boring, as characterful as a washing machine and a harbinger of death of con roads, pistons and turbochargers.

Even clips of Teslas destroying numerous supercars in drag races couldn't make me begin to like electric cars. Aside from the lack of engagement and soul, I was also under the impression that electric cars had miserable driving ranges and would take forever to recharge.

So what changed my mind?

When Toh Yong Chuan from The Straits Times first mentioned the idea of driving electric cars into Malacca, to see how they would fare, I honestly thought he was just joking. The risks were high and the logistics involved were troublesome and I was sure no manufacturer would be game enough to do it.

But a couple of days and a number of e-mails later, we had go-aheads from Komoco and Wearnes, who would lend us a Hyundai Ioniq Electric and a Renault Zoe for our gutsy 255km experiment. As much as I'd rather have taken an i30 N or a Megane RS instead, I won't deny that I was willing to go just to see them fail.

And so we set off...

Final checks were made to ensure the cars were in tip-top state before heading across the Causeway
It was the break of day and a few of us still had sleep in our eyes but there was little room for error as the final checks on both cars were being carried out at their respective showrooms in Leng Kee, especially tyre pressures.

They had to be absolutely perfect in order to stretch their ranges as far as possible. While petrol stations were aplenty, there were only three suitable charging stations along our route up.

That made me paranoid. Even though the Zoe I was driving is supposedly capable of a real-world range of 320km, I was constantly checking the air-conditioning, the volume of the radio, the brightness of the displays and the speed I was travelling, to ensure nothing was employed in excess.

Being stranded on the side of the Malaysian highway was the last thing I wanted to have happened to me. Fortunately for Yong Chuan, who was behind the wheel of the Ioniq Electric for the drive up, Hyundai had towed along a spare car, which could either replace the first should its batteries go flat, or serve as a powerbank and charge it up.

So how was long-distance electric driving like?

We had to hold back our speeds due to the sudden downpour that lasted 20 minutes or so
At first, I kept my speed to only about 80km/h to prevent premature battery drainage. But once I realised that the Zoe's juice didn't deplete as quickly as I expected, I slowly developed the confidence to pick up the pace.

The fastest that I went was about 125km/h and even at those speeds, the 91bhp Zoe never felt out of breath. Overtaking was just as easy, thanks to an instant rush of torque from its electric motor.

The car also didn't feel floaty at higher speeds, with my only niggle being the fact that ride quality can be a little unsettled, especially around town. I only slowed back down to 80km/h when we encountered heavy rain and winds, which is the worst news for electric cars, as there is an additional loss of energy when driving through puddles because of the resistance. Wind resistance acted against them, too.

For the most part, I was able to drive in the same manner I would in any petrol-powered car, with the air-conditioning comfortably on and the radio tuned in to Glenn and The Flying Dutchman.

And to see if drafting behind large vehicles helped our ranges, Yong Chuan and I trailed tour buses occasionally. We even went as far as to close the wing mirrors for better aerodynamic efficiency. However, given the Zoe's sufficient range, as well as regeneration whenever I feathered the brakes or cruised down slopes, there was really no need to. In fact, with enough energy recuperation, the Zoe was able to also increase its range instead of just maintaining it. 

A friend in need is a friend indeed, as proven by the Ioniq Electric's car-to-car charge buddy
Instead, the extra efforts might have made more of an energy-saving impact for the Ioniq Electric, which has a lower 280km range. 

As we exited the North-South Highway at Jasin Merlimau, which is a longer route when compared with the usual Ayer Keroh exit most people take, I noticed the Ioniq Electric starting to trail behind. Shortly after, the convoy signalled to pull over.

By this time, we had travelled 227km and the Ioniq Electric has only 27km of range left in its system but Yong Chuan decided to push on.

Another 18km later, the Ioniq Electric went into 'limp mode', and had to pull over for a quick recharge by the roadside. At this point, with about 10km to go, the Zoe still had a range of 43km left, which meant it could complete the journey smoothly.

That said, while the Ioniq Electric isn't able to go as far as the Zoe on a single charge, it is a better car in several other aspects. For example, it is more powerful - with 118bhp and 295Nm of torque - meaning every mash of the accelerator propels you with more verve than the Zoe. It also rides more comfortably, soaking up imperfections a little cushier, and has a much better appointed cabin.

Admittedly, I enjoyed the drive much more than expected, and there really aren't many inconveniences with electric cars

Taking the Ioniq Electric and Zoe across the border into Malacca and back has taught me several things, one of which is that range anxiety shouldn't be an issue, especially in Singapore where the east to west points are only 50km long. At the same time, their lag-free power deliveries also make for a zippy journey.

Will electricity taxes be drastically increased in the future with the advent of electric cars? Only time will tell
While I can't confirm the long-term maintenance costs of these cars, the Ioniq Electric, for example, does come with a 10-year battery warranty, so that's enough for a peace of mind.

The Zoe has, on the other hand, an overall warranty of five years and a battery warranty of eight years. The only drawback from my experience is that fully charging it will take some four-and-a-half hours, so unless your home or workplace is equipped with a charger, this can be a little more troublesome.

But since the SP Group has recently announced that it will build Singapore's largest public electric vehicle charging network, with 500 points available by 2020, 'refilling' an electric car should be a lot easier down the road.

I can only hope that when that time comes, the Government doesn't drastically raise electricity taxes. It does after all, tax fuel very heavily. Currently, the fuel excise tax is around $0.41 per litre for 92 and 95 octane fuel, while 98 octane carries a $0.44 excise tax.

Do I fear the extinction of the combustion engine? Sure I do. Would I miss them? Definitely. But since Volkswagen's all-electric I.D. R Pikes Peak and Porsche's 919 Hybrid Evo have recently smashed lap records, and more importantly since my adventure to Malacca, I've been proven that there's a lot less reasons to fear the electrified future.
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