Auto123 puts the Kia Niro EV to the long-term test. Today, part 6.
In my last column (Part 5), I started to tell you about my first long trip behind the wheel of the Kia Niro EV, and my first in an 100-percent electric vehicle in fact. I had little luggage but many concerns.
In the event, throughout this nearly 1,000-km round trip, it was mostly questions that came up. Questions that I promised to provide you with answers to. Not only did I find some, thanks to folks for whom the EV no longer has secrets (well maybe just a few), but I also had the help of some admirably well-informed readers.
In particular, I would like to thank Yan Gosselin, an agronomist from Montmagny in Quebec who is very interested in the conversion of vehicles to electric power, including farm tractors, and whose clear explanations come from knowledge gained from the daily use of his Tesla Model 3.
By the way, anyone who wants to continue my education on EVs can always do so by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With that said, let's revisit the questions left unanswered last chapter...
Question: Is it normal for an EV to have a range greater than the manufacturer's estimate?
Context: Since I’ve started plugging the Niro into the 120V outlet in my garage, I regularly get a displayed charge that exceeds the maximum official range of 385 km furnished by Kia.
Answer: An EV's computer estimates the available kilometers based on a number of inputs from previous trips. It takes into account, for example, the distances travelled, the percentage of the battery charge used for each of these trips and even the driver's driving style, for example if you’re chill in general, or the pedal-to-the-metal type.
I’ve made a note to check with Kia if they can tell me how far back in the car's history its algorithms go (the last two trips or the last two weeks?). Yan Gosselin told me that Tesla uses data provided collectively by owners. So, for a given trip programmed in the navigation, the computer announces the average range required based on the past performances by those owners.
Basically, if you're a driver who works to reduce their ecological footprint and their stress level, the EV “rewards” you by giving you a theoretical range greater than the one the manufacturer has planned for, which assumes more-aggressive driving.
The Kia Niro EV, by the way, encourages zen-like driving by offering drivers a choice of three drive modes: Eco, Comfort and Sport. Your choice will determine the power of your accelerations. In Eco mode, the one I prefer for maximum range, I feel resistance under the brake pedal (which means regeneration of the battery pack); that disappears in Sport mode.
Also by the way, I thought that by activating the cruise control, even the so-called intelligent cruise function, I would preserve more range. Wrong. I might make the computer's calculations easier thanks to my stable cruising speed, but as soon as the car hits a climb, it expends more energy to maintain the programmed speed. Which of course eats more into my supply of kilometers.
Question: A kilometer driven on the highway does not always correspond to a kilometer of range consumed. Why is this?
Answer: The same computer reserves the right to continually recalculate your remaining range according to several other factors specific to the trip: the unevenness of the terrain, the strength and direction of the wind, the outside temperature, whether the radio or a/c are on, etc. All these data constantly change the way you drive. All these data change constantly and adjust the estimated energy you need to draw from your battery to cover a kilometer of road.
Question: The more my range decreases, the more the gap between theory and reality seems to increase. Why is this?
Context: On my trip, I paid attention to the signs along the 401 telling me how far I was from Kingston, Ontario. A calculation after passing two of these signs told me that I’d cut 55 km off my route. But the dashboard told me I had spent 63 km of my remaining range to cover those 55 km. A difference of 8 km. Further down the road, a third such calculation gave a gap of 22 km...
Answer: As with the second question above, the computer digests new data as the trip progresses, then changes its mind... If in the last 10 minutes a blizzard has come up or nasty hills keep coming up or you've hit the gas pedal or all of the above at the same time, you're bound to spend more energy. On the other hand, the opposite can also happen: the weather gets milder, the wind drops, you're just cruising downhill and you barely touch the gas pedal. Then your range won't decrease as quickly.
Can you even expect to add kilometers through regeneration, when you brake or roll downhill without touching the throttle? Yes, but not many. According to Yan Gosselin, manufacturers have turned this kinetic phenomenon into a big marketing tool, but the reality is not that phenomenal. “The amount of energy recovered is not significant, unless you spend your time descending the hills of Charlevoix, and then get towed back up to the top to do it again. Yes, you may come back from a convenience store run with a couple of kilometers of range more than when you left, but only on a short trip punctuated by stops.”
Okay, I'm going on and on and I've already exhausted my self-imposed word limit. Come back next time for the rest. But before I leave you, a pertinent question from reader Marc Héon: “Why isn't there an alternator in an EV? While driving, it would recharge the batteries, as it does in a combustion-engine car."
Here again, enthusiast Yan Gosselin comes to my rescue: “The technology is simply not perfected yet. In theory, it could work, but in practice, with the current state of science, the alternator would lose too much energy in the form of heat, not to mention the extra weight it would impose on the EV."