In early 2020, when motor vehicle traffic came to a near standstill as Covid related shutdowns took effect, Utah’s Salt Lake Valley air, notorious for its noxious winter smog, cleared rather dramatically. The transformation was profound enough that it moved my wife and me to replace our internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle with an all electric model.
After investigating options at some length, we settled on a 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric SEL. We would have preferred a 2020 model year, but Kona Electrics in Utah share an availability factor with hens teeth that makes the latter seem plentiful by comparison. The 2019 was brand new and differed from a 2020 in only trivial respects (except 2020 models came with service perks that were denied the 2019 model), and so we settled for the 2019. I’m using the term “settled” rather loosely here. Rather than implying a surrender to some kind of inferiority, it simply denotes a bowing to what was available. The Kona is a great car.
Among the more important features drawing us to the Kona was its EPA range estimate: 258 miles. As new converts to EV driving, we were unaware of just how widely our range would vary in real world applications. Our first semi-long distance trip, from Salt Lake City to Boulder, Utah, served as a graduate level crash course on the subject (see my blog, “Your Mileage May Vary” on thislandofjoy.com for details).
Duly chastened by our jarring dose of reality, we were determined to prove (to ourselves) that long distance travel was still available to us; it would simply require more careful planning and allowances for stops to charge the battery en route.
We’d been wanting to visit an old haunt, San Diego, and decided that a San Diego trip would do the trick nicely in “proof of concept” terms. The trip was a success overall, but occasional charging stops would consume the better part of an hour, not to mention the range anxiety that creeps in when you worry about your ability to make it to the next station. That worry was augmented for us once when we arrived at a service station equipped with a rapid charger that a) was unapproachable due to unplowed snow, and b) turned out not to be working at all once we’d moved enough snow to get within plugin range.
As pleased as we were with the Kona, our fondness for travel suggested that a solution offering both cutting edge efficiency and the ability to travel long distances without the inconveniences/anxiety of pure electric road tripping was worth investigating. On top of any other consideration, we needed a vehicle capable of reliably transporting us to our local ski areas, which means steep canyon climbs on snow and/or ice covered roads. Kona Electrics are not yet available with all wheel drive and, frankly, the Electric isn’t especially sure footed on slick roads.
Back into the world of motor vehicle research I dove headlong. Eventually, I came to believe that a Toyota Rav4 Prime, all of which are all wheel drive, was exactly what we needed.
Like the Kona, Rav4 Primes were in exceedingly short supply. So much so that dealers with them in stock were tacking premiums of $10k to more than $15k over MSRP to buy one. Amidst great wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was able to obtain one for the bargain price of “only” MSRP (an ordeal probably worthy of its own story). Around town the Prime routinely goes 40+ miles in pure EV mode, meaning our trips to the gas station are few and far between.
Owning both a Kona Electric and a Rav4 Prime, we found ourselves facing a new question: what is the highest and best use of our newly acquired fleet efficiencies?
As I thought about it, I came to recognize that a different, considerably milder, variety of range anxiety attended our Prime driving. 40 some odd miles of EV is quite a lot, but between commutes and errands it goes pretty fast. When pure EV range is exhausted, the Prime automatically switches to HV (Hybrid) mode. For the sake of maximizing our Prime’s value delivery, I would find myself seeking local routing that would allow minimal or no HV mode driving. Granted, it was a far less severe variety of anxiety than the kind our Kona produced on a long trip, but there it was just the same.
Upon reflection, it occurred to me that the perfect use mix was blindingly obvious: dedicate the Prime to ski and road trips, and the Kona to Wasatch Front area driving. Although the ravages of road inclines and temperature changes were negatives for the Kona on long trips, they disappear for the abundant, fairly flat, miles in the Scipio/Provo/Salt Lake/Ogden/Pleasant View corridor. A range of 200+ miles is perfectly achievable under those conditions, making Kona driving around the area completely anxiety free. When Kona’s estimated remaining range hits double digits, I plug her in for the night and bingo, several days of petrol free urban and suburban driving unfold before me the following morning.
When we bought the Kona, we also considered Tesla. Tesla’s range and vaunted Supercharger network were attractive draws, but they come with a premium price tag. A Model S (my favorite), whose range and performance numbers (405 miles/0-60 in 2 seconds) are truly dazzling, was appealing enough that I went to our local Tesla operation to investigate more particularly.
In the end, here is what carried the day for us. We best the S’s range handily with our Prime (besides spending zero time charging along the way) and don’t really care about the performance differential – both the Kona and Prime deliver satisfactorily spirited performance (we’re not much interested in street racing). In addition, we acquired both the Kona and Prime for more than $20k less than a Model S by itself would have cost.
Decisions like these always involve trade-offs. We’re pleased enough with the direction we’ve taken to allow ourselves un-flaunted feelings of smugness about it.