Synopsis: EVs can require some compromise but provide more gains.
This is purely about the EV buying and owning experience without considering or paying extra for any potential benefits or the climate or the environment. Yes, in Australia, the Atto 3 can be purchased for less than a similarly equipped ICEV SUV with similar interior space. While most EVs demand a premium just for being an EV, increasingly, the bestselling EVs are those models that are genuinely competitive on price.
Overall, the ownership experience compromises occur on long-distance road trips or long-distance towing. In normal daily use, the ownership experience for those with adequate access to charging is all about an improved experience over owning an internal combustion engine vehicle.
The compromise comes on road trips, or long-distance towing trips. It is possible use an EV, including the Atto 3, pretty much anywhere in Australia including across the Nullarbor or even around Australia, but more remote trips are for those who are happy for the trip to take longer than is possible with an ICEV or just enjoy the challenge. Even tackling those more common intercity long-distance road can take longer with an EV, and although dealing with the logistics can be fun, fun aside, road trips in 2023 EVs can be the minus to offset the many plusses when not on road trips. While some EVs can tow even heavier loads than any ICEV, the impact on range can makes long distance towing totally impractical.
There is still stuff to learn. Those coming from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles have to deal with EV road trip range limitations, EV charging, as well often learning about new brands and new things to look for when buying. Outside of niche market segments, the best value EVs come from Tesla and BYD which are new brands to most people. These two brands are the global leaders in EV sales, not because of long established brand loyalty, but because their products are the most competively priced EVs.
The range of the BYD Atto 3 is, like other EVs with a claimed range of around 400km or more, a complete non-issue for driving around town or in the city, but at around 330km range on the highway, longer road trips require planning and management of charging stops. Drivers happy to plan on taking a break every two hours, and happy do so at high-speed charging stations, only need fear broken chargers or fully occupied charging stations.
Understanding charging is a more complex topic for new EV owners, and the Atto 3 is at the lower end of charging speeds both the AC 240 volt “charging using its “onboard charger” and with external rapid charging stations when on road trips, in practice, having a vehicle with a faster charging speed can make a difference if you are someone who does not stop for breaks every two hours as recommended, but won’t even then won’t guarantee a significantly earlier arrival.
While the Atto 3 proves it need not cost more to buy an EV, it does cost less to run an EV. Yes, you can see videos and data on trips where electricity for an EV can cost as much as fuel for an ICEV, and while electricity can cost as much fuel, it will normally cost less than half as much, and can even be free. While fuel prices fluctuate a little, the variation in how much you pay for charging varies far more from as much as fuel when doing rapid charges on the highway, to far less when charging at lower speeds during longer stops, even lower when charging overnight at home, and down to zero when charging from solar or at free public low speed chargers.
Plus, there is less to maintain. Reg4nerative braking means brakes last far longer, electric motors are far more simple, smaller and less expensive, and are almost the equivalent of the turbo on an ICE vehicle, with the battery being the equivalent of the internal combustion engine. Yes, batteries do wear out, but a 60kWh LFP battery like the one on the Atto 3 should normally last 30 years and far longer than an internal combustion engine.
Plus, the car is a significant mobile battery, cable of proving 240volt mains power for uses from keeping the fridge, TV and internet running in an extended blackout, through to running the small Nespresso capsule expresso machine I keep in the boot for times when I want a coffee and I am not at home or a café.
Then there is purchase price. The Atto 3 was the first EV that suited my uses and was available for less than equivalent for me ICE vehicles. Yes, there are similar small SUVS for less, but nothing that costs less offer the combination of build quality and features of the Atto 3. While recent a recent independent test of 18 similar sized SUVs, placed the Atto 3 as the only EV in the test in 2nd place, part of the reason is that not everyone wants an EV, nor a vehicle such a fully equipped vehicle, and there is no “no frills” Atto 3 version.
More on my upcoming Atto 3 comparison to other vehicles, but the bottom line is that while for most segments there is no price competitive EV yet, that is changing fast, and while it does mean 2023 is not yet the year to buy an EV, it does signal the end is nigh for internal combustion vehicles.
An Atto 3 buyer FAQ.
I follow some forums, and see similar questions frequently asked, so here are some answers.
What is the build quality of the Atto 3?
BYD build quality is very high, and those moving from one of the better German brands will notice a fall in build quality. From paint quality to panel gaps and construction, everything is on a level similar to a Mercedes built in recent years. Materials are very high quality for the price point, but some details are not “state of the art” and although software is chosen from quality sources, internally developed software is still getting much needed work. Software feature, such as an app to control the car remotely, remote are still beyond those typical on ICEVs in the price range,
Driving experience: Ride, handling and performance.
Ride quality is class leading and beyond what would be expected for the class, but while handling is good and solid for the class, the Atto 3 is no sports car. Comments in this comparison video are useful, and the Atto 3 still performed in the top group in handling test, but in the end, it is not fun handling. The Atto 3 may deliver build quality and a compliant ride in an EV, but if you want driving fun in 2023, buy a Tesla.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h at 7.3 seconds it quite brisk, but it never feels that brisk. It was even the fastest vehicle in the 18-vehicle comparison test, and with compared with the 2nd fastest vehicle on test, rather than the normal case where the EV makes use of maximum torque at 0 RMP to get away fast, it is the ICEV that is ahead at first, with the Atto 3 EV then overpowering its rival. This indicates the power delivery is conservative, minimising stress on the drivetrain in a style typical of the engineering of BYD. Solid, smooth, and quicker than it feels, but not the vehicle of choice if you want to feel that speed, and even slower vehicles can sometimes feel faster. Yet another case of it you want to feel the rush, go Tesla.
What is the “real-world” range?
People often ask about “real-world range”, but the reality is there is no one single “real-world-range”.
EVs don’t have one single “range”, but different ranges under each different set of conditions, just as does fuel economy with an ICE Vehicle. Range at a constant 110km/h is noticeably less than at 100km/h, and considerably less than the range most commonly experience by most people, which is the range around town. Which is “the real world”?
Just as know that an ICEV that gets 10 l/100km on the highway cycle is not helpful if in a traffic jam and running out of fuel, because the in “real world” of a traffic jam consumption could easily be 3 times higher!
The official “range” is the range the vehicle gets on the relevant official test cycle, which is designed to reproduce the range of conditions drivers experience an average over an entire year, not the range driving at the highway speed limit.
The need to charge the Atto 3 can vary between every 400 to 500 km in urban “around town world” driving or when maximising range, to around every 250 km if trying to make fastest progress on the highway. While the “range” is going to be much better than 250km when diving even at around 110km/h freeways, for reason explained below, it is still optimal, when possible, to have a partial recharge every 250 km in the Atto 3, than to try to achieve maximum possible range and then spend longer doing a full recharge.
In regular urban “around town” driving, the Atto 3 will easily get the 420km range as tested on the WLTP cycle, and in my own driving the Atto 3 is normally able to get better than the 480km as tested on the NEDC cycle, but that is because very rarely am I driving the Atto 3 at 110km/h on the freeway.
When I am driving the Atto 3 at 110 km/h on the freeway, the practical range under normal circumstances is more like 250 km! This is because:
- I follow the recommendations to take a break every 2 hrs.
- It is most convenient when charging EVs to not wait until the EV is fully charged.
- Charging is fastest between around 5% charge and 65% charge.
- It creates far less anxiety to begin charging well before there is zero range remaining.
If there is a long distance between the only possible places to charge, then by ensuring the Atto 3 is fully charged at the start, and lowering speed to around 95 km/h 400 km becomes easily achievable, but overall, doing so means spending more time charging.
Ownership experience overview.
Prior to the Atto 3 arriving in Australia, no EV offered what I considered value for money relative to ICE Vehicles in my target vehicle segment of a compact SUV. Such an evaluation is subjective, and depending on criteria, there were EVs that already did offer value for money, but also many that could only be considered value for money for those willing to pay extra to own and EV, either because they love the environment, or the technology.
With the Atto 3, I found that ignoring that the vehicle was electric, it offered similar features to equivalent ICE vehicles such as a Mazda CX-5 or Hyundai Tuscon, Kia Niro, Honda HR-V or Toyota RAV 4, and I have a separate comparisons page to be published soon. The Atto 3 is just the first EV that meets these criteria, and that is a title it will have for a very short time, as other new releases will reduce it to just one of many over the next few years.
What is not equivalent, is the drivetrain. This leaves the big question: “How does owning an EV compare?”
Firstly, in 2023, it costs less to ‘run’ an EV. Fuel being the big difference. While there is one artificial scenario where an EV can cost around the same in fuel as an ICEV, this is not a real-world scenario, and as discussed below, fuel savings are, at least currently very real. If you take fuel into account, then the Atto 3 is in the same cost of ownership category as the less well equipped, spacious or impressive Toyota Cross Hybrid.
So, what about usability?
There are 5 different scenarios:
- Normal, urban driving to work, school, shops, friends, restaurants, cafes, picnics etc.
- With access to charging or even a power point when parked at home, living with an EV day to day means less hassles than living with an ICEVs
- Shorter intercity, beyond the city road trips.
- Trips of around 350 km per day or less, require at there be least a power point at the end, but that is all.
- Longer road-trips between cities.
- For these, it depends on the road trip style of the person or family, with the result being either better or worse road trips.
- Trip of a lifetime adventures, such as the ’round Australia trip’.
- Forget doing the trip in record time, but fortunately record time means seeing very little and is therefore rarely the aim, and while there are compromises some may even enjoy that.
- That which the Atto 3 just can’t do: Such as long-distance towing or off roading.
- In Australia in 2023, it is not just that there are things the Atto 3 can’t do, but even things such as towing a large caravan, boat or horse float for long distances in one day that no EV can do, and things like tackling difficult 4wd terrain that no readily available affordable EV can yet do.
There are things the Atto 3 doesn’t do well, and things it cannot do at all, but Mercedes B-Class the Atto 3 is replacing had basically the same limitations.
The differences are:
- replacing periodic visits to a petrol-station (or gas-station in American-ese) with plugging in a cable that runs from a power point when parked at home.
- approaching stops during road trips slightly differently, and perhaps for the better.
- the risk during road trips of encountering broken, or “all chargers busy”, charging stations.
Not every vehicle can do everything. Sure, I would like an EV with the off-road capabilities of the BYD U8 and the ability to just drive across a deep lake, but in reality, day to day, I would miss the ability of the Atto 3 to fit into parking spots.
There are still things some ICEVs do better than EVs. However, most ICE vehicles on the road, such as a Mazda CX-5 etc, also can’t do those things that EV are not good at. Even most ICE vehicles can only tackle a subset of what is possible with more specialised ICE vehicles, and most EVs can only tackle that most common subset of capabilities.
What is easy to forget is that it goes both ways, and EVs can do things ICEVs can’t.
If your weekend involves towing a horse float 400kms before lunchtime then an EV would still ruin your weekend, but if the weekend might be improved by being able to have a hot breakfast at a picnic spot, then an ICEV might ruin the weekend.
An ICEV can’t power your refrigerator and allow you to also power the TV during a blackout, and while there are ICEVs with long range tanks that can tow a heavy load for a longer distance than any EV so far, there are EVs that can out accelerate any ICEV.
Swings and roundabouts. As long as you want one of the types of vehicles where, as is the case with the Atto 3, EVs at a better price than ICEVs, and provided one of these competitively priced EVs suits your needs and you have access to a least a power point when parked at home, the EV experience can be better than the ICE vehicle experience.
EVs are a different world, but for most people, the world of living with an EV can be a better one.
Road Trips in a 2023 EV: The Atto 3 in Australia.
For anything over around 330 km @110km/h, an Atto 3 driver should plan stops.
As covered before, while 480 kms on a charge is possible in around town or urban driving, the only way to achieve that range on the highway is to travel at a speed of only about 80 km/h, which would make any trip tediously slow. Even a range of 330km could require running too close to a flat battery, and unless there is some magic reason for using a vehicles full range, it makes sense to stick with that stop every two hours guideline. If adding the charge needed to travel 330 km is going to take 50 minutes, it is better to add that range in two 25-minute half charge stops than one hour-long stop. Or better yet, just stop every 2 hours, as explained below.
The bottom line is if you are the type of person who gets in and just drives, only when it can’t be avoided stopping for a comfort stop or to refuel and to grab food and beverages to consume while driving, then moving to an EV is not yet going to work for you on road trips longer your vehicle highway range in 2023.
Things will get betting in coming years as range keeps increasing, but right now, there is an even bigger problem than charging time: busy chargers.
Road trip problem: Allow extra time for busy or broken chargers.
The biggest problem for most EV road trips as of 2023 is the prospect of arriving at a fast-charging location, only to find no charger available without waiting. Part of the problem is that chargers can be unreliable, but most often it is possible to lean in advance and avoid broken chargers. What is impossible to avoid, is that even though through an online charging app it can be possible to see if a charger is in theory available, someone could arrive just before you and be about to plug in their car as you arrive.
In some countries it is even possible to book a charger in advance, but even booking in advance is far from an optimal solution. The charger at the location you want could already be booked days in advance, and critically, as it is impossible to be certain to arrive at the exact time of the of the booking, that means either paying for unused booking time, or waiting for the booking to finish.
If spending 15 to 30 minutes charging, you can go to the bathroom, get a coffee or sit down for a bit to eat, but when waiting for other cars to finish getting the charger they want before doing anything but wait at the charger could mean missing you turn to charge. It doesn’t happen often, but it may be necessary allow for the possibility in planning a trip if there is a deadline. So far, I have managed to avoid waiting to charge through a combination of good luck and having travel plans that include an alternative charging site in the event of busy chargers, but I still allow extra time on most road trips over 500km long trips, depending on the charger locations I plan to use.
More to follow, with more details on road trips, what adjustments are required when switching to an EV and who should switch now as opposed to wait.