Two weeks ago I picked up a 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV.
I am no Doug Demuro and this is not meant to be a review of the car in general (it’s great!). Rather, I want to talk about the quirks and features of PHEV driving specifically.
The PHEV Experience
The very first thing I noticed test driving this car is just how smooth the electric drive is. The lack of gears combined with the instant power immediately reminded me gliding out of a station on a train. It’s just so pleasant!
My thoughts below are based on the 500km highway and 500km city – in temperatures between -10 to +15 – that I’ve driven so far.
Why not an EV?
In short, “we’re not quite there yet.” The charging network in and around Winnipeg and battery tech is such that most of our favourite camping spots are out of range; and longer road trips (especially west on the Trans Canada Highway) would be anxiety inducing.
Sure these trips are rare and I considered the possibility of renting a car as needed. But given that there’s a significant premium for EVs, buying a $40,000 – $60,000 car only to have it sit in the garage when you really need it most… at the end of the day that just seemed silly.
The PHEV Hyundai Santa Fe has a 13.8kWh battery which has an advertised range of 45km in full EV mode. I’ve found this range to be fairly accurate within a few kilometres. Granted, my driving style is generally pretty modest and I’ve been intentionally making an effort to keep the power level low.
At present electric rates, fully charging this battery costs $1.24.
However, the system actually reserves ~25% of the battery for hybrid-mode. I believe this is because the 1.6L engine is not powerful enough to motivate the 1900kg vehicle on its own.
So this means that the vehicle only uses around 10.35kWh to travel 45km on batteries. That’s about $0.93 electricity in Manitoba. For comparison, a standard ICE Santa Fe would burn 4.77L (or $6.82 at today’s gas price) for 45km of city driving; and 3.15L (or $4.50) with the hybrid version.
From a fuel cost perspective, switching to electricity is a nobrainer. Especially with the relative stability of electrical rates compared to the constant fluctuation of oil prices.
We’ve been having a strange November, with temperatures ranging from -10C to +16C. So I’ve had the opportunity to drive the car in a range of cooler temperatures.
The salesman mentioned that the systems will “prime” the batteries in cold weather but he didn’t go into detail and TBH I was to excited to drive away to ask him for more information.
As it turns out, when the battery is cold the ICE runs for quite a long time (4 – 9 minutes) after initially “starting” the car and even well into the drive. It will also engage at seemingly randomly times throughout the drive.
Li-ion batteries have an optimal operating temperature range of 15 to 20C, so I assume the system is diverting engine heat to batteries directly (via that heat pump system) and/or imparting heat by acting as a generator, recharging the batteries.
When the ICE is in this operating mode it is not being used to drive the vehicle, so you are still benefiting form the efficiency gains of an electric motor.
Unfortunately, this behaviour makes it impossible make a full trip without burning at least some gasoline (albeit maybe only a few teaspoons) in temperatures colder than +15. Very short trips end up using relatively huge amounts of fuel. A 7 minute drive might run the ICE the entire time even though the car has enough battery to make it the full distance.
Luckily, with an unseasonably warm +16 yesterday I was able to test the battery’s behaviour in a warm state. I took the opportunity to make 45km round trip and I was relieved to make the entire drive without burning a drop of gas! The systems did not heat the battery at all.
However, I a very took a similar drive today and once again the engine engaged for a short time to warm the battery, even though it is only a few degress colder today.
I am fairly disappointed with this behaviour. I would much prefer a driving mode that exclusively used the batteries even if I meant a decreased range in cold weather. Even if it meant charging more often the economics would still make sense.
Additionally, I had factored the fuel savings from driving pure EV most of the time into the budget when upgrading to this more expensive car and now feel like I am coming in on the losing end of that calculation.
Hyundai provides a Level 1 charger which manual refers to it as a very appropriately named “trickle charger.”
A full recharge takes approximately 11hrs. On the one hand, that’s a very long time for 45km of juice. On the other hand, my car sits around for at least 8 – 10hrs every night, so it’s not really an issue. I think it would be fine even if I had a regular commute.
Level 2 charging is much faster at 3h30m. According to a recent Reddit thread, having a level 2 charger installed at home costs in the neighbourhood of $1000 – $1500; and this just does not seem worth it at the moment.
I haven’t had the opportunity to use one yet but the going rate for Level 2 charging stations seems to be $1.50/hr. At that rate the economics don’t really make sense vs the cost of gas. If you think of it as paying a small amount to keep some carbon out of the atmosphere though I guess that’s OK. There are also a few (literally 3) free chargers around town and I’m looking forward to having an excuse to use one of those in the next couple of months.
Long Term Reliability
When I mentioned PHEVs on Twitter a while back a couple people raised concerns about readability.
They have a point, PHEVs are a Frankenstein’s monster of new tech operating alongside ancient tech. Marrying the two drive and the two breaking systems must be complicated AF. I suspect this is a large part of the reason Hyundai has opted for a fully drive-by-wire vehicle (a topic for another blog post perhaps).
Hyundai has acknowledged this and is demonstrating strong confidence in their engineering by providing an 8yr/160,000km warranty on the H/EV systems. Which is reassuring.
The Hyundai Santa Fe as a car is by far my favourite car I have owned to date (largely unrelated to the fact that it’s a PHEV though)!
Sitting in traffic with the little green “EV” light illuminated makes me smile. And doing 110km/h on the highway on batteries feels like the future! (But also the past, I can’t help but wonder where we’d be if the oil and gas industry hadn’t killed battery cars in early 1900s)
Unfortunately, I am not very optimistic about the EV performance once winter sets in and we’re regularly seeing -20 (or colder). I expect average fuel economy to in-line with the standard HEV version of the Santa Fe.
I can’t say I understand Hyundai’s choice to optimize for range over gasoline usage.
That said, at the moment, my average fuel economy is 3.3L/100km, which is quite good and nothing to cry about.
Winnipeg has a lot of days from spring through autumn that fall within the battery’s optimal operating temperature. On balance of a year the average combined fuel economy should hit the advertised 2.1L/100km, with city driving at 1L or lower.
I’ll keep you posted…