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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by

30 Aug 2019

Electric cars are finally starting to show up in Australian new car showrooms - and we’ve got three of the most affordable and most important examples here to compare them against one another.  

Our three vehicles are all at the, ahem, affordable end of the spectrum. That’s clearly a relative term, because none of these models are cheap by conventional car standards.

The Hyundai Ioniq Electric is the most affordable of our trio - and indeed, the most affordable EV in Australia - as it starts at less than forty-five grand. Ours is the up-spec Premium version, though, with a list price of $48,990 plus on-road costs - but it’s still the most affordable of this trio.

The next dearest is the Nissan Leaf, which has a list price of $49,990 (+ORCs). That still pegs it as one of the most affordable EVs you can buy.

And most expensive in this mix is the Tesla Model 3, which starts at $66,000 (+ORCs) for the Standard Range Plus model we’ve got. It’s the base model, but there are more performance-oriented versions available - the other cars in this test don’t offer the option of a sportier variant (though the Ioniq is available in plug-in hybrid or regular hybrid, if that suits your use case better). 

  • EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn
  • EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn
  • EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn
  • EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn EV Test | exterior gallery | Sam Venn

We designed a road route to compare these cars - in convoy - so we could keep things consistent. The starting point was in Sydney’s CBD through morning peak hour traffic. That meant some snarls, some traffic light delays and the chance that we’d be separated from our convoy.

Then we headed through the southern suburbs - because that’s what these cars are designed for - then hit the coast for a scenic drive before heading up into the Southern Highlands.

Our loop was designed with an end point in mind - the NRMA fast charger at the Mittagong RSL. Not because we were desperate for a schnitty, but because it was the best point to aim for after a long drive. It also represented a decent drive that someone might consider doing on a weekend away.

Each car had the stereo off, the air con set to 22 degrees and no seat heating or steering wheel heating on. We were aiming for consistency, after all. And we changed cars on a regular basis so there was no weight dis/advantage to any particular vehicle.

Read on to see how they fared.

What is the battery range for these cars?

 

 

Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Nissan Leaf

Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus

Claimed range (NEDC)

280km

315km

460km

Claimed range (WLTP)

204km

270km

409km

Claimed efficiency

11.5kWh/100km

17.1kWh/100km

18.8kWh/100km

The figure you see here is the distance the manufacturer says the car will be able to travel on a single charge based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) standard as well as the newer WLTP standard (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure). The latter test consists of longer testing, more kilometres, a higher average speed, and a number of other “much more realistic testing conditions”. As such, WLTP claims are invariably lower. 

  • The Leaf has a claimed range of 315km. The Leaf has a claimed range of 315km.
  • The Model 3 has a claimed range of 460km. The Model 3 has a claimed range of 460km.
  • The Ioniq has a claimed range of 280km. The Ioniq has a claimed range of 280km.

By way of explanation, Tesla’s claimed average for the WLTP standard is 409km on this grade of Model 3, while the Nissan Leaf’s WLTP claim is 270km (for the European spec model). The Hyundai Ioniq Electric’s WLTP rating is 204km - but intriguingly, the brand’s Australian arm has done its own testing and offered a ‘real world under ideal driving conditions’ range of 230km.

Note: there is an updated Hyundai Ioniq Electric coming soon with a bigger battery pack and better charging system, but it was unavailable for this test. Also worth noting is that Hyundai offers its own Australian battery range rating, which is 230km for ‘real world’ driving.

How long do they take to charge?

A lot of customers who choose an electric car will simply plug in at home overnight, or at the office during the day.

 

Hyundai Ioniq Electric – claimed 

Nissan Leaf – claimed 

Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus – claimed 

Regular powerpoint

12 hours

24 hours

30 hours (estimate)

Fast charger

23 mins to 80 per cent (Type 2)

60 mins to 80 per cent (CHAdeMO) 

30 mins to 80 per cent (CCS)

Home charging station

4 hours 25 minutes

7 hours 30 minutes

Est 6 hours 22 minutes using Wall Connector 

Maximum charging speed

100kW

50kW

250kW

  • It takes 23 minutes for the Ioniq to reach 80 per cent with a fast charger. It takes 23 minutes for the Ioniq to reach 80 per cent with a fast charger.
  • It takes 60 minutes for the Leaf to reach 80 per cent with a fast charger. It takes 60 minutes for the Leaf to reach 80 per cent with a fast charger.
  • It takes 30 minutes for the Model 3 to reach 80 per cent with a fast charger. It takes 30 minutes for the Model 3 to reach 80 per cent with a fast charger.

What is powering each of these cars?

There’s a difference between the outputs of the battery pack and the motors used in each of these cars, and one is hitting harder than the others.

 

Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Nissan Leaf

Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus

Battery pack

28kWh

40kWh

55kWh (unconfirmed by Tesla)

Electric motor output

88kW / 295Nm

110kW / 320Nm

225kW / 370Nm (unconfirmed by Tesla)

Acceleration claim (0-100km/h)

9.9 seconds

7.9 seconds

5.6 seconds

Weight

1475kg

1490kg

1611kg

You can see that the Hyundai is the slowest and least powerful, and it has the smallest battery pack. But it does have a weight advantage, and as we found during the test, it was surprisingly efficient in the way it used its battery. More on that below.

  • The Ioniq has a 28kWh battery pack and the motor produces 88kW/295Nm. The Ioniq has a 28kWh battery pack and the motor produces 88kW/295Nm.
  • The Leaf has a 40kWh battery pack and the motor produces 110Kw/320Nm. The Leaf has a 40kWh battery pack and the motor produces 110Kw/320Nm.

What are they like to drive?

These three cars are similar in a few ways. Obviously they’re all electric. They’re all cars with five seats and four wheels. But that’s about where the similarities end - especially when it comes to how they drive. 

The Nissan Leaf was our least favourite car to drive of this trio, and there are a number of crucial reasons for that. 

Throttle response and braking are fine, but not amazing in the Leaf. Throttle response and braking are fine, but not amazing in the Leaf.

The first is ergonomics. The driver’s seat position is very high, and there’s no reach adjustment to the steering - that means that taller occupants may find themselves sitting high, with their arms too far outstretched because their legs would otherwise be too cramped. You’ll figure out within 10 seconds of sitting in a Leaf whether you can live with it or not, but after several hours, the answer for our taller testers was a clear ‘no’.

There are other elements that let it down. The ride is clumsy at higher speeds, and it doesn’t offer anywhere near the level of engagement for the driver as the other two cars here.

Throttle response and braking are fine, but not amazing. The Leaf has Nissan’s ‘e-pedal’ system - essentially an on-or-off aggressive regenerative braking system which the brand claims allows you to use just one pedal for the majority of your driving - but we didn’t use it on test because we aimed to keep things consistent (the other cars were set at ‘Standard’ for the Tesla, and Level 2 of four selectable levels (zero - no regen, 1 - light regen, 2 - balanced regen, 3 - aggressive regen) for the Hyundai. 

The Nissan Leaf was our least favourite car to drive of this trio. The Nissan Leaf was our least favourite car to drive of this trio.

The Nissan was the noisiest in the cabin, too, feeling less refined than its rivals with more whirrs, buzzes and groans, not to mention more wind noise.

The Hyundai Ioniq Electric was a very different beast to the Leaf.

It felt like any conventional i30 or Elantra to drive - which is a huge credit to Hyundai and its Aussie team, which has fettled with the suspension and steering to make it suit local roads and conditions. You can really tell, because it had the best ride comfort and compliance of this group, and accurate steering, too - it’s more exciting to drive than the Leaf, though not quite an excitement machine.

Hyundai offers a fully electric or a plug-in hybrid version of the Ioniq. Hyundai offers a fully electric or a plug-in hybrid version of the Ioniq.

The Ioniq’s throttle and brake response is very predictable and easy to manage… just like a ‘normal’ car, then. We labelled it ‘adequate’ rather than ‘exciting’ when it came to taking of from a standstill, and it does have the slowest 0-100km/h time of these three cars - 9.9 seconds, where the Leaf claims 7.9 seconds and the Model 3 just 5.6 seconds. There is a Sport mode for more nippy acceleration.

Hyundai’s play to offer a fully electric version or a plug-in hybrid (with a 77kW/147Nm 1.6-litre petrol four-cylinder engine paired to a 44.5kW/170Nm electric motor and an 8.9kWh battery pack) or the series hybrid (with the same petrol engine, a smaller 32kW/170Nm electric motor and tiny 1.5kWh battery pack) means buyers have options beyond the EV, if it doesn’t suit their particular needs. 

But honestly our biggest positive for the Ioniq is its honest range display - the other cars felt like they were fluctuating more in terms of the displayed range remaining, where the Ioniq seemed more measured and realistic in its displayed range remaining. The biggest negative for this car? Second row head room, and the vision from the driver's seat - that split tailgate and sloping roofline make it hard to see what's behind you.

The Ioniq’s throttle and brake response is very predictable and easy to manage. The Ioniq’s throttle and brake response is very predictable and easy to manage.

If you’re chasing the high-tech, futuristic, minimalistic, and most advanced experience, go the Tesla. I mean, if you can afford it.

We know that there’s an avid Tesla fanbase out there, and the brand certainly offers design appeal and desire - in fact, we think it’s the most prestigious of these three cars, but not quite a luxury car to sit in, or to drive.

The cabin is something you’ll either love or want to leave. It’s a simple space that takes a fair bit of learning, with everything - like, literally - being controlled through screen. Okay, apart from the hazard lights (which are oddly positioned up near the rear-view mirror) and window controls. Suffice to say, you need to sit in one to see if you like it.

The big let down with the Model 3 Standard Range Plus is its ride. The big let down with the Model 3 Standard Range Plus is its ride.

While this may not be the performance version of the Model 3, it still has 0-100 time of a serious hot hatch, but with the rear-wheel drive dynamism of a primo sedan. It feels more engaging to drive in the twisty bits, with a really nice level of balance to the chassis.

The acceleration is markedly more instantaneous when you select Standard drive mode rather than Chill - the latter of which dulls throttle response in order to save battery. But use it sparingly if you’re aiming for the best range you can get.  

The big let down with the Model 3 Standard Range Plus is its ride. The suspension struggles to cope with lumps and bumps in the road surface, be it at higher speeds or urban running. It just doesn’t feel as composed or comfortable as the other two cars here. So if ride comfort matters, make sure you give it a good go on some bad surfaces.

While this may not be the performance version of the Model 3, it still has a 0-100 time of a serious hot hatch. While this may not be the performance version of the Model 3, it still has a 0-100 time of a serious hot hatch.

One advantage the Tesla has over its rivals is the already-established Supercharger fast charge stations.

These fast chargers allow you to recharge ultra rapidly - up to 270km in 30 mins - although you need to pay $0.42 per kWh to do so. But the fact that the Model 3 has a non-Tesla specific Type 2 plug and the CCS connection is a plus, as the Hyundai only has Type 2, while the Nissan has Type 2 and the Japanese-spec CHAdeMO fast charge system.

What were our findings?

This wasn’t a traditional test - we didn’t put these cars through our traditional criteria, and these aren’t traditional cars either.

We pulled up at the NRMA fast charging station at the Mittagong RSL in the NSW Southern Highlands, and the aim was the fill each of the cars to full.

The driving loop ended at the NRMA fast charging station at the Mittagong RSL in the NSW Southern Highlands. The driving loop ended at the NRMA fast charging station at the Mittagong RSL in the NSW Southern Highlands.

When we got there, the Leaf had the least remaining battery range, with 22 per cent. That translated to 56km of range according to the car’s dashboard.

The Ioniq had 24 per cent of its battery remaining, or 46km of range. Because of the Hyundai’s smaller battery pack, the Leaf had the theoretical advantage.  

The Model 3 was the hero here, arriving with 42 per cent of its battery range remaining - or 161km! That theoretically meant it would have made it back to Sydney without needing to be charged, where the other two cars required some juice to get any further than, say, Pheasant’s Nest. 

  • The Ioniq had 46km left of juice. The Ioniq had 46km left of juice.
  • The Model 3 had 161km of range left after the loop. The Model 3 had 161km of range left after the loop.
  • The Leaf was left on 22 per cent battery and 56km. The Leaf was left on 22 per cent battery and 56km.

We put each car on charge, one at a time, to fill up from their current charge status to full. That didn’t quite work out, because the charger only wanted to get to ‘almost full’.

But with some maths and a touch of science, we managed to figure out the figures for each of these cars when it came to the real range the car would have achieved, based on the efficiency of the car’s electric powertrain to that point. 

Here’s how things stood at the end of our 158-kilometre torture test:

 

Hyundai Ioniq Electric

(Claimed range: 280km)

Nissan Leaf (Claimed range: 315km)

Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (Claimed range: 460km)

Remaining range displayed at final destination

46km

56km

161km

Remaining charge displayed at final destination

24 per cent

22 per cent

42 per cent

Efficiency (kWh/100km)

13.04

16.90

18.48

Range based on testing

225.5km

210.6km

298.1km

Real world range vs claimed range

80.5 per cent achievable

66.9 per cent achievable

64.8 per cent achievable

The Ioniq is most efficient when it comes to using its energy - and if you want to go green, that’s arguably what you should be aiming for more than range itself.

The Leaf was surprisingly inefficient for its weight - perhaps the e-pedal would have made all the difference, but it wasn’t employed in this test.  

And the Tesla couldn’t fight the physics of its additional size and mass, not to mention that it has more power and torque that is a little harder to harness.

Cost per kilometre of range

One way at looking at value for money when considering these cars is how many dollars you pay for each kilometre of electric driving you can do. This is what we’re calling our patented ‘Cost per Kay of Range’ calculation.

We did the numbers based on the NEDC claimed range for each car, and the list price of each car, before on-road costs. And we also did it based on the actual calculated range we experienced on test - here are the figures.

 

Hyundai Ioniq Electric

(Claimed range: 280km)

Nissan Leaf (Claimed range: 315km)

Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (Claimed range: 460km)

Claimed range (NEDC)

280km

315km

460km

List price (before on-road costs)

$48,990

$49,990

$66,000

Cost per km - claimed range

$174.96

$158.70

$143.48

Cost per km - actual range as tested

$217.25

$237.37

$221.40

Dollar per kilometre, and with all of its futuristic tech and amazing space utilisation, the Model 3 is a really impressive thing. If it were even more efficient, it would have aced both aspects of this calculation.

If you look at the dollar per kay metric based on claimed range, the Ioniq actually appears expensive. But the initial buy-in, comparatively, is not, and against its real world consumption it actually stands up as the best value because it’s the most efficient. If you value the idea of conventional car elements with a futuristic drivetrain, it’s a superb offering, one that we’d recommend wholeheartedly.

The Leaf appears decent value based on the claimed range calculation, but its real-world inefficiency meant it’s price per kay calculation was by far the worst here.

What were our feelings?

Some people will go for the facts and figures. Others like to go by that ‘seat of the pants vibe’. 

If you fall into the latter camp, you might feel the same way our testers did after days of testing these three cars.

The outcome was that everyone’s last-place-getter was the Nissan Leaf, which didn’t engage us like the other cars here. It is hard to find the right driving position, and even if you can the drive experience isn’t that rewarding. In fact, it was a little disappointing in that it doesn’t represent the quantum shift we were hoping for compared with the last Leaf.

The other two are harder to split.

All three cars are electric, have five seats and four wheels. But that’s about where the similarities end. All three cars are electric, have five seats and four wheels. But that’s about where the similarities end.

What we love about the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is that it feels so much like a conventional Hyundai hatch, and that’s something that deserves applause. And as a counter point, what we love about the Tesla Model 3 is that it feels like nothing else out there.  

For the Ioniq, there are limited range parameters that you need to take into account. For anyone that can realistically work within its 200-ish kilometres per charge, then it would be a solid buy. Given its price, it’s a very appealing option, and if you really, really need range - and you still want to do your eco bit, you could consider the plug-in hybrid version. It’s probably the best Ioniq for those who want to dip their toe.

If you need the peace of mind that extra range brings with it, then the Model 3 is your must buy car of this trio. The claimed range figure is a little misleading, but with approximately 300km of usable battery charge, the Model 3 is the range king here. That said, you will need to be able to justify the step up to this car’s price tag, but if you can, you’ll be getting a technological marvel for your money. 

Which of these three would you choose? Let us know in the comments section below.



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