EVs like to be beside the seaside: coast-to-coast in an electric car
Can an electric car make for a stress-free summer holiday? Vicky Parrott drives the new Citroën ë-C4 X Electric family EV east to west on a quest for answers. Is it hard to charge an EV on Britain’s highways? How efficient is the battery? Will there be celebratory ice-creams at the end? Hop in and find out.
by: Vicky Parrott
28 Aug 2023
The Citroën ë-C4 X Electric rocks down Electric Avenue, Southend-on-Sea. Photo: Stuart Price
Sponsored by Citroën
Electric vehicles: do they make sense for everyday use? We hear a lot about ‘range anxiety’ and the hassle of recharging on the go, and it’s true that the UK’s public charging infrastructure needs improvement, but it’s summer – surely time to kick back, have fun, and grab a treat from an ice-cream parlour 210 miles to the west. We have the new Citroën ë-C4 X Electric family EV to play with and we decided to take it on a road trip. A summery celebration of how EVs can be delightfully… well, ordinary.
Our Citroën ë-C4 X Electric looks far better than an “ordinary” family run-around – all sleek and executive-chic amid the bright lights and hubbub of Southend-on-Sea. This sugar-rush holiday town is the starting point for our trip, which will go from east coast to west coast via a scenic route through the Cotswolds, covering some 210 miles – knocking on the door of this car’s official WLTP range of 222 miles.
Southend is buzzing with a summer vacation vibe, despite the standard British weather roulette that’s wheeling through wind, rain and bright sunshine. The temperature is a steady 20C, which is great news as EVs tend to get more range from the battery when it’s warmer. As we join the traffic meandering down Southend’s main seafront road, with roller-coaster riders and seagulls shrieking overhead and garish caves of arcade games, the ë-C4 X Electric has 100% charge and an indicated range of 223 miles. We wind rapidly away from all the fun of the fair to the main dual carriageway that feeds traffic out of town, and we make good progress towards that rotary of delights – the M25.
Muscle memory – building familiarity
The ë-C4 X Electric is already proving cushy and comfortable. I favour using ‘B’ mode most of the time, which introduces heavier brake regeneration – a system that harvests energy from the car’s forward momentum to improve range. It just feels like normal engine braking and you don’t notice it doing its thing. In fact, this Citroën is a great EV in that respect; unintimidating from the off, even if you’re coming straight from a petrol or diesel car.
‘B’ mode gives the sensation that the car is braking more heavily when you lift off the accelerator, which it does to further improve efficiency. It sounds different if you’re not used to EVs, but with a bit of familiarity you barely think about it. It’s muscle memory, just as with any car driving, really.
With a bit of familiarity you barely think about it. It’s muscle memory, just as with any car driving.
The M25 is kind to us, and traffic flows well, but these higher speeds are less ideal for efficiency. Even so, with 60 miles covered and our exit for the M40 approaching, the ë-C4 X Electric is showing a hugely impressive 5.0 miles per kWh – good for a range of 231 miles – which would be enough to get us to our finishing point at Weston-super-Mare in one go.
Even so, you just wouldn’t run an electric car’s battery down to the dregs like that in reality – especially if you aren’t headed for the guaranteed convenience of a home charger. You’d stop for a top-up, and so that’s exactly what we’ll do.
Rapid refill – finding EV charge stations
The ë-C4 X Electric is eating up the miles at this point, and it’s been peachy so far. Easy cruising, with wireless Apple CarPlay mirroring my phone apps onto the touchscreen, so I’ve got podcasts making the time go even more quickly. Before I know it, the Chilterns flash by and we’re easing off the M40 and towards the Oxford ring road and our charging stop.
This is around the halfway point of our journey; I’d looked up this charging point on my Octopus Electroverse app, which sometimes also brings discounts and allows you to pay at most charge stations, too. It doesn’t work with all charge providers, but Citroën’s own nav will show you every nearby charging point, and the vast majority can now be paid for with the tap of a contactless card.
These chargers are rated at 300kW, which is the fastest that you’ll find, but the Citroën can charge at up to 100kW (as do most family EVs) and it’s the car’s hardware that dictates your maximum charging speed. You can charge the ë-C4 X Electric from nearly empty to 80% battery charge in around 30 minutes if you need to, but we don’t need that much charge so, after a quick rest stop and 15 minutes of charging, we move on having added an additional 75 miles of range. Plenty for peace of mind when we finish spanning the country’s waistline.
That’s how you’d normally deal with a rapid charge on a long journey – brief stops every few hours. Sometimes there are queues, sometimes there are chargers out of order, and sometimes you may have to use a 50kW station that will take longer to charge. But you quickly get used to which chargers are best on your routine routes. And, while the charging infrastructure is far from perfect, it is improving rapidly.
You quickly get used to which chargers are best on your routine routes. And, while the charging infrastructure is far from perfect, it is improving rapidly.
It’s worth noting you could opt to have the Ohme smart home charger (installed by Citroën’s partner Octopus Energy) as your home charging solution for extra convenience.
Scenic route – taking our time
The Cotswolds is a pleasant, rural contrast to the resort revelry of our seaside start point; a green oasis dotted by impossibly twee, bunting-strewn towns. Sure, we could have just driven straight down the M4. It would have been quicker and easier. But this scenic route adds only half an hour overall, yet brings a rare sense of vacationing on the road, rather than just getting there as quickly as possible. A refreshing change of pace in a rushed modern world, no doubt, and we are all about holidaying for this drive.
With a brief stop for some photos in bustling Tetbury, the west coast is calling. For this final leg, we hop back onto the motorway and scarper for Weston’s sandy horizons; down the M5, over the Avon as it runs its last few miles into the sea, and towards the coast.
The first thing I notice is that this great, regency town feels entirely different to Southend-on-Sea. Both bring an addictive assault on the senses with amusements and treats galore, but Weston is where Jane Austen meets Mr Whippy, with sandstone mansions as a backdrop for crazy golf, brightly coloured gift shops and ice cream parlours. It’s great. Truly, something for everyone.
Weston success – arrival and reflection
Eventually we’re gliding along Weston’s windy but welcoming parade road with 30% charge and 70 miles remaining in the ë-C4 X Electric. It’s almost an anti-climax to be honest, realising just how easy the route has been. We drove straight up to our charger, topped up quickly, we’ve achieved great efficiency and the Citroën has been a delight of comfort, refinement and convenience. Big enough for all our photography gubbins, fast enough to be fun when wanted, spacious, and just a great, likeable, loping all-rounder.
It gets better, too, as from this summer, the Citroën ë-C4 X Electric and its hatchback sibling, the Citroën ë-C4 Electric, will have their range boosted to up to 260 miles (WLTP cycle).
Not every long EV journey will go this smoothly; there’s an aspect of learning with electric vehicles, from the car itself to the charging, and even the different language and measurements that come with them. But it doesn’t take long to figure it all out. And it may surprise you how straightforward it all is, in practice. Our coast-to-coast journey proves that EVs and the charging infrastructure are better than ever, and are only improving with time.
More than that, it goes to show that electric touring isn’t just possible today but, with a bit of education and a dash of patience, it’s actually a joy.
How do you measure EV ‘mpg’, and how much does public charging cost?
From 28 August 2023 Electric car efficiency – the equivalent of mpg – is measured in miles per kWh. It’s actually a more straightforward way of figuring out your efficiency than mpg, as all you need is the EV’s usable battery capacity and you can work out the real-world range. Most electric family cars will return around 3.3-4.0m/kWh as an average over the year but, of course, that may vary depending on where and how you normally drive. Summer is better for EV range, hence how we saw such great efficiency in the ë-C4 X Electric. It’s realistic to expect its range to drop to more like 140-180 miles in winter, though.
Most EV owners will charge at home if possible – and those who do have a car charger tend to only use public chargers very occasionally. If you expect to need public chargers regularly, factor in that they can be expensive and prices vary from 55-80p/kWh depending on the provider – roughly the equivalent of fuelling a petrol car doing 30-35mpg. Charging at home will roughly halve that cost, or can be cheaper still if you have a low priced overnight tariff.
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