800 Volts

One fast charge in the Kia EV6 told me everything I needed to know

And why it'll win top trumps at every EV charging station debate

Early-adopter EV lovers insist that range anxiety and charging speeds are red herrings, not actual issues with electric cars, but they're wrong. These are legitimate concerns that will impede the growth and adoption of electric vehicles beyond the enthusiast set if not addressed.

But, after more than a decade of stops and starts in the development and deployment of electric vehicles, the marketplace has finally come up with an answer to both: really fast charging.

I was testing the Kia EV6 this week (corporate sibling to the Hyundai Ioniq 5 that I drove and loved last year) and was genuinely astonished by how speedy DC fast charging can be — less than 18 minutes to gain more than 200 miles of range — and it changes everything.

The Kia EV6 can charge its battery from 10% - 80% in just 18 minutes.Kia

The EV6 uses an advanced (and expensive) 800-volt architecture, achieved thanks to massive economies of scale from the E-GMP platform that will underpin most of the upcoming EVs from Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis. Competitors like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen ID.4, and Polestar 2 use 400-volt systems that charge much more slowly.

The increase in voltage is important, but we have to talk some physics to see why: volts * amps = watts. Translated into English, it means that if you want to increase an EV’s charging speed, you have to increase the volts or the amperage or both. By using an 800-volt architecture instead of a 400-volt, the E-GMP platform can charge twice as fast as a 400-volt vehicle at the same amperage.

Tesla, it’s worth noting, continues to use a 400V architecture, but supports far higher amperage through its Superchargers than most other fast-charging stations. To support higher amperage, both the vehicle itself and the charging cable need far more copper (a thicker cable, for example) to avoid excess heat — or alternative methods to keep everything cool. Either Tesla’s tech is better than everybody else’s (maybe!) or the company is just a bit less conservative than the rest of the industry (definitely!), or more likely a bit of both.

What’s certain is Hyundai and Kia spent a considerable sum on research and development for the 800-volt system, trading up-front investment for a vastly improved product — and this sets up Hyundai Motor Group as a leader in the global EV transition for years to come. Hyundai and Kia are far from the only brands selling 800-volt EVs — luxury brands Porsche and Audi are already selling them — but the South Korean conglomerate is the only mainstream car brand delivering 800V cars today.

A concept rendering of a future Electrify America charging location with features you might find a typical convenience store-type gas station today.Electrify America

I took my EV6 to a 350-kilowatt Electrify America fast charger to test it out and was blown away. Arriving with a 14 percent charge, I swiped a credit card on a shiny new charger in the corner of a Walmart parking lot and watched as electrons began flowing.

Within 30 seconds, I was charging at well over 200 kilowatts. That's double what you'd see with a Ford Mustang Mach-E, which barely cracks 100 kilowatts from 10 percent to 40 percent, according to testing done by InsideEVs.

My testing confirmed Kia's claim that the EV6 can charge from 10 to 80 percent in just 18 minutes, which is astonishingly fast compared to the times of the Mach-E (around 45 minutes) and the VW ID.4 (about 35 minutes). I've reviewed the Mach-E several times and like it, but it takes almost three times as long to go from 10 percent to 80 percent, after which time the charging speed falls off a cliff and trickles in at around 12 kilowatts.

In contrast, the EV6 continued charging at just over 100 kilowatts even after 80 percent, which is as fast as the Mach-E for most of its entire charge cycle. Part of this is due to the conservative design of Ford's charging software, which company engineers have told me is specifically designed to protect the battery and may be loosened in the future. But today, the Kia and Hyundai products are lightning-quick compared to anything else in their price bracket.

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 uses the same platform as the Kia EV6, and charges just as quickly.Hyundai

I used to recommend the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y as my go-to EVs for everyone on the strength of the company's Supercharger stations. But now, with these incredible charging speeds and a quickly-growing network of very-high-speed third-party charging stations (Electrify America, especially), the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 have rocketed to the top of my recommendation list.

An 18-minute charging stint is fast approaching how long it takes to stop at a gas station, refuel, head inside for a bathroom break, and pick out which can of road trip pringles you want. It puts Kia and Hyundai right at the front of the pack for the EV6 and Ioniq 5 and whatever EVs they release next.

And, though they'll surely deny it, it puts the rest of the industry on the back foot from the start. It won't take long before Mustang Mach-E and VW ID.4 owners start complaining about how they saw a Kia roll in empty and roll out fully charged while their fancy new EV recharges far more slowly.

Almost all EV owners chat at charging stations, comparing notes and checking out the other rides like it's an impromptu car show. And the EV6 and Ioniq 5 have the ultimate trump card in winning best of show: getting out first.

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