For our first taste of pay-as-you-go electric motoring, we sampled two swish compact crossovers
Tom Morgan, deputy digital editor
13 July 2021

Why we ran it: To see if app-based subscription services can replace ownership as the future of motoring

Month 3 - Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a monthly car subscription: Month 3

Our time with the EV subscription service is up. Was it good value? - 16 June 2021

How do you hand back the keys to a car you never had the keys to in the first place? With a few taps on a screen. Ending our final month of Onto’s app-based subscription service was, like just about everything else to do with the firm, handled via a smartphone.

Just open the app, tap ‘Arrange a return’, confirm which date you’d like a friendly face to turn up on your doorstep and, after a few checks for damage, wave them off. There’s no paperwork to sign, and no break clauses to trouble your bank balance. For sheer ease of use, few other methods of car ‘ownership’ come close.

In fact, the entire experience was fairly painless, even if it did take a little while to get used to the app’s quirks – particularly with the DS 3 Crossback E-Tense. Simply unlocking the doors meant fighting a decade of muscle memory, where I’d reach into a pocket for a physical key that wasn’t there. The car wouldn’t always detect my phone was present, especially if I’d closed the door and then opened it again, meaning it would refuse to start until I rebooted the app.

I couldn’t have been the only person with key-related woes as, during our loan, Onto announced it would be providing physical keys to new customers, as well as to existing subscribers if they asked for one. This seemed to go down well on the company’s very active web forum, which was the place to go for any queries.

Onto moderators are quick to reply, but other users would usually chip in first. There was never a shortage of helpful suggestions, especially on the topic of which cars should be added to the fleet next. A user poll voted the Volkswagen ID 3 as most in demand, and Onto quickly announced it would be added to the fleet later in the year.

A lot of the subscription’s included ‘benefits’ were invisible, meaning I didn’t have to get an insurance quote, or organise a tyre replacement when the DS suffered a puncture. I never needed the built-in dashcam, either – a fact Onto’s insurer will no doubt be glad to hear.

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I took most advantage of the free public rapid charging, from both Shell Recharge and BP Pulse; by the time the Hyundai Kona Electric was returned, Instavolt had also been added.

I’d typically top up between 30kWh and 40kWh per charge, which would cost a pay-as-you-go customer between £8 and £15. Had I acquired the car on PCP or a lease, that would soon add up: with no way to charge at home, at least one visit a week, and BP’s membership fee to account for, I’d be having to fork out roughly £65 every month. With Onto, even maximising the subscription’s 1000-mile monthly limit wasn’t going to have a negative impact on my bank balance.

That was handy, seeing how cold weather was kryptonite to the DS’s range. Even on milder days, it failed to deliver close to its WLTP-certified 197 miles of range per charge, especially when attempting long- distance trips. Conversely, the Kona Electric that followed it was accurate to the mile, regardless of journey length. That meant I was happy to run the battery down further, all but eliminating range anxiety.

Of the pair, it was the Hyundai I enjoyed more. It was genuinely fun to drive on the right roads, with a sport mode that could embarrass hot hatchbacks at traffic lights, fine- grain control over brake regeneration via steering wheel-mounted paddles and enough cabin space for a family of four. Even rear passengers got luxuries like heated seats. I could easily see myself living with one permanently.

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Would I do it via subscription, though? Time for some maths. Three years of subscription ‘ownership’ would set you back £20,124, whereas a typical PCP deal we found would cost £22,000 over the same length of time, based on a £6000 deposit and monthly payments of around £450. Of course, the PCP route gives you the option to keep the car at the end, if you want to pay the balloon payment – roughly £17,000.

A typical lease deal over the same period, though? That would be around £13,000. Keep in mind you would still need to pay around £2500 of that up front, and you’re on the hook for your own insurance, maintenance and charging, but the car would be brand new – with Onto, there’s no guarantee you’ll be the first ‘owner’. For anyone willing to tie themselves in for the long term, subscriptions are an undeniably expensive option.

If you need a car for only a few months, though, things make a lot more sense. There’s no deposit required and you could change models every month if you wanted to. Even more importantly, I think services like this might just be the best way to find out if an EV fits into your life.

One of our jobs on Autocar is to explain the benefits and pitfalls of electric car ownership, but I’ve got to admit nothing beats actually trying one for yourself. You’ll learn so much more in a month behind the wheel than you ever could from a car dealer’s weekend test drive, so when your time is up, you’ll be assured in your decision to make the switch to electric or not. If subscriptions help with that, they’ve earned their place.

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Second Opinion

Tom’s last point is a crucial one: if you’re not sure an electric car is right for you, what better way to try one over an extended period? That’s part of the beauty of Onto. And it might then get you hooked. Far from subscriptions being a replacement for PCP or leasing, they simply provide another option for car ‘ownership’ that will be suitable for some and not others. Choice is always a good thing, especially when it’s done this well.

Mark Tisshaw

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Love it:

Choice and convenience The Onto fleet has a wide range of models, and swapping just takes a few taps on a screen.

Short-term value No deposits and monthly contracts make the price look far more appealing than a multi-year lease.

Charging network Multiple services included in the monthly price means rapid charging is almost always convenient.

Loathe it:

App glitches It mostly worked well, but the app sometimes malfunctioned. Not ideal when you need it to open the doors.

Car availability As a growing service, Onto has only so many cars on its fleet, with Teslas in particular being hard to book.

Final mileage: 1321

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Hyundai Kona Electric SE Premium 64kWh specification

Prices: List price new £31,795 (after government grant, pre-facelift) List price now £32,550 (after government grant, post-facelift) Price as tested £559 ppm

Options: none

Fuel consumption and range: official range 279 miles Battery capacity 64kWh Test average 247 miles Test best 256 miles Test worst 241 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 7.5sec Top speed 104mph Max power 201bhp Max torque 291lb ft Transmission single-speed automatic Boot capacity 332/1114 litres Wheels 7.0Jx17in, alloy Tyres 215/55 R17 Kerb weight 1610kg

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Service and running costs: Contract hire rate N/A CO2 0g/km Service costs none Other costs none Fuel costs £none Running costs inc fuel £559 pcm Cost per mile 67 pence Faults none

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Trip computer’s range prediction proves absolutely accurate - 2 June 2021

I recently took our Kona Electric on a weekend trip from my home in Surrey to the south coast and was beyond impressed with its ability to estimate its remaining range.

I’ve always been a little nervous doing this journey in an EV, because there’s no scope for slow overnight charging at my mother-in-law’s house, the closest rapid chargers are a half-hour drive away and the 7kW point at the nearest supermarket only regains about 20 miles per hour. Not to mention that motorway miles tend to drain power faster than urban driving. It’s an 80-mile trip, but the Renault Zoe I ran before sapped 120 miles of predicted range to get there.

Not so with the Kona: every journey I’ve made so far has been accurate to the mile – even longer- distance ones with the climate controls switched on and driving at normal motorway speeds. Its economy is consistently better than four miles per kWh, with no need for me to hypermile.

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The larger-capacity battery helps, with 270 miles indicated at home meaning I had enough spare juice to enjoy some of Sussex’s better roads in Sport mode. It’s no hot hatch, but the Kona can entertain if you ask it to.

Mileage: 1126

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More ways to plug in - 26 May 2021

Instavolt is the latest charging service to join the Onto subscription fold, bringing free access to 470 more rapid units (rated between 50kW and 150kW). All the energy comes from renewable resources and the arrival hasn’t bumped up Onto’s monthly bill. It does mean another card to carry, though, and both the Kona’s visors are already filled with my BP and Shell ones.

Mileage: 468

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Au revoir DS, annyeong Hyundai: we make a switch to our monthly subscription - 19 May 2021

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Swapping between different cars may be an everyday occurrence for Autocar staffers, but it doesn’t happen all that often for most people. Could subscription motoring be a way to expand your horizons and drive lots of different models in quick succession – without having to buy the things outright?

Onto’s monthly plan effectively lets subscribers exchange for a different model every 30 days, so long as you don’t mind paying extra if stepping up to a more premium brand, and the £50 handover charge. Before the pandemic, there was an option for in-person return, though it’s unclear if that will be back as lockdown restrictions continue to lift.

For less than the £529 that we were paying for a month of DS 3 Crossback E-Tense ‘ownership’, you could instead run a BMW i3, Peugeot e-208, Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf or Hyundai Ioniq Electric. That’s some decent variety. Extend your budget to £799 and you can become a Tesla Model 3 driver for a calendar page.

We opted to switch into a Hyundai Kona Electric for £559. It’s the pre-facelift model, although by the time you read this, Onto will have upgraded its fleet to the newer, smoother 2021 version, which is available for £589 per month.

What does the extra cash buy you? Significantly more range, for a start. The DS’s 50kWh battery pack promises 190 miles, which translates to more like 140 in our experience, and takes a major hit from motorway driving. It’s also wildly inconsistent with range estimates at times, using significantly more juice than expected for the miles travelled.

The Kona’s larger 64kWh battery is rated for 300 miles on the WLTP cycle, and so far seems impressively accurate in its range estimates. When an 80-mile journey uses exactly 80 miles of range, it gives you the confidence to run the battery down that little bit further before seeking out a charging point. It’s efficient, too, so while I don’t plan on making any 300-mile trips in one stint, it’s not far off what you can expect from a fully charged battery.

The Kona is considerably more potent, too. Though it weighs 200kg more than the DS, it has a 70bhp advantage that helps it achieve the 0-60mph sprint more than a second faster. In Sport mode, full throttle will easily spin up the front tyres while driving at town and city speeds – and remember that Onto’s maintenance doesn’t cover premature tyre wear and tear.

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The handover was all done on my driveway, with an Onto rep delivering the Kona and driving the DS away, after a thorough photography session documented virtually every angle of each car and I had signed for the collection. The Kona also came with a physical key, which was handy, as it took a few hours for it to replace the DS within the smartphone app.

A part of me was sad to see the DS leave, as I had grown used to its quirky centre console and funky digital dashboard filled with geometric patterns. The Kona’s semi-analogue cluster simply isn’t as flashy. A more upright driving position suits the Kona because it rides higher than the DS, but I still prefer that car’s low-slung seats.

Will that mean I’ll regret the trade? Maybe – but knowing how easy it would be to swap back certainly helps mitigate any renter’s remorse.

Love it:

No more cold backside The Kona Electric gets both heated and ventilated seats – a big step up from the DS.

Loathe it:

Bad timing We missed out on getting the facelifted version of the new Kona, which has just been added to the Onto fleet.

Mileage: 221

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Life with a monthly car subscription: Month 2

Keys to the Car-stle - 12 May 2021

Part of the Onto premise is app-based motoring, with no need for a key to unlock or start your car. I’m a fan for the most part, although I have found that reopening any doors before pressing the start button can confuse the DS, making it think there’s no key present.

The solution is to lock and unlock the car again using your phone, after which it happily f lickers into life. Sometimes it will fail to lock the doors, too: the indicators will flash but the wing mirrors won’t fold and you can open the doors. Opening and shutting a door usually wakes it up.

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Clearly there’s customer demand for a real key, as Onto has just started offering one to its existing customers and supplying them to new ones. The app is still well worth using for its extra features, like tracking how many miles you have left on your monthly allowance, but anyone worried about getting locked out can now get a backup key if they want. Existing customers just need to fill out a form on the Onto website and a key will be dispatched to them.

Mileage: 839

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If range anxiety gives you the chills, may we suggest a hot-water bottle? - 5 May 2021

After little over a month of use, I’ve really gelled with Onto’s smartphone app.

Having your remaining permitted mileage on screen every time you go to unlock the car pretty much ensures you will never accidentally go over your monthly 1000-mile allowance. Need to head out on a longer trip that will nudge you over? It’s simple enough to extend your limit through the website. An extra 250 miles costs £30 and can be automatically rolled into your next monthly contract if you want.

I haven’t yet needed to use the car location function, as most of my supermarket runs are done late at night, but it really is pinpoint accurate. Once car parks start filling up again and long-term airport parking becomes more than a fantasy, I’m sure it will come in handy.

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The car itself has thrown up a few irritations, though. When my other half sat in the back recently (present restrictions mean our loved ones are currently supplying all the over-the- shoulder photographs you see on these pages), she was surprised by how dark and enclosed it felt. There’s certainly a lot of padding on the door sills and the beltline, plus that kink in the window, so passengers are quite cocooned. I haven’t a clue why the doors need two grab handles, either: only one actually opens the door, and the other is too high up to reach without some major contortion.

Also, while head room was good enough for me when I clambered back there, this is very much a compact crossover. I don’t have my seat pushed too far back while driving, but rear leg room is still compromised. Kids will be fine, but adults might struggle on long trips.

Another bugbear is the lack of heated seats. Considering the E-Tense is easily the priciest take on PSA’s small electric platform and Ultra Prestige is the top trim level, it’s baffling that there’s not even an option to add heated seats when configuring a car on the DS website.

It’s much more efficient to just heat your bum than it is to warm up the entire cabin using the climate control; and given the somewhat mediocre range I’m getting, it’s something that our car would very much benefit from.

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Both the Peugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Corsa-e have heated seats as an option, and they cost significantly less. The former is available through Onto for £449 per month in GT Line trim – some £80 less than our DS.

I strongly prefer superminis to baby SUVs, so think I would go for the Peugeot if I were spending my own money – or go the other way and raise my budget for a 64kWh Hyundai Kona Electric, which costs £589 per month but promises significantly greater range per charge.

I’ve been getting my money’s worth from BP Pulse and Shell Recharge, at least. Each rapid charge of between 10kW and 30kW would cost between £4 and £12 for pay- as-you-go customers, plus the £7.85 per month if you were to pay for the former’s subscription tier service. That’s about £45 a month ‘saved’ by having both bundled with the Onto package – although of course those sums wouldn’t add up for anyone with the ability to charge at home.

Love it:

At-a-glance stats Onto’s app shows all the useful information you need on its home screen without bombarding you with other, less useful things.

Loathe it:

No heated seats The E-Tense not having heated seats as standard is inexplicable, given the range loss that comes with heating an entire cabin.

Mileage: 741

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Charging only good as the network - 21 April 2021

I use BP Pulse and Shell Recharge exclusively now they’re part of Onto’s ‘all-inclusive’ subscription package, but reliability isn’t a given. A 50kW CCS charger recently failed to detect the car, and a 43kW AC connection promised just 26 miles of range per hour. I only needed a top-up; a full charge would have meant a near-six-hour layover.

Mileage: 576

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What happens when your subscription car gets a puncture? - 14 April 2021

When the tyre-pressure warning light came on as I took my first drive in our electric DS, I figured that an overzealous valeter had adjusted the pressures but not reset the TPMS prior to delivery.

Having met photographer Max and had the car papped, I reset the system and crossed my fingers. However, I found once I’d arrived home that the offside rear tyre was indeed quite def lated. I pumped it back up and hoped for the best, but it soon lost pressure again.

That meant putting in a call to the dedicated support line for car subscription service Onto, from which we’ve obtained the DS. The person at the other end agreed that it could have been a pre-delivery issue, so a replacement was sourced and at-home fitting arranged for free.

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The subscription fee includes general wear and tear for tyres, with free replacements when the tread approaches the legal limit (within the manufacturer’s expected timeline), but punctures are usually chargeable.

With that issue sorted, I’ve been able to enjoy the E-Tense a bit more. The interior may not be particularly airy, but it’s a pleasant enough place to be on longer drives and doesn’t suffer from wind noise as much as some rivals when travelling at speed.

Mileage: 362

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Life with a monthly car subscription: Month 1

A quick charge check - 31 March 2021

Apparently I managed to overcharge the DS to 101% this week. Glitches like this aren’t the norm (the Onto EV subscription app is usually very accurate), but a battery percentage isn’t as useful as knowing how many miles you have left before needing to find a charger. The car itself was predicting a meagre 50-mile range during a recent cold spell, despite holding more than 50% charge.

Mileage: 130

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Signing up to On.To and welcoming the DS 3 to the fleet - 24 March 2021

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It’s not just Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime any more. You can get a subscription service for just about anything, from flowers and coffee pods to bacon and crates of beer.

Can we now add cars to that growing list? I’m hoping to find out over the next few months with Onto, the UK’s first subscription car service to offer an entirely electric line-up.

Onto is an all-in-one offering, with a single monthly payment covering the hire cost of the car, along with fully comprehensive insurance, 24/7 roadside assistance, servicing, Polar Plus and Shell Recharge charging memberships, plus tyre wear and tear (although not punctures). All cars have a forward-facing dashcam, too.

Unlike with a traditional contract hire agreement, there’s no need to pay a deposit and the minimum contract length is just one month. There’s also no registration paperwork to worry about, and while mileage is limited to 1000 miles per month, you can pay more if you want to drive farther.

The sign-up process, which asks for your driving licence and credit card details, as well as a picture of you holding your licence, is done through your web browser and takes less than 10 minutes. It can then take up to two days for a human to authenticate your account, but after that, you’re good to go: pick a car, say when you want it and sign your contract. You’re kept informed via email at every step up to delivery day. Pre-pandemic, there was a collection service, but paying £50 for home delivery is now the way to go.

When the car arrives, you check it over for any damage and accept delivery digitally, much like you would do with any lease car. From then on, everything is done through Onto’s smartphone app. You don’t even get a car key; the app unlocks the doors. It also records where you’re parked, how much charge is remaining and how many miles you have left until the end of the month.

The fleet includes superminis like the Renault Zoe, which can be had from £339 per month, family cars such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and even premium models like the Tesla Model S, Jaguar I-Pace and Audi E-tron, the latter setting you back a significant £1299 per month.

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We opted to start the test with a DS 3 Crossback E-Tense, for which Onto charges £529 per month. Leasing one would have cost us around £4000 upfront, then £375 a month for three years directly from the manufacturer. Does that represent good value for those who don’t want to be tied into a multi-year agreement? We have two months to find out before we swap it for a different model to try out the handover process.

On delivery day, the driver’s Covid discipline was spot on. The app’s functions were explained from two metres away, as was the fact that all doors need to be shut before the car’s start button will work. Will whipping out my phone and opening an app to lock the doors become an annoyance? I’m not sure, but I already appreciate not having to remember to pocket a key every time I leave the house.

This is our first opportunity to spend some extended time with Stellantis’s premium compact crossover, which shares a platform and electric powertrain with the Peugeot e-2008 and Vauxhall Mokka-e. The 3 Crossback E-Tense has the same 50kWh battery and 136bhp motor powering the front axle, which should be good for up to 198 miles of range or 0-62mph in 8.7sec – although seeing both in the span of a single charge is unlikely.

Ours is the top-end Ultra Prestige version, which includes uprated 18in alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights, a reversing camera and an advanced safety pack as standard, plus some optional extras, but we weren’t given any choice in the matter: customers get what the company has in stock.

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First impressions of the car? The seating position is a big improvement on that of the Zoe I ran recently, being much more low-slung and reclined, but the undeniably French interior will take some getting used to. Why the window switches are found in the centre console and the wing-mirror adjustment set into the dashboard is something of a mystery.

The powertrain also feels punchier than the Zoe’s, despite the similar output. I see most of my time being spent in Sport mode, where throttle response is that bit more immediate.

Happily, there’s a Chargemaster rapid charger 10 minutes from home: with the £7.85-a-month subscription and cost of electricity used included in Onto’s subscription, some maths will be needed to work out savings over the course of my stewardship.

Second Opinion

The DS3 has so many little quirks, contrivances and curiosities, from the switchgear design and layout, to the look of the instruments. It will be fascinating to watch whether Tom ends up liking the car for its various points of difference, gets so used to them that they become invisible or is simply driven to distraction by them. After a few days with one last year, I ended up in camp number three, I must say, but greater familiarity might be all it takes.

Matt Saunders

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DS 3 Crossback E-Tense specification

Specs: Price New £36,800 Price as tested £529 per month Options Artense Grey metallic paint £550, Perla Nera Black roof £200, Art Black Basalt nappa leather seats £950, Premium safety pack £550, head-up display £300

Test Data: Engine Permanent magnet synchronous electric motor Power 134bhp Torque 192lb ft Kerb weight 1523kg Top speed 93mph 0-62mph 8.7sec Range 199 miles CO2 0g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
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Tom Chet 15 July 2021

Thanks for this long term review of On.To.  Such a car subscription service is not for me as a long term comitment - way too expensive - but your point about it being a good way to try an electric car for a month or two is excellent.

I have been grappling with the relevance of EVs to my situation and whether the charging challenge is worth overcoming (live in the city, no off street parking).  This would seem to be an ideal way to test the water.

xxxx 17 May 2021

Probably because you're so unlikely to see a DS compared to a bmw. Bit like sewers, you know they're there but you don't have to look at them.

superstevie 14 May 2021

@overdrive I think the issue is that the BMW one is in stark comparison to what they've done for such a long time. If there was a subtle increase over a few years/models, it wouldn't be such a shock to many