For our first taste of Onto's pay-as-you-go electric motoring, we sample a swish compact crossover
Tom Morgan, deputy digital editor
31 March 2021

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

Month 1 - Specs

Life with a monthly car subscription: Month 1

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

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.

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.


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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.

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.

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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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Join the debate

Add a comment…
ArtVandelay 31 March 2021
Over £500 a month for a small hatch back is insanely expensive.

The thing with leases is to look for what kind of car you want, maybe not the exact car, if you want a deal. Can get a Hyundai Ioniq for half of what this costs.

Flexibility is nice but not at that kind of premium

RandomUser 31 March 2021

There's possibly a fair chunk of depreciation to factor in to the monthly fee?

superstevie 1 April 2021

Some things to factor in here. I found on Whatcar, that this car on a 48 month lease would be £380.38 a month, with a £2282.26 deposit. Over the 48 months (8000 miles p/a), it is a total of £20540.50, or the equivalent of £427.93 a month.

I have done an insurance quote on this car, for me, a 40 year old man, 2 years no claims, clean licence, no accidents, insured at my home in edinburgh and legal protection cover (I have had to use this in the past), that comes in at £401.50, or £33.46 a month.

I looked up break down cover and DS give electric cars 8 years or 100000 miles, so won't need that. 

So far, I am up to £461.39 a month on a car, which is less than what this company are providing by £67.61 a month, but that doesn't factor in the amount to charge it.

All for a car that you can give back after 30 days notice rather being tied in to it for 4 years.

ArtVandelay 1 April 2021
Whatcar is useless for leases. Autocar often do a lease roundup of lease "deals" from Whatcar and they're invariably crap.

Other leasing websites list this car (not quite this spec) for £269.99 per month with £1818.84 down over 48m and 8k miles a year. Just over £14.5k for 4 years in that car. Actually a decent deal if you like the car

BillN 31 March 2021

Have seen a few comments below with concerns about damage fees and also the lack of key. I'm a Onto customer and whilst I've heard about a few issues last year with return damage fees, I gather these have been  pretty much resolved now as I think Onto have issued directions to the third party companies that deal with retuned cars to essentially not be so picky.  

As for the lack of a key, some people find this to be a disadvantage but other actually quite like it. I'm one that likes it, as it just means there's one less thing to remember, put in your pocket etc. My phone is pretty much always in my hand when I get in or out the car as I then plug it in to charge and use Apple CarPlay. So it's actually quite convenient in my experience.

Anywya, I guess you only really know if you try it for yourself... and that's the best thing about this model of running a car - no commitment and no hassle. If anyone wants to give it a whirl for a month, you can get £50 off using this referral code: d55d6

wyaak2 31 March 2021

Read the online reviews about Onto and see frequent complaints about excess termination charges for scratches and interior marks. One to test when the car is returned.

xxxx 31 March 2021

My thoughts too, stone chip on bonnet, kerbed wheel etc. Auto car should ask what the cost would be

pobby328 31 March 2021

Probably better not to damage the car in the first place, or at least be sensible and take out one of those excess cover policy things. You'd be crazy not to, and then you're covered for a year including the real problem... rental car companies abroad!!!

But overall I'd try not to damage the car in the first place.

xxxx 31 March 2021

Good idea, surprized no one ever thought of that afterall it is so easy to drive round flying stones on the motorway.

pobby328 31 March 2021

Sarcasm - smart. If I get stone chips on my car it's up to me to pay to repair them - you must be special. How do you feel about kerbed wheels? Is that an act of god too?

Like I said - take out an excess insurance policy if you can't aford to pay for your own damage. Accidents happen - that's what excess insurance is for - why would expect anyone else to pay for you?

xxxx 1 April 2021

Smart - yes. I dont take my car in for stone chips or car park dings repairs every 3 months, like you would with these short term hire plans. And remember they'll insist on main dealer prices.

pobby328 6 April 2021

xxxx sounds like this isn't for you then, as you damage cars regularly but don't want to pay. You should limit your observations to the facts instead of trying to put people off something that may work really well for them.

I'm on my 3rd Onto car. When they charged me for damage after my neighbour bumped my car it was was less than either of us expected - I'd call it trade prices. I'm curious to know how you know they insist on charging main dealer prices - more speculation on your part?

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