In this post, we review the portable EV charging cords that come standard with the following electric vehicles sold in North America: Tesla (all models), the Audi e-tron, the Nissan Leaf, the Jaguar I-Pace, the Porsche Taycan, the Chevy Bolt, the BMW i3, and Hyundai (all BEVs). This review is pretty wild; the specs (usefulness) of OEM standard charging cords are all over the place. Some car makers gave a ton of thought to this while others clearly gave none. That’s concerning, because “electricity is everywhere” is a major argument in favor of EV ownership, but that’s only meaningful if you can usefully tap the grid.
Part 1: Things you should know when scavenging for electricity
- Nerds may correct you if you call it a charger: Portable charging cables are colloquially called ‘chargers’, but technically the ‘charger’ is a separate thing on-board the car that allows the car to receive alternating current (AC). We’ll go with “charging cable” or “charging cord”, although they’re formally referred to as “EVSEs”, but ‘EVSE’ also includes fixed wall-mounted units. Charging cord is understood as the portable EVSE. We won’t be mad if you just call it your car’s plug either.
- AC not DC: All portable charging cables are designed to let your car charge from the AC electricity flowing through our grids. DC (direct current) fast charging requires large transformers, so that’s why DC is unavailable to residents. No one gets DC charging to their house.
- Saying “L1/L2” doesn’t tell you enough: Here in North America, “Level 1” refers to our default single-phase 120V charging (people still say 110V when they mean 120V, but the standard in North America has been 120V since ancient times). “Level 2” refers to 240V charging. Both levels are AC charging. But “L1” and “L2” are too blunt and cover a broad range of charging speeds. You want to know how many volts you’re getting and also how many amps. With that, you can figure out your kW charging speed.
- Look to max Amps (symbol: ‘A’) and understand the 80% rule: For 120V charging, the cords we review run anywhere between 8 to 16 amps, and on the 240V side it’s between 12 and 40 amps. The 80% rule is that when continuously drawing power from an outlet, you only take 80% of the outlet’s rated maximum amps. So if an outlet offers 15 amps max, the cord you’re using may only be rated for 12 amps, because that’s the max the car will pull due to the 80% rule.
- Know your EV’s maximum AC-acceptance rate: the on-board AC charger inside your EV will have a maximum AC acceptance rate. Your portable charging cord may support 240V at 32 amps, but if your car doesn’t, you won’t see the benefit. Clipper Creek has an excellent spec sheet listing every EV’s maximum AC-acceptance rate. 240V at 32A (7.7kW) is the rough standard these days, only the top tier of EVs accepts a higher AC charging rate.
- Fingers crossed your outlet has its own circuit: Ideally, any exterior outlet is on its own circuit to the main panel. But if two outlets share a circuit to the main panel, and you’re plugged in, and someone else plugs in a lawn mower, you’re going to trip the breaker.
Spot the 5-20
North America has two ubiquitous 120V outlets. The most common is formally called a “NEMA 5-15 receptacle”. Under the NEMA naming scheme, the number after the hyphen indicates the max amps for the outlet. So for this little guy, that’s 15 amps max it can offer. Because of the 80% rule though, your EV will only draw 12 amps (maybe less, see below) from a 15 amp outlet.
On a long march to becoming equally ubiquitous is the 5-20, which looks similar to the standard 5-15 above, but with a little perpendicular line. 5-20 outlets are found places likely to see heavy power uses. So you see them on building exteriors, garages, and bathrooms. They’re everywhere really, and they offer 20 amps max, so 16 amps continuous to your EV, if you use a 5-20 plug. (Spoiler: Tesla is the only OEM that offers one). If you plug in a standard 5-15 plug into a 5-20 outlet, you’re still only going to draw the 12 amps.
Both of the above are 120V, but we’ve also got 240 outlets throughout North America. Wikipedia has a useful chart, and we won’t bother with images here, but here’s the highlights you should know:
- NEMA 14-50: your electric stove uses this outlet, and it’s also very common at RV parks. Offers EVs 240V at 40 amps continuous (80% of the 50A max), more amps than most EVs can even handle with AC charging.
- NEMA 14-30: a dryer outlet. Offers EVs 24 amps continuous. See also the NEMA 10-30 for older dryer outlets.
- NEMA 6-20: a “welder’s outlet”. [update: Wikipedia said 6-20 is a welder’s outlet, but some commenters say the 6-50 is the new 6-20] Offers 16 amps continuous (but with a lot more punch than the 5-20 above, as it’s 16 amps at 240V instead of 120V.)
Part 2: Things to look for when comparing EV portable charging cords
Most important is versatility, which obviously includes the range of outlets available you can draw from. If you get a new job, and there happens to be a welder’s outlet you’re free to make use of, will you be able to? If a friend invites you to their old country cabin with an old dryer outlet in the garage, will this be useful to you? Electricity is all around us and you want your EV to drink that milkshake as fast as it can.
You should also look to physical size of the plug. With a fat plug, you’re going to have a massive letdown with outdoor outlets protected with an enclosure like the one seen here.
Of course, the charging cord needs to be rugged and survive being covered in ice or hit with torrential rain. Aside from Tesla’s Gen2 UMC we haven’t seen long term evaluations of OEM charging cables used outside extensively, so share below in the comments if you can offer insights.
As an FYI there’s lots of tables out there that purport to show how many miles per hour of range you’ll get at different V & A levels. Be wary, and compare against more sources. There’s tons of incorrect data out there.
Finally, a good portable charging cord (one that can handle up to 240V at 30 to 40 amps and everything below, as some OEMs now include with their EVs) means you don’t have to buy a dedicated, hardwired, wall-mounted EV charger for your home. And that’s the way it should be. It’s a nice to have, like heated tiles in your bathroom, but certainly not a must-have. For many people, the perception that you need a hard-wired special charger for your house is a barrier to buying an EV. Being able to tell people they don’t need anything special, maybe just a dryer outlet if they have a long commute, is an important message to encourage EV adoption.
Part 3: The Review Rundown
Review (A+): The rugged and versatile Tesla Gen2 UMC
There’s no sense beating around the bush. This is it folks. The gold standard from which all others will be compared. The Gen2 UMC comes included with every Tesla, along with the standard NEMA 5-15 adapter (Teslas used to also come with the 14-50 pictured on the far right as well as the 5-15, but no longer, now it’s a $35 extra.) On a Model 3, you’ll get 5 miles per hour of charging from the 5-15 (120V * 12A), so 60 miles of range with a 12-hour overnight charge. Not enough? I recommend to everyone to also spend the $35 and buy the 5-20 adapter. Now we’re up to 120V * 16A, which gets you 7 miles per hour of charging (40% more!). That’s 84 miles of charging overnight from an outlet you probably already have in your driveway at home or at work. The Gen 2 UMC supports up to 240V at 32A (7.7kW), enough for everyone but extreme grinders, and also the maximum that the Model 3 Standard and Mid-Range trims even allow. The Model 3 Long-Range, Model S, and Model X have higher capacity on-board AC inverters that can support 240V at up to 48amp (11.5kW), but to get those extra 16 amps that the portable Gen2 UMC can’t provide, you’ll need to purchase a wall-mounted charger hard-wired to a 60amp circuit to your panel. For context, modern North American homes typically have 200amp service. 60 is a lot to dedicate.
Other points about the Gen2 UMC:
- Temp operating rating of 50°C to -30°C. This is pretty standard, so we’ll note any deviations on others below, otherwise assume the same.
- Comes in a very nice case.
- To switch adapters, just give the plug a tug, and it comes out. Easy to push in too. This writer has used his daily outdoors for almost a year, had it exposed to all sorts of weather, and never had an issue.
- Lose it or somehow manage to break it? Tesla sells them new for $275, an absolute bargain when you look at what else is on offer below.
We do have one criticism for Tesla: please correct your product page for the Gen2 UMC! At the time of this writing (and a long time prior), it’s been listed as only providing 1.3kW, or about 2-3 miles per range per hour. What the hell? It can do 7.7kW (240V at 32A), getting 22 miles per hour of range for a Model 3.
Review (D-): The Chevy Bolt charging cord
GM should never be allowed to claim it’s “all in” on EVs until they can fix this sadness. Pathetic:
- Versatility? Zero. It has a fixed 5-15 plug, so 12 amps max. The actual cord is 16 gauge, which isn’t rated for more than 13 amps, so truly this is it.
- But wait, it gets worse. The Bolt’s software will default to 8 amps each time you plug in at 120V. At least you can save your “home” location and program it to take the 12 amps without manually adjusting each time.
- GM sells this for $525 as a standalone. Run away.
- Hold on, still gets worse. Even if you buy a capable third party portable charging cord, the Bolt’s software is too dumb to accept the amperage the pilot signals. If it detects 120V, it’s always going to cap you at 8 amps. Dumb.
We’ve used some strong language here, but that’s because the Bolt isn’t some city-only compliance EV. It’s GM’s leading EV effort. 🙁
Review (B): the Nissan Leaf SL and Nissan Leaf Plus Charging Cord
If you buy the Nissan S & SV models, you’re going to get a sad 120V-only charging cord with the car. Unfortunate. But at least unlike the Bolt, the car will accept whatever amperage the pilot signals, so you can upgrade by buying a third party charging cord.
With the Nissan Leaf SL and Nissan Leaf Plus, however, Nissan will give you a respectable portable charging cord. Let’s see how it compares with Tesla:
- Pro: you get both a 14-50 plug and 5-15 adapter with your car. Nice. Tesla stopped including the 14-50, so it’s now a $35 extra.
- Con: instead of swapping out plugs like on the Tesla UMC, the 14-50 plug is hardwired, and the 5-15 adapter fits on top of the 14-50 plug. This was a poor design choice. The 5-15 adapter is absurdly bulky, and will not fit in to an outlet that has an enclosure (so most outdoor outlets). This will be so frustrating.
- Con: Nissan doesn’t offer any other plug adapters for it. You will have to buy a new 3rd party portable charging cord if you want to plug into a dryer outlet or a 5-20, for example.
- Pro: it’s rated to -40°C.
- Con: instead of a nice case, it comes in bubble wrap. Update: people are reporting that they did get a nice case, it just wasn’t with this dealer demo pictured above).
Review (F): The BMW Charging Cord
If you buy a BMW i3, it’ll come with what BMW worryingly calls its “Occasional Use Charger (OUC)”, pictured above. 120V NEMA 5-15 only. Do you void your warranty if you use it nightly? How many amps do you get? Who knows! According to forum posts, a 2014 OUC could get the 5-15’s standard 12 amps, but for 2015-2016 model years, BMW downgraded to 10 amp. Supposedly now we’re back to 12 amps? But be careful! Another forum poster noted their dealer just grabbed one out of a bin, and apparently it was not for their year. Anyway, clearly zero cares given.
Now we’re cheating a bit here, because this BMW portable charging cord, called the “Turbocord” appears to be a $500 option and not standard issue. But we can’t help but gawk at this garbage. It looks like BMW tried to step up, but instead released something spectacularly awful:
- Pro..?: a flashlight that points towards your face when you try to plug it in.
- Con: it will not fit into any outlet with an enclosure.
- Con: while it does a 5-15 on the 120V side, it’s only 240V option is… the 6-20 welder’s outlet? Weird. This means even at 240V, you’re getting 16 amps max. Everyone else goes with 14-50 for the 240V default because they’re standard at RV parks and for your stove, and you can pull up to 40amps if your EV supports that much. The 6-20 is far more rare. Needless to say, there are no other outlet options for the Turbocord.
- Con: all units subject to recall (PDF). It wasn’t made to spec and can catch fire.
- Con: comes in a cardboard box.
Review (A): The Audi e-Ton Charging Cord
Shown here with the wall mounting kit (extra), we like it a lot. It’s the most handsome.
- Pro: interchangeable plugs, like Tesla, see video here.
- Pro: the control unit automatically recognizes voltage, amperage.
- Pro: it beats out the Tesla UMC and can handle up to 240V at 40A, greater than the UMC’s 32A – nice! 240V at 40A = 9.6kW, hoowee!
- Con: currently only 5-15 and 14-50 plugs are offered; only thing keeping us from giving it an A+. But Audi should be able to add more easily. Audi, send all your e-Tron customers a 5-20 plug for Christmas!
- Pro: the 5-15 plug is slim, you shouldn’t have any issues with outdoor outlet enclosures.
- Pro: Audi gave competent consideration to their portable charger, wanted to make it nice, and that should give you confidence about the entire vehicle.
Another big point is that the brick portion (control unit) of the cord gives you a lot more information than the Tesla UMC. It’ll actually spell out “50%” charge, and then “100%” charge when those numbers are hit. I can’t list this as a pro or con, because I think it’s subjective to your lifestyle. If this is going to be used at home and taken to the lake house, then sure, that’s a nice feature, especially for an older set who may not be big fans of phone apps. For myself, I use my portable charger daily in urban streets, I’d prefer not to have any buttons or information readouts on my charging cord. In any event, I strongly support what Audi did here. It’s so important that people understand they don’t need a separate hard-wired wall-mounted unit from a company they never heard of. So Bravo Audi! I can’t imagine why any Audi customer would buy a third party wall mounted charger when the included Audi charger looks so nice, offers 9.6kW, and has a nice wall mount.
Review (F-): the Jaguar I-Pace charging cord
Completely unacceptable for a BEV starting at $70k. This might be the worst:
- Con: only 120V, 5-15 plugs, and astoundingly, caps out at 10amps, instead of the 12 it should be getting. This is horrible. I can’t believe Jaguar Landrover put their names to this garbage, even if it is just on a sticker.
According to posts on the I-Pace forum, the following message was sent to Jaguar dealers on July 13, 2018:
CHARGING CABLE – The previously communicated standard Multi-Function Charging Cable has been removed from the program and will be replaced with a standard Home Charging Cable, capable of charging via domestic sockets. This Home Charging Cable is not capable of Level 2 AC charging. As previously communicated, the preferred home charging solution for the customer is the Jaguar approved wall box which itself comes with a tethered charging cable.
What else in the I-Pace received zero thought or consideration?
Review (D): The Hyundai Kona and Ioniq charging cord
Our own Seth Weintraub did a video review of the Hyundai Charging Cord when reviewing the Hyundai Ioniq EV:
The charging cord only does 120V, 5-15 outlets, at 12 amps. As Seth notes, given the high efficiency of the Ioniq, those 12 amps at 120V get you 5 miles per hour of range when charging, same as Model 3. But that won’t translate to the less efficient Kona EV, where we’d expect 3-4 miles per hour of charge. And it’s frustrating that you’d likely have a 5-20 outlet sitting in your driveway, and you can’t take advantage of that extra 40% charging for lack of a simple 5-20 adapter? You’ll want to buy a third party adapter.
- Con: can only do 120V, 12 amps.
- Pro: nice case.
I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed, Hyundai.
First look: two Porsche Taycan charging cords
When Porsche brought the Taycan to Niagara Falls for its unveil, our own Fred Lambert was able to snap what looked like a beast of a charging cord, pictured above. A search of the Porsche website turns out its called the Porsche Mobile Charger Connect (PMC-Connect), and it’s pictured alongside a charger that looks just like Audi’s and is referred to simply as the “Porsche Mobile Charger” (PMC).
- The PMC: We’ve established that the Audi charger is terrific, so no complaints if Porsche uses the same model (other than please make a 5-20 & 14-30 adapter!). But we’re a bit confused, because Porsche says the basic PMC will cap out at 7.2kW, but the Audi charger can do 240V-40A, so 9.6kW. Either way though, good stuff.
- The PMC-Connect: As for the ‘Connect’ version pictured above, on the back of the unit it lists 11kW at 16A, so this is a European unit premised on 3-phase power. We expect the North American version (single-phase) will support 240V at 40A, for a total of 9.6kW. The PMC-Connect has a 5″ touchscreen, which may seem unnecessary at first (and probably is for most), but upon reflection we can see use cases. For example, if the vehicle is shared to any extent (e.g. at a dealership, or wherever), it’d be nice for staff to be able to do things like schedule charging without needing a phone app mapped to the vehicle.
It’s a shame some OEMs are still providing portable charging cords without any thought or effort. If their plan is to just tell potential customers to install a hard-wired wall unit, they’re seriously handicapping their EV sales, and EV adoption. Americans move residences a lot. People who don’t mind installing wall units underestimate how much others see it as a barrier.
Finally, if you’re considering an EV that comes with a garbage charging cord, we recommend looking into third party portable charging cords, as opposed to a wall-mounted unit. And if you want the Tesla versatility of connecting to almost any outlet, we suggest (not sponsored in any manner) the “JeslaJR” for $499 from QC Charge in California. It’s a Tesla Gen2UMC modified with the standard J1772 on the end so you can use it with other EVs.
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