Range Anxiety: Real-world Testing Shows EV Winners and Losers

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
range anxiety real world testing shows ev winners and losers

Much like with gasoline-powered vehicles, just how far you’ll travel in an electric car before your “tank” runs dry depends on driving style and the peculiarities of your chosen route.

A British publication has now put a range of electric vehicles, most available (or soon to be available) in the U.S., through their paces, reporting back on whether owners can expect to recoup every last mile promised by the manufacturers and the EPA. Your mileage may indeed vary.

EVs are more at home in the city, and not just because of the plethora of potential plug-in points. Range drops at highway speeds; there’s more aerodynamic drag and less regenerative braking to add juice back into the battery pack. However, day-to-day activities will surely mean spending at least some of your time on the freeway, or perhaps a lonely, rural two-lane.

To get an accurate return from each vehicle, What Car? created a mixed driving route along a 19.4-mile test track, simulating stoplight-to-stoplight driving, rural cruising, and freeway travel. A speed and route profiler was installed to give each test driver the same instructions. The cars then ran the course — twice for vehicles with a smaller battery capacity, three times for the big boys. Weather at the time was “mild,” which in the UK probably means damp and fairly chilly. Cabin temperature was set to room temperature (21C, or 70F); all headlights were illuminated.

Skipping any vehicle not sold (or slated) for North American buyers, the tests revealed, not at all surprisingly, that the Smart Fortwo EQ Cabrio holds a rightful place at at the bottom of the range ladder. With an EPA-rated range of 58 miles, the Smart is truly a city car. That said, the little two-seater improved on its rating in the real-world tests, returning 59 miles before the lights went dark.

Moving up into vehicles with ranges that might take you miles from a Starbucks, two small, affordable hatchbacks returned the same driving distance. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Volkswagen e-Golf are rated at 124 and 125 miles, respectively, in the U.S., but the UK tests showed both models collapsing in exhaustion after 117 miles.

Another small German put some ground between itself and the e-Golf, as the BMW i3, upgraded for 2017 with a more energy dense battery, traversed 121 miles before entering the Stone Age. Its EPA rating? 114 miles.

Nissan’s Leaf, which boasts an EPA range of 151 miles, remains the longest-running EV on the market, with a second-generation model bowing for 2018. Put to the test, the Leaf returned 128 miles, a somewhat disappointing showing. Also disappointing was the base Tesla Model S, also known as the 75D. Rated for 259 miles of red, white, and blue range, the 75D left the Brits un-wowed with 204 miles of real-world prowess.

Much to the testers’ satisfaction, the Jaguar I-Pace SUV, rated for 234 miles in the U.S., slunk down the test route until it eventually tapped out — after 253 miles. Impressive abilities for this all-electric cat. The real stud, however, was not the sure-footed Brit. Rather, the best range of all vehicles tested came from the Hyundai Kona Electric, a vehicle rated for 258 miles of range. The Kona completed the test with 259 miles of real-world range.

You’ll notice that there’s a few vehicles missing in this test, at least from an American perspective. For one, the Tesla Model 3 didn’t get a turn on the track, nor did the long-ranged Model S and X in 100D guise. Same story for the Chevrolet Bolt, a popular EV rated for 238 miles in the United States. Past tests of the Bolt reveal the ability to maximize that range figure under certain driving conditions, so it would have been nice to see one put to the test.

Regardless, the publication’s testing gives would-be owners a sense of what they might expect should they sign the note on a new electric vehicle.

[Images: Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan]

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  • Jimmyy Jimmyy on Nov 07, 2018

    My 2012 Camry Hybrid will travel up to 600 miles on a tank of gas. But, it can go as low as 500 miles on a tank in cool weather. Regardless, until I see the same level of range in an electric, I will keep the hybrid. Why would I pay a ton of money to trade into a vehicle that gets half the range.

    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 08, 2018

      Answer: If range is all you care about, then there is no reason to get an EV. My 13 Optima Hybrid can go 650+ miles on a tank of gas if driven carefully (40 mpg highway, 17 gallon tank). I once drove it across PA and back without refilling, with lots of range left over. But it has terrible driveability, is slow off the line, and still requires all the maintenance of an ICE. EVs of any brand offer smooth, quiet, snappy performance, without the constant maintenance of an ICE. Some people value the driving and ownership qualities of an EV more than just range between refilling.

  • Skloon Skloon on Nov 08, 2018

    I was thinking about this Tuesday- my usual commute of about 8km takes 15 minutes at rush hour, Tuesday it was 50 minutes due to trains, accidents and idiots- as it was -12c I wonder what that would have done to an electric cars range- most of the battery usage would be keeping me warm

  • Kcflyer on one hand it at least wont have dirty intake valves like Honda's entire lineup of direct injection ice vehicles. on the other hand a CRV offers more room, more range, faster fueling and lower price, hmm
  • Tassos BTW I thought this silly thing was always called the "Wienermobile".
  • Tassos I have a first cousin with same first and last name as my own, 17 years my junior even tho he is the son of my father's older brother, who has a summer home in the same country I do, and has bought a local A3 5-door hatch kinds thing, quite old by now.Last year he told me the thing broke down and he had to do major major repairs, replace the whole engine and other stuff, and had to rent a car for two weeks in a touristy location, and amazingly he paid more for the rental ( Euro1,500, or $1,650-$1,700) than for all the repairs, which of course were not done at the dealer (I doubt there was a dealer there anyway)
  • Tassos VW's EV program losses have already been horrific, and with (guess, Caveman!) the Berlin-Brandenburg Gigafactory growing by leaps and bounds, the future was already quite grim for VW and the VW Group.THis shutdown will not be so temporary.The German Government may have to reach in its deep pockets, no matter how much it hates to spend $, and bail it out."too big to fail"?
  • Billccm I had a 1980 TC3 Horizon and that car was as reliable as the sun. Underappreciated for sure.