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

  • Lou_BC Murilee is basically correct on the trim levels. People tend to refer to Ford's full-sized cars as "Galaxie 500" or "Galaxie's" even though that's just the mid level trim. I was never a fan of the '69 snout or any of the subsequent models. The vacuum controlled headlight covers typically failed. It was a heavy clunky system also found on the Mercury's like the Cougar. The XL's and LTD's could be purchased with factory bucket seats and a center console with a large shifter, similar to the type of throttle on an airplane. The late 60's era Ford cars had coil springs in the rear which rode nice. The shape of the fender wells did not lend themselves to fitting larger tires. The frame layout carried on to become the underpinnings of the Panther platform. I noticed that this car came with disc brakes in the front. There was a time when disc's were an upgrade option from drum brakes. Ford's engines of similar displacement are often assumed as being from the same engine families. In '69 the 429 was the biggest engine which was in the same family as the 460 (385 series). It was a true big block. In 1968 and earlier, the 428, 427, 390's typically found in these cars were FE block engines. The 427 side oiler has always been the most desired option.
  • Drew8MR Minivans are expensive new if you are just buying them for utility. Used minivans are often superfund sites in back compared to the typical barely used backseats in a lot of other vehicles and you aren't going to get a deal just because everything is filthy, broken and covered in spilled food and drink.
  • Arthur Dailey This is still the only 'car' show that our entire family enjoys. This is not Willie Mays with the Mets style of decline. More like Gretzky with the Blues. It may not be their 'best' work but when it works the magic is still there.
  • Cprescott Are there any actual minvans left? Honduh and Toyoduh are bloated messes - the Kia Carnival as well. These vehicles are within inches of a 1960's short wheelbase Ford Econoline in size. Hardly mini.
  • Arthur Dailey Ford was on a roll with these large cars. The preferred colours being either green or brown. The brown was particularly 'brougham'. Chrysler vehicles also seemed particularly popular in green during that era. Ford's 'aircraft' inspired instrument 'pod' for the driver rather than the 'flat' instrument panel was deemed 'futuristic' at the time. Note that this vehicle does not have the clock. The hands and numbers are missing. Having the radio controls on the left side of the driver could however be infuriating. Although I admire pop-up/hideaway headlights, Ford's vacuum powered system was indeed an issue. If I left my '78 T-Bird parked for more than about 12 hours, there was a good chance that when I returned the headlight covers had retracted. The first few times this happened it gave me a 'start' as I feared that I may have left the lights on and drained the battery.