One of the things my time in the auto business has revealed to me is that the first question most people thinking of buying an electric vehicle (EV) want to be answered is how far can an electric car go on a full charge of its battery before it needs recharging again?
Electric cars can go between 58 and 335 miles on a single charge of their battery, depending on the model and the size of the battery pack. That’s quite a spread, but as the U.S. Department of Transportation has found the majority of Americans drive an average of 40 miles per day, an electric car is a practical option for many of us. Here I’m going to look at some of the models currently available, battery recharge rates, how realistic these claimed ranges are, and what factors impact on the driving range of an electric car.
Smart EQ fortwo – 58-mile range
The Smart EQ fortwo is the smallest and most affordable EV in the market, but it also has the shortest range of any EV you can buy at the moment as well. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but with a starting MSRP of more than $23,000 you’re not getting a lot of car for your money, literally.
Hyundai Ioniq Electric – 124-mile range
The Ioniq is available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric forms, and it was the first vehicle model designed to offer all three electrified forms and no gas-powered option. The 124-mile range is about par-for-the-course for an affordable EV, but you can do much better for not a lot more money if the range is a big factor in your buying decision.
Nissan Leaf – 150 and 226-mile ranges
Easily the biggest-selling EV in the world, the Nissan Leaf is probably the first model most people think of when it comes to EVs in the same way the Toyota Prius used to be the hybrid that everyone thought of first for so long. The standard 150-mile range isn’t bad, but the introduction of a model with a larger 62 kWh battery, instead of the standard model’s 40 kWh unit, was a smart move and means the Leaf now has one of the longer ranges in its segment. With so many new rivals appearing all the time, Nissan had to do something to keep the Leaf competitive, and the revised styling doesn’t hurt it either.
Kia Niro EV – 239-mile range
This is probably where it starts to get tempting for the average car buyer to start thinking about going fully electric. The Niro EV is an SUV (sort of) for a start, and that’s a big advantage over the likes of the Leaf and Ioniq in these SUV-obsessed times. It costs about $9k more than a standard Nissan Leaf S, but only a couple of thousand dollars more than the 226-mile range Leaf S Plus.
Tesla Model S Long Range – 335-mile range
Despite ongoing financial and production challenges, Tesla is still very much the first name in luxury electric vehicles. The Model S Long Range has the longest range in its portfolio, but even the standard Model 3 is good for 220 miles on a single charge and it only costs from $35,000, which is less than a Leaf S Plus. The Model S Long Range costs from $83,000.
Jaguar I-Pace – 234-mile range
You can get a much longer range than the Jaguar electric SUV delivers for a fraction of the cost with a Tesla Model 3 Long Range, but there’s a lot more to the I-Pace than its range. The only thing stopping the Jag from making electric the only way to go for the majority of car buyers is the $76,500 price ticket it starts with. The I-Pace was named World Car of the Year and European Car of the Year in its first year on sale and in its first few months on sale racked-up more than 62 major awards.
Audi e-tron – 204-mile range
The Audi e-tron is a direct challenger to the sensational Jaguar I-Pace, but even though its starts at about $5,000 less than the Jag, the comparative lack of range might still make people see the I-Pace as the better bet. The Audi has been well regarded from the start though, and there will no doubt be longer-range models available before too long.
How long it takes to charge up the battery of an EV is one of the biggest reasons why more people don’t already drive EVs. How long an EV takes to charge depends on the battery, the vehicle’s charger and the charging point being used to charge the vehicle. Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, the more expensive models tend to have faster charge rates because the faster onboard charging systems cost a lot more money than the slower ones employed by the more affordable models.
There are three types of charging point currently available, which are Level 1, Level 2 and DC Fast Chargers.
- Level 1 – This is the most basic form of charging and all it requires is a grounded three-prong 120-volt outlet you have at home. Naturally, this is the slowest form of charger and one that you’d probably have at home, and it typically takes about an hour to add 5 miles of range to a battery (5 RPH). Level 1 chargers are only really suitable if you’re only going to be doing the average 40 miles per day in your EV because it will take eight hours to put that amount of charge into your battery.
- Level 2 – These can be in the home or used by public charging stations, but they do require a 240-volt supply instead of the standard 120-volts. Charging rates for these can vary quite a bit depending on the acceptance rate of the vehicle and the maximum amount of current that’s available. As a rough guide, this type of charger could be expected to provide about 180 miles of charge to a battery in that eight-hour period with a typical 30-amp circuit.
This is the type of charger you’ll find in public charging stations most of the time and the standard charging plug fits all current EVs except Teslas, which you have to have an adapter for.
- DC Fast Chargers (Level 3) – These are undeniably the future of public chargers as far as we can know at the moment, but they’re certainly not as straightforward as Level 1 and 2 units. The technology here is changing faster than automakers can keep up with it. The most common Level 3 fast chargers at the moment are 120 kW units, and these can charge the average battery to 80% of its maximum charge in around 20 minutes. That could be quicker, but most vehicles can only use up to 50 kW at the moment. Chargers of 350 kW and more are in development, so before we know it you could be able to fully charge a long-range EV in little more than the time it takes to fill up a tank of gas.
The truth about those claimed ranges
It probably won’t come as shock to too many of you, but the ranges claimed by manufacturers for their electric vehicles are not exactly guaranteed. To be fair, that’s no different to the claimed fuel economy ratings for gas and diesel vehicles that have really got themselves a bad rep in the last few years. And in defense of the manufacturers and the EPA in the matter of EV driving ranges on a full charge, there are a number of factors that can affect the performance of a battery.
The way you drive obviously has a huge bearing on how much range you get out of an EV, so if you’re heavy on the accelerator you’re not going to get anywhere near the optimum range. But even if you drive like your great-grandma would, if it’s particularly cold outside you could see your hoped-for range drop dramatically.
On the more positive side, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence of drivers in the real word getting considerably better ranges from their EVs than the claimed figures, which really does make a refreshing change from what we’re used to with mpg claims.
Of course, electric vehicles are still very much in their infancy, but there are already some exciting developments in the pipeline that will definitely banish any negative preconceptions of electric cars that might still exist. We already see and hear plenty about electric supercars with the equivalent of more than 1,000 horsepower and estimated performance figures that will make a Bugatti Chiron blush, but more affordable models are getting more exciting too.
Ranges of 300-400 miles could start to become commonplace from as soon as 2020, and Tesla is claiming its new Roadster will offer a potential range of up to 620 miles with the right charging infrastructure and a 0-60mph time of just 1.9 seconds.
Even if you haven’t considered an electric car yet, it probably won’t be long until you do when you see what arrives in the next couple of years.