One of the factors affecting the speed at which we transition away from traditional petrol and diesel cars is electric car range.
Would you get an electric car if you thought its range on a single charge might hamper your driving habits? In our range guide below, we navigate this confusing topic and answer all the frequently asked questions (FAQ):
- Definition: What do we mean by 'range'?
- Electric car range: Which types of EV should be considered?
- Maximum distance: Can I go on a long trip in an electric car?
- Official WLTP electric car range: What does it mean?
- Factors that affect range: What can I do about them?
1. Definition: What do we mean by 'range'?
All types of car – petrol, diesel or electric – have a 'range' on a full tank / battery. Here's a simple way of putting it:
Range = how far you can travel without having to ‘refuel’ your vehicle
When thinking about electric car range, people ask questions like:
- Does limited battery range mean I can never go on a long road trip again?
- How do new electric cars rank in terms of range?
- If I plug my car in to charge, how quickly can I be on my way again?
These questions are fair enough. Electric cars represent new technology and we all need to get to grips with how they work.
2. Electric car range: Which types of EV should be considered?
In practice, range only needs to be ‘managed’ if you drive the most environmentally friendly type of electric car: a BEV, or Battery Electric Vehicle.
There are two other types of electric car as well: Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) and Conventional Hybrids (HEVs). HEVs and PHEVs have both a battery and an internal combustion engine. This means their range is similar to traditional cars. When the battery runs out, you can run as normal on the petrol or diesel engine.
A BEV, on the other hand, does not have an internal combustion engine to fall back on if your battery runs out of charge.
Here are the ranges of some popular BEVs:
- Tesla Model S range: 367-379 miles
- Tesla Model 3 range: 254-348 miles
- Audi e-tron range: 209-271 miles
- Renault Zoe range: 239-245 miles
- Nissan Leaf range: 168-239 miles
- VW e-up range: 159 miles
- Honda e range: 136 miles
Some obvious conclusions jump out of this data:
- Range in a 100% electric car varies considerably from model to model
- The longest range electric car rivals some petrol / diesel cars
- If your daily commute is less than 100 miles, any of these electric cars will do
3. Maximum distance: Can I go on a long trip in an electric car?
If you take a pure electric car (BEV) on a long trip, then you do need to plan ahead. Here’s the rule of thumb:
If the distance you need to travel that day is greater than your car’s real-world range, then you will need to stop and charge.
For example, imagine a trip from Southampton in Hampshire to Windermere in the Lake District. That’s a distance of 294 miles.
If you’ve leased a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, you have an official WLTP range of 254 miles. Below we discuss how a car’s official range varies in different situations, but let’s assume for the time being your Model 3’s real-world range is about 225 miles. That’s not enough range to get you all the way to Windermere in one go.
So, you could stop on the way at Tesla’s motorway supercharger station near Stoke-on-Trent after 180 miles. After about 20 minutes of charging, your battery capacity will be at roughly 80%, and you can complete your trip to Windermere.
4. Official WLTP electric car range: What does it mean?
The EU tests all cars sold in Europe using the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).
One of the criteria they measure is the range of electric vehicles. On a car manufacturer’s website, the range advertised will normally be the official, WLTP range.
However, in the real world, WLTP range is often not achieved. As we will see in the next section, range varies depending on a multitude of factors.
5. Factors that affect range: What can I do about them?
The range of any type of car – whether petrol, diesel or electric – varies in relation to how the car is driven, the terrain, your speed, and so on.
Here we look at those factors that are particularly relevant for pure electric cars (BEVs):
If you drive an electric car from January to December, you will notice a sizeable difference in range during the year.
When it’s cold in winter, your range will be less than the official WLTP range.
By contrast, on a warm summer’s day, you may well be able to drive further on a single charge than the WLTP range would suggest.
What’s going on? An EV battery is made of lithium ‘ion’. When it’s cold, the little ions can’t move around as fast, and your car’s range reduces accordingly.
When it’s warm, the ions can move around more freely and electric car range increases.
If you have the heating on in the car, this will also use up some of your battery’s charge and your range will decrease.
Obviously you don’t want to freeze to death in winter to maintain decent range! The trick is to pre-heat the cabin in the morning while the car is still plugged in. In most modern EVs you can turn the heating on remotely using an app.
In summer, air-conditioning will have the same effect. Cooling the car’s passenger space will use up battery power and reduce range accordingly.
Renault estimates extreme heating or cooling of your EV can reduce range by as much as 30%.
If you drive an electric car around town, at low speeds, the battery seems to last for ages. Driving slowly puts very little stress on the battery and you are rewarded with extra range.
On the other hand, if you drive on a motorway at a steady 70 mph, the distance your EV can travel on a single charge decreases. The battery has to work harder to move the vehicle 1 mile on a motorway at 70 mph than it does 1 mile in a city at 30 mph.
If you’re running low on charge, and worried you might not reach your destination, slow down to eke out more range.
If you go up a hill in an EV, you will use up your car’s battery much more quickly than you would on the flat.
However, going down a hill in an electric vehicle brings surprising benefits. As you descend and lift your foot off the accelerator, the car slows down, the electric motor goes into reverse and actually charges the battery. This is known as ‘regenerative braking’.
As with traditional petrol and diesel vehicles, electric car range decreases if you accelerate hard on a regular basis. But if you drive gently, accelerating smoothly, you will get more miles out of your EV.
Nearly all electric cars now come with various ‘driving modes’, e.g. Eco, Normal, and Sport. If you want maximum range, select Eco mode. For top performance, it’s Sport. For a balance between the two, go for Normal mode.
As electric car batteries get older, they can’t be charged up as much as they could on Day 1.
For example, a brand new electric vehicle with an 80 kWh battery can be charged today at 100%. But in 5 years’ time, you might only be able to charge it up to say 95%. It would then in effect act like a 76 kWh battery (95% of 80 kWh).
This gradual loss of charge capacity means a corresponding reduction in range. Fortunately, electric car batteries seem to be holding up very well and this effect is fairly minimal, especially in the latest models with the most advanced battery technology.
We trust you've found this guide to electric car range an interesting read. Most modern electric cars enjoy excellent range on a single charge. For your daily driving, just get in, drive, come home, plug in, and repeat the next day.
If you usually just do short trips around town – and want to save money – look at one of the cheaper, compact electric cars like the Smart EQ models, Skoda CITIGOe iV, Seat Mii electric, Volkswagen e-up! or Mini Electric. You can also find all the latest deals on our special offers page.
Next time we look at the importance of electricity tariffs and how they can reduce vehicle running costs dramatically. If you are enjoying our electric vehicle guide series, please forward the link on to your friends and family to spread the word!