Though as we’ve shown in past posts and will expand upon in future ones, electric vehicle prices, energy consumption, and ownership costs can vary greatly from one model to another. But the most critical number for many shoppers is the distance a given EV can run on a full charge.
Buying an EV that delivers a sufficient operating range to meet one’s needs can mean the difference between happily driving a zero emissions vehicle that never has to visit a gas station, and becoming stranded at the side of the road with a depleted battery.
Americans reportedly drive an average of around 1,000 miles a month, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which comes out to about 40 miles per day and makes even the shortest-range current EV practical for most motorists’ daily use. Still, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and choose a model that can go the longest distance you can afford, with 220-volt Level 2 home charging being essential. It’s no fun to have to drive with one eye on the road and another on the car’s state-of-charge meter.
Fortunately, battery technology is developing rapidly, and automakers are pushing the proverbial envelope in terms of operating range. For the 2022 model year only a few of the least-costly models, including the Mazda MX-30, Mini Cooper SE, and the base version of the Nissan Leaf can run for fewer than 200 miles before needing to be tethered to the grid. Most EVs land in the 200 and 300-mile ranges, with the new-for-2022 Lucid Air’s top model breaking the 500 mile mark.
Unfortunately, given the still-high cost of EV batteries, which account for about a third of a vehicle’s cost, the longest-range models tend to be luxury-brand models that command the highest sticker prices. These can approach, and in a few cases exceed six figures, with the aforementioned Lucid Air topping out at an eye-opening $170,650.
So the big question here is deciding how much range a particular buyer can afford that will meet the individual’s needs without having to pay top dollar for miles that under most circumstances might never be tapped.
Those who work at home, have short commutes, and/or use a vehicle primarily for around-town use can exist happily with one of the lower-priced, shorter-range models that can both save money both up-front and ongoing in terms of affordable operating costs. The Nissan Leaf S, for example, is estimated to run for 149 miles on a charge and starts at around $21,000, and that’s before deducting the one-time $7,500 federal tax credit granted to qualifying buyers, along with any state/local incentives that may apply.
Official EV range estimates, along with equivalent “fuel economy” ratings (this is expressed in terms of the equivalent “MPG-e” formula) for all EVs sold in the U.S. past and present are posted on the Environmental Protection Agency’s fueleconomy.gov website. We’re running them down for current models at the end of this post.
Keep in mind that EV range estimates are averages that are based on an instrumented laboratory analysis conducted under strictly controlled conditions. As with gas-powered cars, a motorist’s real-world range can be wildly different depending on a variety of circumstances. As they say, your mileage may vary.
For starters, carrying a full load of passengers and cargo, riding on under-inflated tires, and traversing steep terrain will tend to drain the power cells at a quicker rate. Contrary to what we’ve come to expect with gas-powered cars, EVs burn kilowatts more quickly when driven at highway speeds than in stop-and-go traffic. Towing is also a range-buster. While a wave of full-size electric pickup trucks is reaching the market, led by the Ford F-150 Lightning, GMC Hummer EV, and the Rivian R1T that boast robust towing capacities, published reports indicate that pulling a full load can result in an effective 50 percent cut, or more, of an estimated operating range.
Also, an electric car tends to run for fewer miles on a charge when it’s subjected to extreme temperatures, especially with the climate control system running. Research conducted by the AAA found that when the mercury dips to 20°F and the vehicle’s heater is in use, an average EV’s range drops by 41 percent, though other tests peg that at a lower percentage. While gasoline engines tend to generate large amounts of heat that can be leveraged to warm a car’s interior, an EV must rely 100 percent on electricity to keep one’s toes toasty.
Cold temperatures negatively affect both a battery’s performance and its ability to accept a charge. Frigid temperatures also limit an EV’s so-called regenerative braking, which recovers energy that would otherwise be lost during decelerating or stopping and sends it back to the battery. Simply put, you’ll travel fewer miles and it will take longer to charge the vehicle when the temperatures plummet. Owners can also expect an EV’s battery range to suffer in the summer as well, dropping by an average 17 percent with the air conditioning running, according to the AAA.
Those who intend to hold onto an electric vehicle for the long haul will also want to consider the fact that an EV’s battery pack will lose some of its ability to hold a full measure of kilowatts over time, however gradually, with each charge and discharge cycle. Excessive use of public Level 3 DC Fast Charging stations can further take a toll on a battery’s long-term performance. Electric cars kept in the hottest climates can be expected to lose miles per charge a bit quicker than those living in more-temperate areas.
Losing 10-20 percent of capacity down the road on a new model that’s estimated to run for 300 or more miles on a charge is noteworthy, but not necessarily debilitating. On the other hand, losing that much capacity on, say, an older model having a range of 80-100 miles can be considered pronounced. As it now stands, the cost of replacing an inoperable battery pack after several years of use would likely set an owner back more than the vehicle is worth, though its hoped the cost will drop over time. Fortunately, the batteries in all electric cars sold in the U.S. are covered under warranty for at least eight years or 100,000 miles against either a total failure (which is rare) or a specified drop in capacity.
The bottom line advice here would be to shop for a model that can accomplish at least 50 percent or more miles on a charge as one would travel in a typical day or two to avoid any unpleasant surprises on the road.
And while most EVs will suffice for modest commutes and excursions, taking an extended road trip, even with the longest-range models, requires careful planning. Routes would need to be based upon the locations of public stations along the way with Level 3 DC Fast Chargers that can being a low battery back to an 80 percent charge in around 45 minutes. EV owners can locate charging stations anywhere in the U.S. via multiple websites and smartphone apps Though their numbers are growing, especially near interstate highway exits, there are still, however, far fewer public charging units than gas stations across the U.S., and they have a reputation for being in use or even inoperable when they’re needed.
Those who frequently visit out-of-town friends and relatives, or otherwise travel beyond a given EV’s range might want to hold onto a gas or hybrid-powered model for which getting a fill-up is as close as the nearest gas station and is much quicker to accomplish. Renting a fuel-efficient internal combustion model for the family’s yearly road trip is also a viable option.
That said, here’s a look at the EPA-estimated operating ranges as of this writing for current EVs, ranked low to high:
- Mazda MX-30: 100 miles
- Mini Cooper SE: 114 miles
- Nissan Leaf: 148-226 miles
- Audi e-tron S: 181-212 miles
- Porsche Taycan: 200-227 miles
- Audi e-tron: 218-222 miles
- Hyundai Ioniq 5: 220-303 miles
- Ford F-150 Lightning: 230-300 miles
- Volvo XC40 Recharge: 223 miles
- Ford Mustang Mach-E: 224-314 miles
- Volvo C40 Recharge: 226 miles
- Kia EV6: 232-310 miles
- Jaguar i-Pace: 234 miles
- Audi e-tron GT: 238 miles
- Kia Niro EV: 239 miles
- Volkswagen ID.4: 240-260 miles
- Audi Q4: 241-250 miles
- Tesla Model Y: 244-330 miles
- Chevrolet Bolt EUV: 247 miles
- Polestar 2: 249-270 miles
- Hyundai Kona Electric: 258 miles
- Chevrolet Bolt EV: 259 miles
- Nissan Ariya: 265-300 miles
- BMW i4: 270-301 miles
- Tesla Model 3: 272-358 miles
- Cadillac Lyriq: 300 miles
- Tesla Model X: 311-348 miles
- Rivian R1T: 314 miles
- BMW iX: 324 miles
- GMC Hummer EV: 329 miles
- Mercedes-Benz EQS: 340-350 miles
- Tesla Model S: 348-405 miles
- Lucid Air: 451-520 miles
Coming up next by the numbers: What it costs to insure and maintain an electric vehicle.