The truth about electric car ranges

by , Cars 25/04/2014
Renault Zoe

We’ve already been wowed by the high tech features on new electric models from Tesla and BMW, but the most important question that surrounds electric cars remains their battery range. Put simply, the battery needs to let you travel as far or further than a full tank of petrol or diesel for electric cars to be a real rival to the models that still guzzle fossil fuel.

We praised the Tesla Model S previously for its beefy battery which claims to be capable of whisking this luxury car 312 miles per charge. But how does this claimed range from the battery match up to our testing? Take a look at our infographic below.

Car reviews - read our test lab verdicts on the Tesla, BMW and Renault

Claimed range vs actual range on electric cars

Electric Car Range

All fall short of claimed range figures

The Tesla Model S not only has the best range but comes closest to its official figure, hitting 83% of the claimed range. The BMW trails with 76% of its range figure, while the Renault Zoe chalks up a poor 57%.

Importantly, this means that neither the BMW nor the Renault can break the 100 mile mark, so you’ll be forced to stop for top up charges on longer journeys. The Tesla though, should offer enough real world range for most drivers of over 250 miles.

Petrol rivals offer up to seven times greater range

Compare the Zoe to an equivalent petrol Renault Clio and the petrol car can not only travel seven times further on a full tank of fuel, but it gets a full 29% closer to its official economy figure. At the other end of the scale the Tesla runs out of charge around 190 miles before an equally fast BMW M5.

For many drivers a real world range of around 75-90 miles will be more than adequate, but it’s disappointing that the Renault and BMW in fall so far short of the official figures, although both companies do publish more real world range figures as well.

The next generation of cars may be electric, but it remains to be seen whether the current batch of electric cars can travel far enough between charges to win many buyers – especially when you consider how many hours they take to charge.

More on this

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How we test cars - our expert guide
Fuel economy calculator - calculate your car’s true fuel economy

5 comments

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Paul Horrell

Why are we surprised by this? Electric car range is measured on the same test protocol as mpg for petrol or diesel cars. It involves driving impossibly gently. No-one in the real world matches their official figure for petrol or diesel mpg, and for the same reason real-world electric range will fall short of the claimed ‘official’ EU test-cycle range.

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Mike Hale

Nice to see this review. I tried a Zoe out and was impressed by the performance, but was less impressed by the running costs as compared to a standard economic fossil fuel car (OK I know the electricity I’m putting in is partially fossil fuel derived). Renault hire you the battery or the charging lead although the Zoe is cheaper than the BMW, Tesla and other offerings. The reviewers hit at the range, but many people do less than 20 miles a day so charging it shouldn’t be a problem. However unless you have access to a second car, are prepared to take the train or hire a car, long journeys aren’t realistic. Anyway, I’ll stick to my old oil burner for a while.

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Rob

I live in rural Aberdeenshire and commute 50 miles per day and have to drive at least 14 to shop. These are really of no use to rural drivers. What happens to the battery when the temperature drops? Temperature here in the winter regularly fall below freezing. Minus 7 is not uncommon. What would happen if you were trying to get home in a blizzard, or worse Travelling a high level route in blizzard and the battery went? There are some safety issues to consider with these cars!
Also you use mainly fossil fule derived electricity for these cars, so why are they so eco friendly?

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Graham

The range will always be an issue. In a petrol or diesel car if your running low you pull into a service station top up with fuel (and empty your wallet!) in minutes and then you’re on your way again. The answer has to be having a back up engine. A pure electric vehicle isn’t going to to be practical as a sole vehicle for any sort of household.

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Ronald Booth

We are buying the Renaul Zoe and I wonder if the charging adaptor which apparently is not favoured by Renault is a practical way of charging when the official charger is not available? Say when you are a friend’s house!

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