The truth about electric car ranges

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

How to avoid motoring scams – with a dashboard camera
How we test cars – our expert guide
Fuel economy calculator – calculate your car’s true fuel economy

Categories: Cars

Tagged as: ,

9 replies

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. I test drove the Zoe and found it really good to drive. It’s got great poke up to about 80 kph but it feels quick enough to 100 Kph. The instant throttle response is what makes the most difference. tap the throttle and you’re gone, you really have to experience it in traffic, busy junctions, and roundabouts to appreciate it.

    The motor is really light years ahead of any underpowered engine Renault would normally stick in a car like the zoe, and the high torque makes it feel a lot more than 90 HP.

    Inside it’s interior is bright but you can opt for the darker interior but there is reflection in the windscreen eliminated with polarised sunglasses.

    The touch screen system is light years ahead of BMW or Audi’s cumbersome dials and buttons, it’s a credit to Renault actually.

    Range in winter can be as low as 60 miles and 90 in summer, Here in Ireland 22 Kw AC charge points are numurous and you will never really be too far from a charge point, 1 hr to 80% @22 Kw .

    There are also many fast charge points @44 KW alongside the DC for the Leaf.

    The onboard charger in the zoe (1.8-44 Kw) is the best of any other production electric vehicle including that in the Tesla Model S. AC charging @ 22Kw really makes a huge difference along with a good charging network.

    I estimate that if I were to drive 160 miles in Summer then I would need only 1 fast charge @ 44kw or 1 @22 Kw in any half decent size town over a bite to eat as it will not be empty when you plug in so it should charge in under an hour.

    Even if it added 30 mins to a longer trip a few times a year, I’m never in that much of a rush and don;t need to put the boot down and if I had to drive 300 miles which happens very, very rarely I will take the prius as we’d keep that. Or get a loan or rent an ICE car.

    As for the battery lease ? this means that you don’t have to worry about over using the fast charger.

    Leasing the battery makes the purchase price of the car cheaper you just pay for it over x amount of years, it’s not costing extra unless you keep it many years, however, which would you rather , the option to replace the battery or have to drive a car with a depleted battery ?

    With battery leasing you can keep the ev many years and not worry about the battery and 2nd hand buyers won’t need to worry about the battery.

  7. Interestingly I’m constantly beating the expected range figure for my Model S.

    I have the 60, not the P85 as tested. With the 19″ wheels, which are quieter and more fuel efficient, no heavy glass roof, lack of air suspension and a slightly lower kerb weight of the smaller battery pack, I’m achieving 180 miles from a standard charge as opposed to 165!

    Regen braking is the biggest key here. Judge when to lift off the accelerator, and pull up at lights without resorting to the brake pedal, and it makes a massive difference.

    1. Just to point out that the zoe in the pic has the 17″ wheels which are an optional extra that no-one should take as they do not come with the Michelin Energy EV efficient tyres. They decrease range by about 8-9% compared to the 15″ and 16″ standard wheels with the special tyres.

      Not sure why Renault even offers a downgrade as an expensive upgrade or provided these wheels/tyres on a test car to which? They do look nice, though.

      Its also worth mentioning that Renault are pretty upfront that the NEDC range of 130 is unrealistic for most drivers but it is a good way to compare cars being tested under identical conditions.

      Another thing to note is that temperature plays a big role in range (so I hope all these cars were tested in the same conditions) Renault claims a winter range of 64 miles and summer range of 93 miles.

      There is a new version of the zoe available with a new engine, the R240 with a NEDC range of 149 miles. Renault claims 105 in summer and 71 miles in winter.

      Over long journeys in winter with multiple charges, the batteries warm up and will partially offset cold weather. Also, while plugged in, the cabin can be remotely preheated which will help warm up the batteries without losing range.

  8. I’ve almost 13,000 miles on my Nissan Leaf since January 2015 and I love it, that’s having to restrict my usage for the lease. I drive 85 miles per day and until recently had to charge up for 10 mins on the way home but got me home with 18-25% battery remaining. now I have free work charging.

    Compared to a petrol/diesel car at the same cost the EV works out by far the cheapest car to drive.

    People talk about where the electricity comes from ? well they don’t think about where petrol and diesel comes from do they ? They don’t realise the billions of kwh’s of electricity used at the refinery to produce petrol and diesel when this could be instead used to charge EV batteries. This all before the oil is extracted, refined and even transported to the fuel stations, (yes imagine all that energy ?)

    I love how the leaf drives, lightning fast throttle response, good torque and it’s notably more powerful than the Zoe.

    I read on the internet where renault have ridiculously removed 44 kw ac charging for 22 kw in favour of a more efficient drive train, any potential zoe buyers should check this out if this is the case then a leaf is the one to get. I don’t know when this change takes place but it’s a step backwards for sure !

    I love the leaf and won;t ever go back to petrol or diesel again.

Create account

You can leave a reply without having a WordPress account, but if you do register you can upload an avatar. A WordPress account is not connected to your Which? login and cannot be used to login to or any other Which? services.

Sign up