Lunar Rover vs modern electric cars: how do they compare?
On the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, we take a look at the electric car that was developed for later missions and how it compares with earthbound electric models you can buy today...
After decades when they were, at best, an eccentric choice, electric cars have come of age; many are now good enough to go head to head with petrol and diesel rivals, and sales are growing fast.
The Kia e-Niro, for example, is such a brilliant all-rounder that we named it our Car of the Year at the 2019 What Car? Awards, while the likes of the Audi E-tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model 3 have taken desirability to new levels. But how do these vehicles compare with perhaps the most famous electric car of them all?
As NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 making the first Moon landing, we put the Lunar Rover head-to-head with its modern descendants to see how far we've come (and, yes, we know that the rover wasn’t actually used until 1971).
One of the things that makes the e-Niro such a game changer is that it combines its everyday usability with a surprisingly affordable price: £32,995 after the government’s £3500 electric car grant is factored in.
By contrast, the four Lunar Rovers are estimated to have cost US taxpayers $38m, or £7.6m per car at the 1971 exchange rate.
The Lunar Rover was designed to have a range of up to 57 miles. However, in reality it never went more than 4.7 miles from the lander, because NASA decided the astronauts needed to be able to walk back if there was a breakdown.
As a bonus, its warranty lasts for five years, even if your mileage is the equivalent of going to the Moon and back.
Most bespoke electric cars have their motors on the axles, while those based on conventional models (such as the Volkswagen e-Golf) house them under the bonnet, where the engine would usually be. However, the Lunar Rover used four 0.25-horsepower motors mounted within its wheels.
This layout frees up space, reduces overall weight and improves efficiency. However, it also increases unsprung weight, which has a detrimental effect on ride comfort and handling.
Speaking of wheels, the Lunar Rover's were enormous, with a 32in diameter, while instead of conventional tyres, titanium chevrons provided traction. Even today, with big wheels very fashionable, 22in is generally the maximum.
There’s no 0-62mph time for the Lunar Rover, principally because it wasn’t capable of anything like 62mph. But high-spec Teslas are among the fastest accelerating cars on the road, with the Model S needing as little as 2.4sec.
We said the Lunar Rover couldn’t get anywhere near 62mph and we weren’t exaggerating; it’s highest recorded speed was 6.8mph.
As for the Model S, that tops out at 155mph, while the likes of the E-tron and I-Pace also have more performance than you'll ever need, with both able to reach 124mph.
In addition to two astronauts and the various equipment they required to stay alive, the Lunar Rover was designed to shift 27kg of moon rocks.
While we don't have directly comparable figures, we can tell you that the I-Pace has room for seven carry-on suitcases and the Model 3 up to 10.
With a requirement to keep weight down, equipment on the Lunar Rover was strictly limited to essential items: a communications antennae, a navigational gyroscope and a TV camera to relay footage back to Earth.
The e-Niro also has a camera, albeit one designed to help with parking. Plus, you get climate control, automatic lights and wipers, leather upholstery, heated front seats, sat-nav, and an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
NASA was literally shooting for the Moon when it developed the Lunar Rover, and there's no doubt that it was the right car for the job. However, as you'd probably expect, today's earthbound electric models are better in every way except exclusivity.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
As good as many of the latest electric cars are, the fear that their batteries will run flat before you get to where you’re going continues to put many people off. So, What Car? has developed a test that shows their Real Range between charges. Here we reveal the best and worst performers.
18. Smart Forfour EQ
- Real Range 57 miles
- Miles per kWh 2.9
- Full charge cost £2.42*
- Cost per mile £0.042
With an 80bhp electric motor, the Forfour EQ feels much quicker than its 0-62mph time of 12.7sec would suggest. Plus, it handles well because the bulk of its weight is positioned lower down than in the petrol models.
Sadly, the electric ForFour travelled just 57 miles between charges – the smallest Real Range figure of any car we’ve tested.
17. Smart Fortwo EQ Cabrio
- Real Range 59 miles
- Miles per kWh 2.9
- Full charge cost £2.43
- Cost per mile £0.042
The two-seater Fortwo travelled two miles farther than the four-seater Forfour, but range anxiety is still likely to be a major problem.
It’s a shame, because the EQ is cheaper to run and more composed than any conventional Fortwo.
16. Volkswagen e-Up
- Real Range 66 miles
- Miles per kWh 3.5
- Full charge cost £2.28
- Cost per mile £0.035
Volkswagen’s smallest electric car is a version of the Up city car, meaning it’s great to drive and smart inside, but not all that roomy.
The e-Up is also a lot more expensive than its petrol-engined sisters, despite having a very limited range.
=14. Hyundai Ioniq Electric
- Real Range 117 miles
- Miles per kWh 3.9
- Full charge cost £3.57
- Cost per mile £0.030
The Ioniq is really three cars in one; it’s available as a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a fully electric car. In the latter form it has a Real Range of just 117 miles, but enough torque to make for brisk acceleration around town.
The Ioniq also benefits from a smart interior, and our recommended Premium trim gets sat-nav and heated front seats as standard. However, the ride is unsettled at low speeds.