Range test: How far can electric cars really go?

We tested them in cold weather earlier this year, but now the heat is on to find out how close electric cars can get to their official ranges in near-ideal summer conditions...

Electric car range test contenders

Twice a year (in the height of summer and the depths of winter) we put a selection of electric cars (EVs) through a ‘drive ’em till they die’ endurance test. The aim? To find out how far they can really go on a full charge and to see how efficiently they use the electricity stored in their batteries.

Some of the cars in this latest test (which took place in August), such as the MG 4, Genesis GV60 and Volkswagen ID Buzz, have taken part before – but there are plenty of newcomers, too, including the BYD Atto 3, Mercedes EQE and Smart #1. We’ve also got two versions of the Tesla Model 3 – an entry-level RWD and a higher-spec Long Range – to find out if it’s really worth paying extra for a bigger-battery version of an EV.

And for those who are in the market for a used EV, we also included a 10-year-old BMW i3 with 41,000 miles on the clock and a six-year-old Renault Zoe (with 33,000 miles) to see how they stack up today – models you can pick up on the second-hand market for as little as £8000. 

Read more: Complete list of real-world EV ranges

How we test real-world EV ranges

For obvious reasons, it wouldn’t be safe to deliberately run EVs out of charge on the public road, so we always use our test track in Bedfordshire.

We follow a relatively simple test route of roughly 15 miles, which includes 2.6 miles of simulated stop-start urban driving, four miles at a steady 50mph and eight miles at a constant 70mph. The rationale for the high percentage of high-speed cruising is that drivers who want to travel long distances in one hit are likely to be using the motorway network.

The 12 cars were charged to 100% and then left out in the open overnight – for roughly 14 hours in 18-23deg C ambient conditions. The following morning, they were all plugged in again to check they were fully charged before the climate control was set to 21deg and the headlights switched to auto.

The Eco (or the closest equivalent) driving mode was selected, apart from on the Zoe, because doing so limits its top speed to 60mph. The cars were left in their default regenerative braking setting – or if an ‘automatic’ or ‘adaptive’ mode was available, this was selected.

Using laptop in car

The cars were then driven repeatedly around our test route in convoy, with driver changes and a switch in running order at the end of each lap. It was a relatively muggy day and the air temperature during testing ranged from 24deg to 27deg C. That warm temperature was good for battery performance, although it meant the air-con systems in all of the cars were running continuously to cool the interiors.

The EVs with the shortest ranges

Unsurprisingly, the 10-year-old i3 ground to a halt first. It managed just 64 miles – not even enough to get you from London to Portsmouth without charging – and shows just how far EVs have come on in the past decade. Granted, the i3 would have gone slightly farther when brand new (our tests suggested the battery was at around 85% of its original capacity), although we’re talking about only an extra 10 miles or so. 

On the plus side, efficiency was relatively impressive at roughly 4.0 miles per kilowatt hour (kWh) – no doubt because the i3’s small battery means it’s a relatively light car by EV standards. Even so, its range is so limited that it’s only really worth considering as a second or third car for local trips.

Electric car rears during summer range test

You’re probably assuming the 2017 Zoe conked out next, but that wasn’t the case, surprisingly. The Abarth 500e, which, despite being a brand new, near-£40k EV, actually has a comparatively small, 37.8kWh battery. It managed just 138 miles (compared with its 157-mile official range) and displayed disappointing efficiency of 3.6 miles/kWh.

The Zoe was third to fall, though. Its 145-mile range still stacks up well compared with many new small EVs, including the Fiat 500, Honda E and Mini Electric. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the latest-generation Zoe EV50 has a larger, 52kWh battery and, in our 2021 summer range test, managed 208 miles on a full charge.

Our tests suggested the used Zoe’s battery was at roughly 95% of its original capacity, so it might have managed another eight miles or so when brand new. Less impressive, though, was its efficiency of around 3.7 miles/kWh.

Our remaining seven contenders all managed at least another 70 miles, before the Atto 3 finally gave up the ghost after 215 miles. On one hand, that mileage will be plenty for many EV buyers; on the other, the Atto 3 was the farthest adrift of its official range, missing the target by 17.3%. Its efficiency of 3.6 miles/kWh was nothing to write home about, either.

Inside Volkswagen ID Buzz while driving

Next to drop out, at 236 miles, was the ID Buzz. It actually came the closest to matching its official range (falling just 7.5% short), but it was the least efficient of all our contenders, averaging just 3.1 miles/kWh. That’s perhaps not surprising when you consider that it’s by far the biggest car here and is shaped like a brick.

Better efficiency kept the new #1 going for another nine miles (245 in total); it returned a respectable 3.9 miles/kWh. Arguably the most impressive figures of all, though, were achieved by the MG 4. Okay, a 253-mile range secured it only a mid-table finish, but this sub-£30k electric car showed up a number of far more expensive machines. Plus, its efficiency of 4.1 miles/kWh was the best of any model here that didn’t bear the Tesla badge.

However, that figure still seems fairly average when you consider that the Model 3 RWD – the cheapest car Tesla makes – achieved an incredible 4.6 miles/kWh. This isn’t some tiny runabout; it’s a 4.7-metre-long executive saloon that can do 0-60mph in 5.8sec. Its range of 262 miles isn’t half bad, either, especially when you consider that you can charge up at Tesla’s excellent dedicated Supercharger network.

Mercedes EQE and Tesla Model 3 driving

The EVs with the longest ranges

Finishing fourth and third were two cars that use an identical battery and electric motor combination: the GV60 and Hyundai Ioniq 6. The former dropped out of the running after 280 miles, while the better efficiency delivered by the latter (no doubt thanks to its more aerodynamic shape) helped it to achieve a highly respectable 292 miles and a place on the lowest step of the podium.

So, which of our remaining two contenders travelled the farthest? Well, there was only five miles in it and both managed more than 320 miles. Sheer battery size eventually won out, though, with the Model 3 Long Range grinding to a halt after 324 miles and the EQE racking up 329 miles. However, when you consider that the EQE has a 19% larger battery, costs nearly £30,000 more to buy and takes longer to charge up, such a small margin of victory perhaps isn’t so spectacular after all.

Make and model Wheel size Battery size (usable) Official range Test range Shortfall Efficiency
Mercedes EQE 300 AMG Line Premium 20in 89.0kWh 365 miles 329 miles 9.7% 3.7 miles/kWh
Tesla Model 3 Long Range 18in 75.0kWh 374 miles 324 miles 13.3% 4.3 miles/kWh
Hyundai Ioniq 6 RWD Ultimate 20in 77.4kWh 338 miles 292 miles 13.5% 3.8 miles/kWh
Genesis GV60 RWD Premium 19in 77.4kWh 321 miles 280 miles 12.9% 3.6 miles/kWh
Tesla Model 3 RWD 18in 57.5kWh 305 miles 262 miles 14.2% 4.6 miles/kWh
MG 4 Long Range SE 17in 61.7kWh 281 miles 253 miles 10.0% 4.1 miles/kWh
Smart #1 Premium 19in 62.0kWh 273 miles 245 miles 10.4% 3.9 miles/kWh
Volkswagen ID Buzz Style 20in 77.0kWh 255 miles 236 miles 7.5% 3.1 miles/kWh
BYD Atto 3 Design 18in 60.5kWh 260 miles 215 miles 17.3% 3.6 miles/kWh
Renault Zoe ZE40 R90 Dynamique Nav 16in 39.0kWh* na 145 miles na 3.7 miles/kWh
Abarth 500e Turismo 18in 37.8kWh 157 miles 138 miles 12.3% 3.6 miles/kWh
BMW i3 60Ah 19in 16.0kWh** na 64 miles na 4.0 miles/kWh

* Estimated, based on tests (originally 18.8kWh)  ** Estimated, based on tests (originally 41kWh)

Why EV efficiency matters

A few years ago, when electricity prices were dirt cheap and any EV cost much less to run than an equivalent petrol or diesel car, efficiency didn’t seem to matter that much. However, with energy prices close to an all-time high, it’s now a much bigger consideration – and you might be surprised by the difference in running costs between one electric car and another.

Take the Tesla Model 3 RWD, the most efficient of our contenders. If you charge it up exclusively at home and pay 30p per kWh, you’ll spend roughly £660 on electricity every 10,000 miles. Do all your charging at a typical public charger at, let’s say, 69p per kWh (Tesla Supercharger prices are similar but they do vary) and that cost rockets to £1520.

Genesis GV60 being plugged in

Meanwhile, 10,000 miles in the rival Hyundai Ioniq 6 costs £790 or £1830 respectively, based on the same charging fees. So, you could be spending an extra £310 on electricity every 10k miles by choosing one fairly similar EV over another.

True, many EV owners will opt to sign up to a tariff that offers cheaper overnight charging in return for slightly higher day rates. This would reduce the overall cost of charging and, as a result, the difference between models. Nevertheless, it’s still an important factor that not all EV buyers think about.

Summer vs winter

Three of our contenders – the Genesis GV60, MG 4 and Volkswagen ID Buzz – also took part in our winter range test back in February. Exactly the same route and speed profile were used on both occasions. However, it's worth noting that while the two GV60s were specified identically, the MG 4 was in SE trim this time, whereas last time we had a trophy. In addition, while both versions of the Buzz were in Style spec, the summer test car had 2oin wheels and the winter test car 21s.

Preparing for electric car winter range test

The GV60 covered an extra 29 miles in the summer test – a difference of 11.6%. The MG 4 went 57 miles farther in summer (+29.1%) and the ID Buzz added 44 miles to its tally (22.9%).

On average, the trio went 43 miles (21.2%) farther in August than in February.

Last year's EV summer range test results

Make and model Wheel size Battery size (usable) Official range Test range Shortfall Efficiency
BMW i4 eDrive40 M Sport 19in 80.7kWh 345 miles 316 miles 8.2% 3.9 miles/kWh
Tesla Model Y Long Range 19in 75.0kWh 331 miles 304 miles 8.1% 4.1 miles/kWh
Tesla Model 3 Long Range 18in 70.0kWh 360 miles 293 miles 18.6% 4.2 miles/kWh
Volkswagen ID 5 Pro Performance Style 19in 77.0kWh 315 miles 281 miles 10.5% 3.7 miles/kWh
Kia EV6 RWD GT-Line 19in 77.4kWh 328 miles 278 miles 15.2% 3.6 miles/kWh
BMW iX3 M Sport Pro 20in 74.0kWh 282 miles 253 miles 10.2% 3.4 miles/kWh
Kia Niro EV 4 17in 64.8kWh 285 miles 253 miles 10.9% 3.9 miles/kWh
MG ZS EV Long Range SE 17in 68.3kWh 273 miles 246 miles 9.7% 3.6 miles/kWh
Volvo XC40 Recharge Single Motor Plus 19in 67.0kWh 263 miles 226 miles 13.7% 3.4 miles/kWh
Cupra Born 58kWh V3 20in 58.0kWh 249 miles 219 miles 12.0% 3.8 miles/kWh

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Read more: What happens when an electric car runs out of charge? >>