With high gas prices and exciting new EV models on the market, you may be looking for an electric car that scratches your road trip itch. We've got you. We suggest some road trip selection criteria if you're looking for a new EV, and follow up with some best practices for your next journey.
Road Trip Worthy EV Criteria
Electric cars are far more road-trip worthy than people think. Of course, there are still some considerations, such as your route and what sort of flexibility you have along the road, but lots of Recurrent drivers have successful journeys with their EVs. For maximum miles per day, you'll want a combination of high range (how far your can go on a single charge) and fast recharge time (so you can get those electrons and get back on the road). As with any road trip car, it's also good to think about cargo space. Since many early EVs were compact, our recommendations are mostly roomy cars for this reason.
Range is so much more than the EPA number on the window sticker of a new electric car. Since range depends so much on factors like temperature, drive speed, and vehicle age, you should make sure to familiarize yourself with the specific EV you'll be driving prior to a road trip. If you don't have the opportunity to do so, such as if you're renting an EV specifically for a trip, it's worth doing some research and planning a conservative route that accounts for extra charge stops - just in case. For your first time, we recommend underestimating the expected range until you get the hang of things.
"EPA ratings of range for EVs and mpg for ICE vehicles are much the same. They're good for comparing vehicles when car shopping but only a very rough guide for trip planning. Neither is a fixed number that any driver will consistently achieve."
Other things to note:
1. At highway speeds, you will get less range than when running around town, so it’s important to choose an EV that will set you up for success. Also, consider a route that lets you slow down and enjoy the ride.
2. Charging stations may be far apart on your journey, so in addition to a strong range, you should map out your charging plans.
In this article, we will look primarily at EVs that have range of over 300 miles, which should be able to take you 3-4 hours on the highway. Bear in mind that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends stopping every 2-3 hours anyhow, and trying to limit daily drive time to 8 hours. Why? Frequent stops dramatically improve safety by reducing driver fatigue and distraction. They also mean that your range may not matter as much as your charging speed.
If, like nearly 80% of EV drivers, you're used to charging up at home overnight, then on-the-go, DC fast charging is sure to be a bit of a different experience for you. DC fast charging is a very quick way to refuel, but it can also be expensive. Most importantly - and unfortunately - public charging infrastructure has a long road ahead of it, and reliability depends on where you are and what network you're using. For instance, while Electrify America gets a lot of flack for its poor uptime, one Recurrent member driving across the southeast US found otherwise:
"They have lots of stations, most of which have a minimum of 4 units (some larger). They are easy to find and fast. I was able to charge my 2019 Kona from about 25% to 80% in 30 minutes. My car charges at about 75kw. They have several different charge rate capabilities and you can use any of them as long as it is over your car's rated speed. Their fastest charges at up to 350 and the slowest up to 50. They also had some at up to 150. I used both the 150 and 350 units successfully
On the other hand, most Tesla drivers report great reliability and uptime with the Supercharger network, although some wish for better integration with CCS stations. If you know you're heading into an area with only CCS chargers, consider getting an adaptor for your Tesla.
"We took our EV on a 1500 mile road trip. Traveling to and from wasn’t a problem, followed our Tesla directions and always had plenty of Super Chargers to get us there. The one concern was once we got there, the nearest Super Charger was an hour away."
And regardless of what you drive, we highly suggest creating back-up or contingency plans to prepare for unexpectedly closed or failed charging stations. Many recent year EVs are also equipped with on-board route planners that include chargers. The US Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website hosts a map pinpointing electric vehicle charging stations across the country. Apps like Plugshare or A Better Route Planner (ABRP, recently purchased by Rivian) are also great to have on your phone, or integrated into your on-board navigation. Before you head out, learn how you can filter results by charger types, connectors, and search by location.
"ABRP is also able to connect directly to Teslas and some other cars via your account. Doing that, it will use live data on the vehicle efficiency, removing the need to enter it manually. You do need the paid version to enable this feature, however."
Be sure to know your car’s maximum charging rate, too. If you have one of the models with a high charge speed, look for high voltage chargers along the way. For example, if your car has a capacity for 150 kW, you won’t be able to take advantage of that speed if you can only find 50 kW chargers. Remember that the length of your charging stops depends on the charging speed, so if you only have access to Level 2 or 50 kW chargers, you’ll need to plan for longer stops.
A lot of EV drivers worry that fast charging on road trips will degrade their batteries and cause premature range loss. Luckily, we do not have any evidence that occasional fast charging has a profound effect. Long term use, or fast charging under stress conditions such as extreme heat may be a different story, but the casual road-tripper should not worry. But, a good thing to know for both your battery and your wallet: try to stop fast charging at 80% capacity. A lot of charging stations have Level 2 chargers where you can “top off” your car’s battery past 80%. Since most cars throttle fast charge speeds above 80%, it is often faster to switch to a Level 2 charger once you hit that point. But like all things EV, do what you need. If DC fast charging is your only option and you need 100% range to get to your next stop, go for it. Just know that it may take longer to go from 80% to 100% than it did to hit 80%.
Pro tip: Try to make the most of your charging times. If there are no errands to run or sights to see near a charger, bring a book, portable speaker, or yoga mat for stretching. Making the most of your charging time can enhance being present on the journey!
Here are some popular roadtrip models with data you need to know:
Tesla Model Y
The Tesla Model Y is like a Model 3 hatchback with an option for a ‘child-sized’ third row. Considered a crossover SUV, the Model Y holds more cargo and has some extra interior space than its sedan counterpart – perfect for a road trip. Some reviewers have been disappointed by its handling, and critics propose that the Model Y doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the 3, other than its roomier cargo space. Nonetheless, it has taken the spot of top selling EV.
Much like other models, the Model Y hosts nearly every function through the large, slim, infotainment display in the middle of the dashboard – everything from climate control to the speedometer is shown on this display. Additionally, the Model Y offers Tesla’s advanced autopilot driving system with safety and assistance features to help you on a long trip. One team member also notes that Teslas come equipped with “caraoke” which is a great perk for longer trips and really helps get into the road trip spirit.
The estimated driving range of a Model Y depends on the year and trim but generally falls between 240 and 330 miles and a battery size between 60 and 75 kWh. Importantly, the Model Y tends to have a Real Range of 60-80% of its EPA range, and this may be even lower in cold or hot temperatures with climate control on. It's a perfect example of why it's a good idea to get to know your range before hitting the road - or at least reading up on what to expect.
However, like all Teslas, the Model Y is a champ when it comes to charging reliability and speed. It can go from 0-80% charge in 20 mins with a 210kW charger, 30 mins with a 120kW, and 1.2 hours with a 50kW. As always, all these speeds are under ideal conditions, so if you’re in a rush, pad your charge breaks.
Hyundai Ioniq 5
The Hyundai IONIQ 5 is the first of Hyundai’s new, electric-first platform. It has a lot of engineering and designs shared by the Kia EV6. It has won awards around the world, has lightning fast charging, and has helped bring EVs into a more mainstream conversation. Like Tesla, Hyundai built out its own highway assist software, which the Ioniq Guy tests out.
The IONIQ 5 comes with a 58 or 77.4 kWh battery, an estimated range of 220 or 303 miles (AWD vs RWD) and it starts at $44K. Although it no longer qualifies for the $7500 federal tax credit, Hyundai is offering lease deals that pass along the savings to the lesee. Overall, drivers find it a great value EV with generous cargo space, efficient use of electricity, and advanced driving aids and technology. One of our Recurrent members uses an Ioniq 5 for ride sharing and frequently gets more than the EPA range, driving down business costs.
The IONIQ 5 has the ability to recharge from 10% to 80% in only 18 minutes when charging from a state-of-the-art 800V DC fast charger under ideal conditions, and 25 minutes on a more standard, 400V public charger. While these are impressive, industry-leading charge speeds, drivers should note that it’s hard to find 350 kW/800V chargers. A quick search on Charge Finder shows that the maximum charge speed near Brooklyn, New York, is a single 250 kW Tesla charger at the airport. The maximum charge speed for other companies in the area is 150 kW.
Hyundai offers two years of unlimited 30-minute complimentary charging sessions with Electrify America when you buy a new Ioniq 5.
The Ford Mustang Mach-E is a handsome and sporty all-electric SUV crossover, offering both performance and range, as well as a well-appointed cabin and loads of in-car tech. Zipping from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds, this wagon-like hatchback/SUV crossover is pleasingly quick. The Mach-E now offers all-wheel-drive options, plenty of range with a larger battery pack, a big center touchscreen that is easy to use, and a substantial amount of cargo space.
Not to be outdone by its competitors, Ford launched a competitor to Tesla’s autopilot in mid-2021 called BlueCruise. This is an add-on to the preexisting Ford Co-Pilot360 software that includes lane assist, collision warning and braking, and blind spot monitoring.
The Mach-E was released in 2021 with a standard 68 kWh battery and an optional 88 kWh extended pack before being upgraded to either 70 kWh or 91 kWh of usable battery. It boasts between 211 and 315 miles range at full charge, depending on configuration. The higher performance, all-wheel drive trims generally get lower range because they are less efficient. Ford says the standard-range pack can charge from 10 to 80 percent in 38 minutes, while the extended-range pack can charge from 10 to 80 percent in 45 minutes, both on with a max charge of 150 kW.
When we first wrote this article, the Rivian R1T was still rare to find on the streets. But by September 2023, this "electric adventure vehicle" is no longer hard to find. Depending on the trim, it gets between 260 and 400 miles of range, plenty of cargo space, and built in trip planning courtesy of A Better Route Planner. The real road trip perks, however, are the 11,000 lb. towing capacity, the ability to wade in up to 3 feet of water, a panoramic roof, and 62 cubic feet of storage. The advertised camping kitchen never made it to production, but you can add on rooftop crossbars and a perfectly fitting tent to ensure more rugged road tripping than the standard roadside motel.
Despite its adventure focus, Rivian comes standard with safety features such as lane assist, collision prevention, and blind spot monitoring. The company promises additional safety and software updates over-the-air, as well. Finally, the R1T can charge at up to 200 kW, meaning that you can add 140 miles in 20 minutes. Rivian is also building out its own proprietary charging network called the "Adventure Network," which will be 100% powered by renewable energy. It is also CCS compatible, so you can use other chargers along your route.
Road trips with other cars are doable, but come with some compromises
The Nissan LEAF, released in 2011, is generally considered the first widely available EV. Although the original range was only around 70 miles, it has come a long way. Starting in 2018, the LEAF was revamped to include a larger, 40 kWh battery, and the option to upgrade to the Plus version, which has a 62 kWh battery. The LEAF may be great if you don’t expect 100% highway driving, as it can exceed rated efficiency when driven conservatively.
The compromise: On a road trip with a LEAF, you may have to stop more frequently, even with the 226 EPA mile Plus version. However, the smaller battery means that recharging takes only around 30 minutes.
The Chevy Bolt may be another good option and we know Recurrent drivers who have had great road trips with their Bolts. These cars have great range (238-259 EPA rated) and an observed range close to that. A main downside is but limited DC fast charging speeds that top out around 50-55 kW. It is offered both in the traditional hatchback, as well as a crossover “EUV” option with extra space for snacks and suitcases.
The compromise: The Bolt has limited DC fast charge speeds, so expect only about 100 miles per 30 minutes. If you’re doing shorter legs for your road trip and can charge overnight or during tourist excursions, this shouldn’t be a problem.
While we recommend the Hyundai Ioniq 5 as a road trip superstar, a more affordable option is the Hyundai Kona, which has a lot of similarities to the Bolt in terms of range and size. Plus, drivers who got a new 2021+ Kona benefit from Hyundai’s partnership with Electrify America, which includes 250 kWh of free charging - enough for around 1,000 miles of driving.
The compromise: The Kona makes the same compromise as the Bolt. If you plan for an hour of recharge time, you won’t be disappointed when the Kona doesn’t maintain its 70 kW peak charge time for very long.
EV Road Trip Tips
Once you have the perfect EV, we have some tips to get the most from your road trip.
- Be strategic about charging breaks. As you’re planning your charging breaks, make sure to maximize the time for additional needs including food, bathroom breaks, and local scenery or activities.
- Call ahead to make sure the charging stations advertised by hotels and accommodations actually exist. We’ve heard reports of hotels listing chargers when they are still being built.
- Don’t schedule too tightly. When it comes to EV driving, it’s best to plan ahead and be flexible about your arrival times. If you do have a tight schedule, pad your estimates.
- Plan ahead for payment. Make accounts and figure out payment with different charging companies before you leave in case you don’t have cell service on the road.
- Check your tires. EV or not, it’s always best practice to check your tire pressure before driving long distances.
- Plan for the worst case scenario. Make a backup charging plan. Perhaps consider investing in a backup generator if you’re going far afield from civilization, and bring extra snacks, a camping light, and spare tires.
- Consider your load and how it will impact your range.
- In hot weather, park in the shade. Help keep your battery cool by parking in the shade or in a garage. Keep cool with your air conditioner (the AC won’t hurt your range nearly as much as the heat in the winter, so feel free to stay cool).
- Precondition. Adjusting your cabin temperature while your car is still plugged in is a great way to maximize range and be more comfortable on the long drive.
- Have fun! There’s nothing like a good road trip – go get ‘em! And make sure to pre-download your favorite tunes and route in case you lose cell service on the open road.
Planning a Winter Road Trip?
Most of our top choices remain the same, but it should be stated that some electric cars handle the cold weather better than others. If you think you’ll be hitting some cold climates on an upcoming road trip, be sure to review our winter range study.