Although EPA range is the only universal number that EV drivers have, it is woefully inadequate.
You wouldn’t expect two Honda Civics to get the exact same gas mileage as each other, and nothing different should be expected from two Chevy Bolts. In the same vein, a Ford Explorer would not get the exact same miles per tank of gas when you’re driving in snowy mountains as when you’re cruising by the beach.
Yet, online EV forums are filled with new drivers who don’t understand why their car falls short of the EPA range estimate, or why it fluctuates with different conditions. These same drivers never consider that the same exact thing was happening with a gas car. We know that setting reasonable and realistic expectations is important for new driver satisfaction, and that sharing facts is the best way to speed up adoption of clean vehicles.
This article explores more than 827,000 data points from eight different EV models to illustrate that efficiency and range change more than many drivers think, and that such fluctuations are normal and expected. Plus, it features some never-before-seen data on the real ranges of the VW ID4 and Ford F-150 Lightning.
Study methodology is included at the end of this article.
An Example: Range Varies from Car to Car
The data below is all shown in units of vehicle efficiency, which is mi/kWh. Why does efficiency matter? It is the most accurate way to estimate a car’s range! Efficiency numbers are translated into range numbers by multiplying the efficiency by battery size.
Say you own a Chevrolet Bolt that either came with a 66 kWh pack or was upgraded under the recall. The official EPA efficiency rating is 3.57 miles per kWh, which translates to a range of 259 miles (= 3.57 mi/kWh * 66 kWh). However, when you’re actually driving your Bolt, the efficiency, and thus the range, may fall anywhere on this plot on any given day. The plot below shows the frequency with which our Bolt population hits different efficiencies.
The average, observed Bolt efficiency value is 4.36 miles per kWh. For the 66 kWh pack, this means a 287.76 mile range – around 19 miles more than the EPA predicts. However, some cars fall on the less efficient side of the spectrum and may only see as few as 149 miles of range, while more efficient Bolts may be lucky enough to enjoy a range of up to 426 miles. How can you plan a trip if you don’t know where your Bolt falls?
It’s important to understand that while each battery will fall somewhere on the distribution above, range will also change day to day in the same car. Having a battery that is statistically better than average does not mean that you will never see low ranges. The same car will see drastically different efficiencies – and thus range – under different conditions:
Range Varies From Day to Day
The chart below compares efficiencies for two different Chevrolet Bolts – the most and the least efficient models in our testing sample.
The most efficient Bolt in the group averages 5.2 mi/kWh efficiency, which translates to a range of around 343 miles if it drives under the same conditions for the full, 66 kWh battery. On a good efficiency day, that car can get a range of 508 miles – which is more than some full-sized gas cars can go on a full tank. But, on a bad day, it may only see a maximum range of 178 miles.
What separates the good days from the bad days? It comes down to weather, driving conditions, and how you’re driving. On a 72 degree day, cruising along residential roads to run errands, you’re much more likely to see a high range than driving through the mountains in 20 degree weather with a snowboard mounted on your roof rack. Read more on vehicle efficiency.
Compare those numbers to the least efficient Bolt that we track. This car has an average efficiency of 3.5 mi/kWh and a maximum projected range of 231 miles, driving under consistent conditions. Its minimum range is 95 miles, and its best-case maximum range is 367 miles.
Why the difference between Chevy Bolt cars?
- First, there is some natural variation between the cars and their batteries. This is true for any manufactured item, and there is a whole branch of statistics that try to understand this variability.
- Second, the least efficient car is in a region that gets much lower temperatures than the most efficient car. While the most efficient car was observed in temperatures that ranged between 57℉ and 86℉, the least efficient car saw temperature as low as 7℉.
- Finally, drive style and terrain make a difference. This is exactly the same as in a gas car. Aggressive driving, fast acceleration and uphill direction all use more energy. The only difference with an ICE car is that with an EV, highway driving uses more energy and reduces range, while city driving is more efficient.
Here is what happened in other vehicles in the study.
Ford F-150 Lightning Efficiency
When you look at the Ford F-150 Lightning efficiency stats, the first thing you notice is that they are relatively inefficient compared to other popular EVs. This is because they are heavy vehicles with relatively poor aerodynamics.
The F-150 Lightnings in the study came with two different battery sizes: the standard range 98 kWh and the extended range 131 kWh packs.
- Using the average efficiency value of 2.65 miles per kWh, the standard range battery pack would get an average range of 253 miles while the extended range would get 350 miles.
- Using the lower-end efficiency value you get a projected range of 93 miles for the smaller battery pack and 124.5 miles for the larger.
- Finally, using the higher-end efficiency value, you can see ranges as high as 427 for the standard range and 571 for the extended range.
Note that in this high efficiency case, the F-150 Lightning is almost certainly not pulling anything, would be on a flat surface or decline, and is in very mild weather.
When comparing the most efficient Ford F-150 Lightning to the least efficient Ford F-150 Lightning, they are both the same trim – the Lariat Extended Range, with 131 kWh battery. The highest efficiency vehicle gets 3.17 mi/kWh, which means an average range of 415 miles if conditions remain constant. The lowest efficiency one gets an average of 2.22 mi/kWh, which means an average range of 290.82 miles.
That’s potentially a big range difference for what seems like a small difference in average efficiency! But, with a big battery, every additional mile per kilowatt hour matters. The most likely culprit for this difference is the weather, since efficiency drops in colder temperatures.
Have a Ford Lightning? Connect to Recurrent.
Volkswagen ID.4 Efficiency
It just so happens that all of the ID.4s in the cohort have the larger, 82 kWh battery packs, which makes it easy to compare them. Below is the most and least efficient ID.4.
The least efficient VIN in the test group had an average efficiency of 3.45 mi/kWh, which translates to a range of 283 miles. This is nearly 82 miles less than the range calculated for the most efficient ID.4 – 365 miles.
The spectrum of likely range predictions for the least efficient ID.4 is 138 - 427 miles, while the most efficient ID.4 is likely to see a range between 201 - 529 miles. The range that each car will actually get will depend on the driving conditions, the drive style and the specific car.
Ford Mustang Mach-E Efficiency
- The average, observed Mach-E efficiency value is 3.53 miles per kWh, which means a 232.98 mile range for the 66 kWh pack and 303.6 miles for the 86 kWh pack.
- On the less efficient range of the spectrum, a Mach-E may only see 108 miles of range (140 miles for the 86 kWh trim).
- More efficient Mach-Es may be lucky enough to enjoy a range of 358 miles (467 miles for the larger battery)
When you compare the least efficient Mach-E in the fleet to the most efficient Mach-E in the fleet, there is a decent amount of overlap between the least and most efficient Mach-Es.
The most efficient is an 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Select RWD with an average range that pencils out to 288.7 miles, compared to the EPA range of 230 miles. The least efficient model is a Premium AWD Extended and has the larger, 88 kWh battery pack. However, with a much lower average efficiency, it would only get an average range of 252.5 miles, despite an EPA range of 270 miles.
Takeaway: It makes sense that the most efficient Mach-E is the base trim: the Select RWD. On the other hand, the performance-oriented Premium AWD Extended has a faster 0-60 time and more torque. Across different car makes and models, efficiency is higher for trims that don’t maximize speed and torque.
In the comparison table below, we use efficiency measurements from our data to show how the range would change with the 68 kWh pack and EPA range of 230 miles.
Have a Ford Mach-E? Connect to Recurrent.
Because the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model 3 have so many options for battery size, we will select the most well-represented battery size in our data for comparisons.
Nissan LEAF Efficiency
For the Nissan LEAF, using a 40 kWh battery, the EPA range estimate is 151 miles. This is fairly close to the range for the average condition, average efficiency LEAF, although in great conditions, almost any LEAF can exceed that.
In the real world, the LEAF Plus, with the upgraded, 62 kWh battery, will be slightly less efficient than its base-trim sibling, since the Plus offers more horsepower and torque.
Have a LEAF? Connect to Recurrent.
Tesla Model 3 Efficiency
For the Model 3, we ran the numbers using the Long Range trim with a 75 kWh battery. This configuration has an EPA range of 358 miles, which is not achieved by cars under the average conditions. The most variation is under “great” conditions: ideal temperature, dry and flat roads, and stop-and-go traffic.
Like in other cases, the performance and AWD trims of the Model 3 will get lower efficiencies than the lower powered ones.
Have a Tesla? Connect to Recurrent.
How was this data collected?
Recurrent has been using on-board diagnostic devices in real cars around the U.S. for over a year to help understand, and share, real-world data about EV performance and range. We look at cars in temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 113 degrees. All cars go about their regular daily lives, including road trips, commutes, traffic, and errands so we can see how real-world conditions affect range.