Testing Electric Vehicles in the Real World

A Look Behind the Scenes at How We Test EVs


  • 2013 Honda Fit

    2013 Honda Fit

    We take every electric vehicle, like this Honda Fit EV, to our test track to see how it performs in acceleration, braking, handling and noise tests. | January 22, 2013

3 Photos

Bring up the topic of electric cars and the conversation will soon drift to the issue of range. It's understandable because we've all been conditioned to think that anything below 250 miles is insufficient.

But that's gasoline talking. EVs are fundamentally different, as our Electric Car Comparison Test shows. You plug them in at home and charge them overnight while you're asleep, waking up with a full "tank" every morning instead of making a weekly detour on the way to work, where you grit your teeth as you watch the dollars rack up on the pump. Your second car is the one you take on that trip upstate, that jaunt across the desert to Las Vegas.

Still, range does matter. The more there is, the farther you can live from work and the more unplanned side trips you can take on the way. We totally get that.

The EPA does a good job of rating driving range for shopping purposes, and we generally agree with their conservative approach. Optimistic range estimates may be OK for gasoline-powered vehicles because fuel is everywhere and refueling times are short, but the same sort of best-case thinking on an electric car's window sticker could leave drivers stranded or saddled with a vehicle that doesn't meet their needs in real-world conditions.

What this means, though, is that it's easy to exceed a given electric vehicle's rated range if you follow some basic fuel saving tips: accelerate and brake gently, avoid excess speed, look well down the road so you can anticipate traffic and signals, and leave sufficient space ahead so you don't overreact to what others are doing. Many EV shoppers really want to know what is reasonably possible with this kind of prudent — but by no means hypermiling — approach to driving.

And that's where our suburban fuel consumption test loop comes in. Originally established when hybrids began to flourish, our so-called One Lap of Orange County test course is a 105.5-mile circuit around Orange County, California, that includes exactly zero freeway miles, more than a few hills and dozens of signals and stop signs along the way.

The length of the course carries no particular significance — it's not some sort of electric vehicle pass/fail test. Still, any EV that can make it all the way back to the starting point has indeed accomplished something worth noting, and we think pins stuck in a map is a good way to illustrate the relative performance of those that don't complete the lap.

Edmunds EV Circuit

In order to compare results, all of the electric cars were driven by the same driver, one per day, starting at 8 a.m. each time to experience the same weekday traffic pattern. Morning temperatures are mild on the course, so no climate control is necessary other than an open fresh air vent. From there we follow all speed limits, and we cap our speed at 50 mph in a few places where the posted limit is higher so this doesn't turn into a freeway test.

In the interest of safety we start looking for a convenient place to stop when the distance-to-empty gauge (DTE) drops to 5 miles. Any vehicles that make it back to the start are halted there. In every case the cars are trailered back to our metered Level-2 charge port so we can determine consumption. Any remaining DTE miles are added back in to determine the total range.

  Lap Data
(miles)
Range
(miles)
Consumption
(kWh/100 mi)
Driven DTE Summary Rated Test Rated Test
2012 Tesla Model S 267.3 2 2 laps + 56 miles 265 269.3 38 NA
2012 Toyota RAV4 EV 105.5 39 1 lap + 39 miles 103 144.5 44 31.2
2012 BMW ActiveE 105.5 9 1 lap + 9 miles 94 114.5 33 27.1
2012 Coda EV Sedan 105.5 6 1 lap + 6 miles 88 111.5 46 30.6
2013 Honda Fit EV 98.2 3 4.3 miles short 82 101.2 29 19.9
2012 Ford Focus BEV 94.8 5 5.7 miles short 76 99.8 32 23.1
2012 VW Golf EV (proto) 93.4 5 7.1 miles short TBD 98.4 TBD 28.5
2011 Nissan Leaf 81 2 22.5 miles short 73 83 34 24.7
2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV 72.9 3 29.6 miles short 62 75.9 30 20.9

We also sent each electric car to our test track, where we put them through our usual battery of tests, which includes acceleration, braking, handling and noise. The cars are also weighed in their as-tested condition. It's important to note that such numbers aren't just for enthusiasts, particularly the braking and handling results, which have some bearing on accident avoidance.

Want to read more about EVs? Check out our Electric Car Comparison Test and "What Will It Cost?"

  Accel. 0-60, sec. Braking 60-0, ft. Slalom, mph Skid pad lateral g Noise @ 70 mph, db Weight, pounds
2012 Tesla Model S 4.3 108 66.0 0.86 61.2 4,770
2012 Toyota RAV4 EV 7.7 126 61.0 0.76 64.8 4,042
2012 BMW ActiveE 9.5 114 63.9 0.81 62.2 4,074
2012 Coda EV Sedan 9.7 145 61.3 0.75 66.8 3,710
2013 Honda Fit EV 9.4 140 59.7 0.75 61.8 3,228
2012 Ford Focus BEV 9.7 126 62.3 0.76 62.9 3,597
2012 VW Golf EV (proto) 10.3 132 61.7 0.78 63.0 3,534
2011 Nissan Leaf 10.2 130 58.1 0.74 63.2 3,364
2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV 14.9 120 57.1 0.65 69.7 2,586

Comments

  • tomm250 tomm250 Posts:

    Very good article Dan. I particularly love the comparison graphs. I'd love if you made those graphs available somewhere on Edmunds site. Then, keep adding the electric cars as you test them. It would be a very valuable resource for those interested in an EV. To see how the car performs side by side with the other EV's in range, electric consumption, performance, etc is really great. Please consider having a link to there statistics somewhere on your site, updating and and keeping that information available to electric vehicle enthusiasts and shoppers. I know of no other place to see this side by side comparisons.

  • james265 james265 Posts:

    Seems it is quite outstanding in function Parameter.

  • james265 james265 Posts:

    Seems it is quite outstanding in function Parameter.

  • Interesting study. Thanks for posting it. Here's a test we did of 13 Nissan LEAF's in Phoenix, to compare how much heat had degraded the battery there. The newest car completed 83 miles to "turtle" mode, and the worst only 59 miles (after 29,000 miles of driving in the baking heat): http://insideevs.com/all-the-results-from-the-largest-independent-test-of-nissan-leafs-with-lost-capacity-not-instrument-failure/

  • dsinned99 dsinned99 Posts:

    WIth respect to electric range, the RAV4 EV is truly a standout! The real world test results showed that car's range is capable of being greater than 40% of its EPA rating. IMPRESSIVE! Also, as a 4000+ lbs SUV, it's zero to 60 time of under 8 seconds is another surprise, (and I believe in "sport" mode, Toyota rates it at under 7 seconds)!

  • You did a decent job, though you are still are stuck on some platitudes. It would be interesting to see the data on charging that you got - and it would be interesting to see how much it cost to drive each of these EV's per mile. You could drive all cars that you review on the same loop, and report on the cost, and the pollution (gm/distance), as well. And it would be really important to compare the EV ranges to what people actually drive each day; and how much money they would pay for an EV vs their current car. You do post the kWh/100km (for all the cars except the Tesla Model S, curiously), and since the test loop is ~30MPH average, all the cars do significantly better than their EPA rating. Neil

  • I applaud Edmunds for starting this project. I hope you publish even more data: you measured as precisely as you could, and if you published this it would be very helpful. We could see how close each car's range remaining gauges are, we can know how much it cost to charge each car and compare this to the other EV's and ICE's as well. I predict that it costs as much (or more) for regular maintenance at a dealer on an ICE car, than it does to drive an EV. Remember, there is almost no regular maintenance on an EV; rotating the tires is about it. The Leaf needs to have the oil in the reduction gear at 150K miles. That means that you save about $17,000/per 100K miles driving an EV compared to a typical 23MPG car. Even a Prius costs about $7,000 more to drive 100K miles than driving an EV like the Leaf. All of the money you pay for electricity stays in your local economy. Much of the money you pay for gas goes to a foreign country. We don't need a military to defend our electricity, either. I would be very interested to know what "gear" you drove the cars in - I'm assuming it was Drive? I would love to have the drive completed a second time in the Eco mode on each car that has one. The Tesla has a toggle for the level of regenerative braking, and it would be very interesting indeed to know more about how this affects the range. I think that most EV's have way too much regenerative braking dialed in on the accelerator pedal - and they do not allow easy and consistent free-wheel coasting. Only the Honda Fit EV has free-wheel coasting in the Eco mode when you lift your right foot; and then has all the regen on the brake pedal. Edmunds could help improve all EV's by demonstrating whether easy and consistent free wheel coasting, or lots of regen on the accelerator yield more range. Neil

  • bfoulds bfoulds Posts:

    Thank you for for doing a simple real world test. I would like to suggest some additions to your test. Can you list the time needed to recharge? "How long to gas and go?" Tesla is offering charging stations and I would like to know if the time they give are true. A highway course. Maybe I-5, I-405 and I-605. Meeting range targets at highways speed will be hard for EVs. Finally test the EV only capability of hybrid plug-ins. The Karma and Volt both have EV only modes that are rarely tested without add the gas engines. Thank you again for testing these cars.

  • bfoulds bfoulds Posts:

    Thank you for for doing a simple real world test. I would like to suggest some additions to your test. Can you list the time needed to recharge? "How long to gas and go?" Tesla is offering charging stations and I would like to know if the time they give are true. A highway course. Maybe I-5, I-405 and I-605. Meeting range targets at highways speed will be hard for EVs. Finally test the EV only capability of hybrid plug-ins. The Karma and Volt both have EV only modes that are rarely tested without add the gas engines. Thank you again for testing these cars.

  • h20gas h20gas Posts:

    What is the total battery watts to distance ratio of the top 5 vehicles? In simple terms which one gets the better mileage ratio? IE; an equivalency of a 20 gal tank compared to a 12 gal tank. If you load in an equivalent power source which one really goes the furthest?

  • dat2 dat2 Posts:

    How about testing the 2013 LEAF, the new Fiat 500e and the Chevy Spark EV? Thanks!

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