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How far can you go in an electric car?

Forces’ charity Mission Motorsport drives a Renault Zoe to nearly twice its official WLTP range to record 475 miles on a single charge

Dan Trent

Words by: Dan Trent

Dan Trent

Additional words by: Dan Trent

Last updated on 11 June 2021 | 0 min read

Time and again the question of how far an electric car can go on a fully charged battery crops up as a primary concern for potential EV buyers, ‘range anxiety’ often the biggest barrier to making the switch from petrol or diesel models. Official, independently calculated WLTP range figures are published by manufacturers and offer a best case comparison between different models for buyers. But weather conditions, driving style and traffic often mean the reality falls a little short for many EV owners. Begging the question, in absolutely ideal circumstances just how far will an electric car really go on a full charge?
It’s one Mission Motorsport, the Forces’ Motorsport Charity, can answer having beaten the previous record for the longest distance driven in a Renault Zoe by just shy of 75 miles, with a total distance of 424.7 miles. Another Zoe running at the same time on new, EV-optimised, high-efficiency Enso tyres went even further, covering a total of 475.4 miles. That’s nearly 180 miles further than the Zoe’s WLTP 245-mile range, and beats the previous record of 350 miles set by French ‘hypermiler’ Pierre Desjardins.

Maximising range

Venue for the Mission Motorsport record was Thruxton circuit in Wiltshire, officially the UK’s fastest circuit after Damon Hill’s astonishing 147mph average speed over a lap there in a Williams F1 car in 1994. The pace of the Zoes was somewhat slower to maximise efficiency, the cars rarely exceeding 23mph for the entirety of the record attempt.
The controlled conditions of a race circuit put Mission Motorsport at advantage compared with Desjardins, who set the previous benchmark circulating the notoriously busy Paris ring road – the Périphérique – among regular traffic. Though his Zoe also had the smaller 41kWh battery (the newer ones used by Mission Motorsport have the updated 52kWh battery and greater range) he was helped by very high ambient summer temperatures – just one of many factors that can make a difference to how far you EV will go. While the UK has enjoyed warm weather of late the temperatures dipped just before the Mission Motorsport run, meaning a delayed start. To make it a fair comparison the cars were absolutely standard, running the manufacturer recommended tyre pressures and without any slipstreaming or other clever tricks. Drivers minimised power use by keeping the air-conditioning and other power-sapping systems switched off and used carefully rehearsed lines around the circuit to maximise regeneration on the downhills and preserve speed on the ups.

Calculating EV efficiency

The key figure to consider when looking at how far an electric car will go is not necessarily battery size or the power of the motor but overall efficiency. Most of us understand miles-per-gallon as a comparison for petrol and diesel cars but, as yet, there is no agreed standard for EVs and manufacturers quote different stats, such as kWh per 100 miles or kilometres, or miles per kWh. Using that latter figure you can see how Mission Motorsport really scored on efficiency, recording 9.14 miles per kWh against the 7.9 miles per kWh of the previous benchmark.
A big, powerful battery is a relatively straightforward way to score impressive range and works for the likes of Porsche and Tesla. But it is a heavy and expensive solution, and better efficiency is probably the more important consideration for EV buyers. On the Zoe dividing that WLTP range (245 miles) by the usable battery capacity (52kWh) equates to typical efficiency of about 4.7 miles per kWh in regular use, that figure nearly doubled by the skilful and patient driving of the Mission Motorsport team. For comparison a Porsche Taycan Turbo S with nearly double the battery capacity of the Zoe achieves around 2.5 miles per kWh, its incredible performance and 761 horsepower maximum power output coming at the cost of efficiency. Just as it would do if you compared a petrol-powered Clio with a Panamera with a big V8 engine. So, the answer to how far will an electric car goes on a single charge is that it depends very much on how, where and when you drive it. We’re not saying everyone has to wait for a warm sunny day and potter around at an average speed of 19mph to get the best mileage. But by driving efficiently you can make your electric car go further on a full battery than you might think.