Kept Off Freeways, Electric Cars Outpace EPA Range, Says Edmunds

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Drag race between Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf electric cars (The Fast Lane)

Drag race between Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf electric cars (The Fast Lane)

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Ask the average person how far an electric car will go on a charge, and they'll probably say "around 100 miles".

In reality, most electric cars have an EPA range lower than that--the Tesla Model S an honorable exception--but driving conditions can have a large effect on just how far they'll go.

Take freeways, for example. The constant high-speed driving can use up the juice pretty quickly, resulting in figures below EPA--but at lower speeds it's quite possible to exceed the official figures.

Edmunds has discovered just this, in testing most of the electric cars currently on the market.

A 105.5-mile route around Orange County in California takes in stop lights, traffic and hills, but not a single mile of freeway--and every electric vehicle they've tested has exceeded its official ratings.

From the 265-mile Tesla Model S (with its 85 kWh battery pack), which drove 267.3 miles with 2 miles remaining, to a 2011 Nissan Leaf exceeding its 73-mile EPA range by ten miles, each has comfortably beaten the EPA numbers.

Even those which couldn't complete a lap of the course still did well, with 10-15 mile improvements over EPA not uncommon. Most impressive is the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, its 103-mile EPA numbers eclipsed by a 105.5 mile lap, with 39 miles of range still remaining--a potential 144-mile range.

Edmunds' testing is controlled, in the same weather conditions, by the same driver in the same 8am weekday traffic. The weather is mild enough not to require climate control, all speed limits are adhered to, and speed is capped at 50 mph to ensure "it doesn't turn into a freeway test."

Not everyone drives like that of course, which is rather the point--your own mileage may vary.

But it also goes to show that drivers who can resist using that instant torque for quick getaways, who give consideration to traffic conditions, and who exercise a little restraint, can easily beat an electric car's official EPA mileage. They really are efficient--even more so in comparison to hybrids and other internal combustion vehicles, which often fall a few MPG short in the real world.

Staying off the freeway certainly helps electric cars, which isn't always possible. But those that can could see their figures rapidly improve.

But next time someone asks you how far an electric car can go, you can at least give them a bit more information than "about 100 miles".

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