Life With 2013 Tesla Model S: Range Penalty At Speed Is Lower Than Expected

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

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I've been surprised and delighted by how efficiently my new 2013 Tesla Model S has been running at higher speeds.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] hammers home the message that high speeds can drastically reduce the range of any Model S.

It cautions that its original  range figure of 230 miles for my 60-kWh car is based on a steady 55-mph speed, on level ground, and that higher speeds can significantly reduce this number. 

(The official EPA range, based on a variety of speeds and conditions, is 208 miles.)

But who drives 55 mph? On multilane highways, certainly not me.

According to a range-vs-speed graph on the Tesla website, range of the 85-kWh Model S at a steady 55 mph is about 310 miles.  

At a steady 70 mph, the graph shows a range of 240 miles--a reduction of 23 percent.

If we apply the same 23-percent range reduction to my 60-kWh car, it works out to a range of 178 miles at 70 mph.

Cool temperatures eat away at range as well. According to the range calculator at my local Tesla store,  range declines by about 10 percent at 40 degrees. Now we're down to 160 miles.

Knock off a few more miles for hills, and we're looking at a projected real-world range--my real world at this time of year, at least--of maybe 150 miles.

But I actually did much better than that on a trip to New York City last week, under just those conditions.

No hypermiling here; I drove 65-75 mph over moderately hilly terrain, with the outside temperature at 40 degrees and the climate control on a comfortable setting (no shivering, either).

The 117.5-mile round trip consumed 39.2 kWh of juice, about two-thirds of the battery capacity. Average power consumption was 334 watt-hours per mile.  That's almost exactly 3 miles per kWh.

Extrapolate those numbers out to the full battery capacity of 60 kWh, and we get a max range of 180 miles. That's a lot better than the 150 or so predicted by the graphs and calculators.

It's a nice little bonus that makes up for a couple of days of "vampire" electrical power usage while the car is parked in my driveway

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


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Comments (17)
  1. Not much chance to test the high speed consumption for a Leaf here in Jamaica, but the noticeable chewer of power is the hills. Here they are up and down, and its lots of tiny corners as well, so regeneration hardly works at all. There are several places I can see from my house that I can only just reach with a good charge (4000 feet up and 35 miles), and a trip to the north coast of 50 miles took 8 bars going and 10 to come back (I live up a hill that takes 2 bars to get home). The horizontal component I usually calculate at 5-8 miles/kwh, but I have to watch out for hills!

  2. Has the Vampire losses (at night and otherwise) improved in the last month? How much battery % do you lose at night? In the Volt, it looks like 1%-2% per week, possibly less.

  3. I haven't been keeping track recently, but there's no reason to think anything's changed from the 7-8 percent per day losses that I noted in the vampire article. As I pointed out, temperature has no effect on vampire losses, because the Model S battery is not maintained at any particular temperature.

  4. I would imagine a 200 Mile all weather capacity is a sweet spot.

    70-100 miles is a good daily commuter ( 40 mile one way commute and back plus errands) but if you want to take weekend trips a 200 mile range lets you drive for a few hours, take a meal break while supercharging. It appears the current Tesla Model S has hit that for people who want to take weekend trips.

    The Nissan Leaf has worked well for daily commuting but, the longer trips requires more frequent charging stops.

  5. The headline is misleading. I read it expecting that the range penalty would be felt at "lower speeds" than expected. Happy to hear that the reverse is true!

  6. @Michael: As David Noland's editor, I'll take the rap for that one. I've altered the headline to "Range Penalty At Speed Is Lower Than Expected" which should clarify it.

  7. I don't think you can extrapolate like that, using the full 60 kWh, since presumably you can't use the entire 60 kWh, right? I mean, at least with every other EV, a percentage of the battery pack's capacity is not accessible in order to protect the battery.

  8. When I do a "standard" charge which is 90% of a full or "range" charge, I get a rated range of 190 miles, which has worked out very close to the distance I can travel (unless I meet the random Mustang driver who must be taught humility). A 100% range charge gives me about 210 miles. This would be 3.5 miles per kWhr for a 60 kWhr pack. Bottom line - all 60 kWhr of the advertised battery pack appears to be usable (and awesome).

  9. When you charge in "Long Range" mode, you get the full 100 percent of the 60 kWh to use. In the Standard charge mode, the battery tops of at 89-90 percent. Obviously, if you're contemplating a long trip of 150-180-miles, you'd select the option to charge to the full 100 percent.

  10. "Obviously, if you're contemplating a long trip of 150-180 miles, you'd select the option to charge to the the full 100 percent". Yes David, it is totally obvious unless your name is John Broder and you are writing a hit piece for The New York Times. I know this is old, old news but some of us can never forget and never forgive. It's kind of a curse.

  11. We knew Elon Musk was a ballsy genius and this car originated in my town and owned by many of my neighbors is truly aspirational .I would buy this over an A8,S Class,7 Series ,LS but maybe not the Panamera .

  12. Curious, have you driven an EV for any length of time, Peter? If you did, you might realize that it's very disruptive technology. Although EVs are still in their infancy, it's a one-way street, and there is no going back. When I see a gas-powered supercar these days, I have to cringe. Seriously. I didn't anticipate this outcome when I was toying with the idea of purchasing a relatively affordable EV three years ago. It was motivated by curiosity and the desire to help save some gas, and perhaps make a modest contribution to prevention of future oil spills.

  13. u have to have a usable capacity of 60 Kwh to get 180 miles in your scenario. I am guessing that is not the case. your car would not charge up to 100%. way too great a risk. so guessing it charges to 95% (LEAF charge max'es out at 93.6%) and it wont drain the last electron either so guessing you will be cut off at 2-3% leaving about 90% of the 60 Kwh left which would be roughly 54 kwh which would put you around 162 miles but how brave are you really? hmmm...

  14. Maybe Tesla will come out with the low aero drag wheels that they had worked on earlier? Smooth and flat wheels can reduce drag by 5-15% and that could add noticeably to the range. Tesla earlier had put the Cd of the Model S at 0.22 (if I recall correctly) and the production version is 0.24.

    With smooth flat wheels, the range should increase 15-25 miles or so.


  15. I don't think your full available battery capacity is 60 kWh. If I am not totally mistaken, you have a 60 kWh battery in your car but not all of it can be used. In order not to drain the battery completely, which I believe will damage the battery, electric car manufacturer shut everything down at some % remaining. For Leaf it is when 90 or 95% of the stored electricity is used , which is considered rather high. I don't know what it is for Tesla but maybe you can ask them?

  16. Based on data from my longer drives I believe nearly all of the rated capacity in kWh is available for use. I recently drove 183 miles in our 60 kWh Model S, and the computer said I had used 53.2 kWh. It also showed a rated range of 20 miles remaining. 20 miles remaining / 208 rated miles = 9.6% of the rated range remained. (60-53.2)/60 = 11.3% of the battery rated capacity remained. The difference of 11.3% - 9.6% = 1.7% is the battery capacity not available on that trip, which easily could be explained by battery temperature effects or vampire loss after the car stopped charging. This drive was mixed highway and backroads, at an outside temperature between 65-75F. Yes, it was a max range charge.

  17. I dream for the day when my electric cars can go more than 70 miles without stopping for a recharge... I'm 120 miles from London, and wish I had a car that could make the trip without a single stop!

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