Electric-Car Road Trips: Be Prepared, With Charging Apps And Realism

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DC fast charging 2015 Kia Soul EV

DC fast charging 2015 Kia Soul EV

Thinking about taking your electric car on a road trip? Be prepared, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how smoothly it can go.

If you plan to take a trip outside of your normal comfort zone, it’s now possible in many regions of the country. It just takes a little advance route planning, and having some realistic range expectations; and you definitely need to bring your smartphone along.

In a recent 195-mile daytrip from Portland, Oregon to Redmond, Washington, in the 2015 Kia Soul EV, we were able to refresh ourselves on the state of electric-car road-tripping today. The short answer is that if you follow established electric vehicle highways, in a very EV-friendly region of the nation, as we did—in our case the West Coast Electric Highway—it’s a sea change compared to just a couple of years ago.

The difference? You simply have many more options now on where to plug in, and provided you have a model with the ChaDeMO standard (or Tesla’s Supercharger network) you’re in good shape.

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AeroVironment DC fast charger, part of West Coast Electric Highway - Centralia, WA

AeroVironment DC fast charger, part of West Coast Electric Highway - Centralia, WA

Choose a route with plenty of fast-charge options

While we expect the density for the SAE CCS fast-charging standard to improve, it’s still several years behind other fast chargers in many regions.

But if you have a ChaDeMO-compatible model like the Nissan Leaf or the Soul EV, DC fast-charging stations have been installed every 25 to 50 miles along major roadways (I-5, in our case), meaning that if you calculate carefully you can minimize the number of 20-30-minute breaks, as you wait for your vehicle to charge up to 80 percent or more of its capacity.

One of the first, most valuable lessons in planning is that you should throw out any expectation in getting the same sort of driving range that you’ve been seeing around town. Electric cars are the most efficient at low speeds, with gentle acceleration; subject them to the standard Interstate cruising speeds where gasoline engines aren’t far off their efficiency sweet spot and the EV just isn’t going to return anything close to its peak range.

For instance, the Soul EV’s 100-mile (or more) range of comfortable lower-speed, around-town driving, from this vehicle’s 27-kWh battery pack, dipped to a highway range of less than 80 miles at 65-70 mph—and that’s without using the main climate control and instead opting for the heated (or cooled) front seats (and the wonderful heated steering wheel). Our temperatures in the 50s (F), by the way were mild enough to pull that off comfortably.

READ: The Passion Of The Tesla: One Owner's (Unprompted) Paean

charging 2015 Kia Soul EV

charging 2015 Kia Soul EV

Set some realistic expectations

Based on what we saw, we might have been able to eke 90+ miles out of a charge by lowering our speeds to 55 mph, but we opted for the safety of keeping close to the flow of traffic.

But to be realistic about that drop in range, consider that after a fast charge you typically only get restored to an 80-percent charge—meaning that you’ll have 60 or 65 miles, tops, after the first fast charge and each subsequent one.

Think 60 percent of what you get around town. I’m not trying to be a buzzkill here; that’s a good, realistic place to start planning routes and times.

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