Electric car ranges are calculated in the UK and Europe using the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). The test was introduced between 2017 and 2018 to better replicate real driving, and to produce a more accurate figure for fuel economy and electric car range.
Until 2017, the energy consumption and range of electric cars had been measured and reported using the NEDC (New European Drive Cycle) procedure. However, these stats were often inaccurate, and far beyond the reality, due to quite a simplisitc testing procedure, and it was the customer who suffered as a result.
As the NEDC wasn’t an accurate representation of average driving behaviour, the WLTP was developed to replace it, under the umbrella of the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), in order to provide uniform and more realistic test conditions worldwide.
WLTP made several enhancements over the NEDC. For example, the WLTP moved from a single test cycle of 20 minutes to a dynamic test cycle lasting 30 minutes. The test cycle doubles the distance and number of driving phases, and it includes a better balance between urban and non-urban driving. The WLTP also tests vehicles at higher speeds, varying shift points, and more realistic temperatures than the NEDC.
This gives better accuracy of what real driving might produce in terms of electric car range.
In addition to this, optional equipment is taken into account for weight, aerodynamics and power consumption.
According to the ACEA, the Association des Constructeurs Européens d’Automobiles, the following conditions were implemented:
- More realistic driving behaviour
- Higher maximum speed
- Different driving scenarios: urban, rural, motorway
- Strict car set-up for comparability
- Longer test routes
- Realistic ambient temperatures for Europe
- Dynamic acceleration and braking
- Shorter stops
WLTP focuses primarily on urban and suburban travel in calculating their estimates, because that’s the type of driving most Europeans encounter.
The results gained from WLTP for new electric cars are then more comparable in providing a relatively accurate figure for energy consumption.
Limitations and real-world range
However, while WLTP has been a big improvement in getting closer to the real figures that people experience in real life, it is still a laboratory test and cannot take into account whether an individual driver’s style is aggressive or sedate, the traffic conditions, weather conditions, gradients (going up and down hills) or load on the car (passengers and luggage). All of which have a significant impact on range.
Quite simply, things like heavy traffic, driving through hills, having a lot of weight in the car, or very cold weather conditions, will all reduce range.
Therefore, different motoring publications test electric cars themselves, to give their own real-world range verdict. These are a good indication of what you might actually achieve when driving the EV in question, as they are done on a road rather than in a lab.
In general, these tests find electric cars to be about 15% off their WLTP figure, in more realistic circumstances.
A Ford Mustang Mach-E with a WLTP of 379, achieved 320 miles in more realistic conditions. While tests of other EVs found anywhere from less than a 10% difference, to up to almost 30% difference. Therefore “real figures” also depend on the individual car, as well as circumstances.
However, it’s worth noting that these are not always totally “accurate” either, as they typically don’t take into account all of these key variables e.g. extra passengers, driving up hills, very cold weather. Although this is understandable, as range is an approximation or estimate, and it’s impossible to test each electric car’s range with varying numbers of passengers and luggage, varying numbers of hills, and at different cold temperatures. Instead, a simple and straightforward average is needed that gives us a good idea of what’s possible in relatively good conditions, with awareness that poorer conditions will have an impact.
You can extend your range
It’s also worth noting that those who switch to an electric car, can easily learn how to drive more efficiently, to increase range. A simple example of this is that WLTP and real-world driving tests are done using normal mode in electric cars, while anyone looking to drive a long-range distance would naturally switch to eco mode, which increases regenerative braking and conserves range substantially.
Futhermore, one of the biggest variables, or decreasers of range, is the speed you drive at. So simply avoiding unnecessary top speeds, and consciously being gradual with acceleration, will make a huge difference to whether you conserve range, or use it up on razzy driving.
You can learn more here about how to conserve range. And it’s worth noting that people who drive with efficiency and steadiness in mind can surpass the WLTP calculation, which aims to replicate start-stop driving.
A rule of thumb
While WLTP official range figures are sometimes maligned and derided by those new to electric, who protest that if you have a car full of passengers and luggage, all electrics on, and are doing 70mph on a winter night, then the range will be considerably less.
The simple fact is that in a conventional petrol car, the mpg would also be considerably less in such circumstances. And WLTP gives a good standardised indication of the range of any electric car.
A good (and cautious) rule of thumb would be to say the real-world range may be up to, or about 20% off the WLTP figure, in average conditions, and perhaps 10-20% more with many passengers or load weight added, and/or driving in the very cold conditions.
The ‘worst case scenario range’ is hard to estimate, but quite simply, when a myriad of other factors are thrown in, all electric cars will lose some range, which could be minor or considerable depending on what speeds and weights are involved.
What does this all mean?
While range is a valid concern for many, it only becomes a real issue if you will be driving long distances every day, and hoping to go 200+ miles in a charge.
In reality, electric cars are best for daily driving with local commutes and short trips. The average UK distance driven each day is 20 miles, so most electric cars can have enough charge for a week, or more.
For longer journeys, you simply need to be aware that carrying up to five passengers and luggage will reduce the range, as will going at very fast speeds and/or varying speed constantly (smooth and steady is the best way to drive electric) will reduce range, and so will winter freezes. This simply means you need to plan your recharges at services, and keep an eye on your range, and top-up when you’re running low.
This may seem like a pain, but in most cases if you do a long trip of 200+ miles, you will only have to stop once for a half-hour break to top-up, and you would typically stop at services for a toilet stop and food break anyway. And if you have a long-range car of 300+ miles then you may not need to stop to recharge, even if you’re crossing the country.
You can use our charge map to help you find charge points, and plan your stops or options, if you need to plan ahead.
If you see EPA range written, then this is the test for the U.S. which puts much more emphasis on highway driving since Americans spend more time on interstates, whether they are commuting to work or traveling long distances for recreational reasons. EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency, and this is simply a closer approximation to real-world results for American drivers.
Find the right electric car for you
You can explore all electric and PHEVs (and other hybrids) available on our site, and compare range figures, and rapid charge capabilities, to find the right electric car for you and your driving needs. If you need a long range electric car, there are models available up to and beyond 400 miles. But in most cases an average range of 200 miles is more than enough, and daily driving with electric will save you lots of money in the long run, and charging times are getting faster and faster, meaning top-ups are getting quicker and easier. So you can easily get all the range you need!