Electric car range: how far will they really go on a single charge?

We run three electric cars as far as we can to test out the real-world range of their batteries

Matt Rigby
Dec 19, 2021

Running out of fuel in a conventional petrol or diesel car can be a nuisance, but it's fairly difficult to do thanks to the number of fuel stations there are around the UK. And then, even if you do grind to a halt at the side of the road, it's an issue that can be relatively easily solved if you can get hold of an emergency jerry can of fuel from somewhere. But what happens if you’re driving an electric car and the battery runs flat?

Some vehicle recovery firms such as the RAC offer an emergency charging service that could help you to reach the nearest charging station, but they can only give you up to 10 miles in charge, which still may not be enough if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere. The other option is a good old-fashioned tow to either a charging station or your destination (whichever's nearest), although the latter may not be much use if you're still left with an empty battery and nowhere to charge it.

During the infancy of electric cars, their limited range and the primitive infrastructure surrounding them gave rise to the phrase 'range anxiety'. This was a very real problem for a lot of people whose electric cars could travel 80 miles on a charge, but there were no charging points between them and their 100-mile destination.

Now, though, there is a more substantial and wider-reaching network of charging points available in the UK, and with a greater number of electric cars now offering over 200 miles of charge, it would be reasonable to suggest that anyone driving an electric car anywhere in Britain would be able to manage if they wanted to.

Electric cars are becoming a much more realistic alternative to traditional petrol or diesel models. The best electric models – admittedly the most expensive ones – will offer more than 300 miles of range per charge according to official WLTP figures, which is not far off what you'd expect from a tank of petrol in a small car.

We've conducted our own research to clear up just how far electric cars can run on a single charge, in real-life conditions on UK roads. The models in question are the latest generation Nissan Leaf, the Hyundai Kona Electric, and the Volkswagen e-Golf, and we'll be finding out for ourselves whether their advertised range is achievable.

Real-world electric car range

The Volkswagen e-Golf is officially capable of 144 miles between charges. The official mileage range of the Nissan Leaf is 168 miles, while the Hyundai Kona Electric has the biggest battery of the three, with an official expectation of 279 miles.

From our real-world testing, we can deduce that these electric cars are actually capable of achieving around 85% of that quoted range. These numbers have been calculated using our own real-world testing of a Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen e-Golf, and Hyundai Kona Electric.


Official range

Our range

Percentage of manufacturer's range

Volkswagen e-Golf

144 miles

120 miles


Nissan Leaf

168 miles

138 miles


Hyundai Kona Electric

279 miles

250 miles


How far can an electric car drive?

Our tests were carried out by journalists, using three different cars. They are meant to measure what the range of an electric car is in real-world conditions. They are not meant to reflect how an electric car is used for most of its time, but how well it would perform on the medium or long-distance journeys that might only be occasional, but are still a big concern for drivers. The fear that an electric car isn’t suitable for these types of journeys is one of the main reasons more people aren’t purchasing electric vehicles.

Nissan Leaf

Official range 168 miles Test range 138 miles Charge time (fast charger) 80% in 30 mins Test cost 3.6p per mile
Used deals from £18,980
Monthly finance from £308*

For our (admittedly unscientific) purposes, we drove a Nissan Leaf from South Mimms Services, to inner-city Birmingham, which took four hours. We then went to Corley Services in order to recharge. Travelling from (just outside of) England’s first city to its second is roughly what Nissan says the Leaf will travel at mixed speeds, plus, Birmingham is the spiritual home of the car in the UK, as the first (all) British four-wheeled car, the Wolseley, was made here.

First up, you need to take into account charging times if your journey is further than the range of the car. Using fast chargers, the Leaf can get to 80% charge in around 30 minutes. This is impressive - but you won’t be getting those speeds from your three-pin or home charger.

Our test journey from South Mimms Services on the M25, to the central Birmingham location was 108 miles. It was an additional 22 miles from Birmingham to the next charging spot at the Corley services on the M6. From 100% at the South Mimms Services, we arrived at Birmingham with around 30 miles left. We arrived at Corley services with 8 miles indicated left in the metaphorical tank. This means that we travelled 130 miles on a single charge, with a theoretical range of 138 miles.

The Leaf was used in real-world conditions - driven on the A1 at rush hour, and at speeds varying between inner-city and 70mph, with the radio on, and heating intermittently used. Nissan’s real-world figure of 168 miles at motorway speeds is probably achievable at relatively low speeds and with minimal power being sapped by electronic items in the car - but using it in an everyday way, it’s not quite capable of completing 168 miles.

The Nissan Leaf starts at £25,995, around £3,500 more than a similarly sized (but petrol-powered) Ford Focus. While trim levels aren’t quite like-for-like, it is a stark contrast. There are savings to be made, however.

£5.04 is all it cost to travel from South Mimms Services to Central Birmingham to Corley Services. Charge lengths, times, prices, and even power can change depending on car/range/power sources, but for us, Ecotricity cost 30p per kWh. At 138 miles that works out at 3.6p per mile. To put that into context, Britain’s best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta, will have roughly cost £19.47 to travel the same distance.

Since our test, a revelation has been unearthed about the Nissan's powertrain: you can’t rapid-charge the Leaf’s batteries more than once on a single journey. Nissan says that this is to ‘safeguard’ the battery, in order to maintain battery life over an extended time period.

Volkswagen e-Golf

Official range 144 miles Test range 120 miles Charge time (fast charger) 80% in 45 mins Test cost 12p per mile
Used deals from £15,646
Monthly finance from £0*

The Volkswagen e-Golf officially has a range of 144 miles, but the company accepts publicly that in real-world driving conditions, that figure is closer to 120 miles. Of course, like any discussion of range and/or economy – whether in an electric vehicle or a car powered by an internal combustion engine – that all comes down to the driver.

For example, motorway journeys don’t necessarily have to induce range anxiety in electric vehicle drivers, as maintaining a steady pace using cruise control can certainly see that 120 miles exceeded. On one trip, we drove the e-Golf from the Cotswolds to London – a distance of around 110 miles – mostly using the M4. Maintaining a constant 65mph, along with a section of slower speed when congestion struck, enabled us to get home with 40 miles of range remaining, meaning a theoretical 150 miles. Driving at 65mph on a British motorway is certainly an unusual experience – almost the only other vehicles you overtake are lorries – but the silence of an EV somehow enables you to attain a calm, almost zen-like state. If you can maintain this kind of speed, however, you should be able to attain somewhere in the region of four to five miles per kilowatt/hour.

Driving at 60-65mph on the motorway might maximise your range, but sometimes you want to feel that you’re making progress. The e-Golf can certainly cope with driving at more usual motorways speeds – but if you do opt to drive at a ‘normal’ motorway speed, the range does fall pretty quickly (you’ll be going at below four miles per kilowatt/hour) and you can expect to get somewhere in the region of 80 miles before the warning light comes on, telling you that comfort functions are restricted.

The e-Golf uses a different charger than the Leaf: instead of the Nissan’s CHAdeMO charger, the e-Golf has a Type 2 charger that uses AC power. In most regular fast 7kW chargers (which aren’t that fast) that means it takes about five hours for a full charge. There are also 43kW rapid chargers on the motorway, but the e-Golf can’t take advantage of these AC chargers and so will still only charge at 7kW. This is something that you’ll only discover in the small print, which could catch you out if you turn up at one of Ecotricity’s Electric Highway chargers at a motorway service station. Instead of an 80% charge in 45 minutes, you’ll receive less than 20%.

In order to get an 80% charge in 45 minutes or so, the e-Golf needs a 50kW DC CCS (Combined Charging System) rapid charger. Ecotricity offers these, as do other public charging suppliers such as Polar, Instavolt and Charge Your Car. CCS is far more common than CHAdeMO - most manufacturers prefer to use CCS.

For day-to-day off-street charging on the Source London network, those with a membership (which costs £4 a month) will pay 29.1p per kWh, with a full charge for the e-Golf costing in the region of £10 and taking around five hours.

Hyundai Kona Electric

Official range 279 miles Test range 250 miles Charge time (fast charger) 80% in 45 mins Test cost 7.5p per mile
Used deals from £15,646
Monthly finance from £0*

We’ve also driven the new Hyundai Kona Electric a couple of times, with one longer run undertaken as part of a challenge that the carmaker set motoring journalists. Set with the task of reaching a choice of various checkpoints around the country, at which we could earn additional points, before heading back after 14 hours to our original starting point and earning more points for the amount of range we had left, the Kona performed incredibly well.

Hyundai says that the official range is 279 miles and in the early hours of our drive, without being overly careful about our range, we were on course to get close to that. Speeding up on motorways reduced the range at a faster rate (between 4.3 and 4.6 miles per kWh), but it was still an impressive range that should eliminate range anxiety among owners: 250 miles should be attainable reasonably easily and many journeys that are impossible in a Leaf or e-Golf without stopping to recharge will be possible.

On the Kona drive, we charged twice (Ecotricity and Charge Your Car), taking on a total of 72.8kWh, which cost £20.11. The Kona variant we drove had a 64kWh battery, which is larger than the Leaf’s 40kWh and the e-Golf’s 35.8kWh – and which accounts for its greater range. But as a larger battery, it will take longer to charge and cost more: but it will get you further. When a new generation of 150kW chargers starts taking root in the next few years – at BP filling stations, for example – charging times will start to come down considerably (but costs might not: they will be expensive to build, so the driver will have to pay more for the quicker service).

It’s also worth noting that for those electric vehicle owners with off-street parking, who can install a charging unit in their garage or drive at home, the cost of charging can work out to be considerably cheaper. Other journalists testing the e-Golf at the same time as us, who have home chargers are spending anywhere between a quarter and a half of the cost of public chargers: one quoted 7.2p per kWh at night or 15.7 per kWh during the day. It's an inexact science – there will be variations in electricity tariffs, for example – but it does demonstrate that running an EV off a domestic supply will work out a lot cheaper than having to rely on public infrastructure.

However EV drivers charge, the costs are generally lower than filling up with petrol or diesel. And when all EVs have Kona-like ranges, and there’s no anxiety required, drivers are going to find their motoring lives not only cleaner, but also considerably cheaper.

Electric cars with the longest range

The most modern electric cars use a type of measurement called WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Testing Procedure) to determine how far an electric car can travel on a single charge. It’s more representative than the old test, called NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) which is still quoted by some carmakers.

Below, we state whether the car’s quoted range is NEDC or WLTP. We also quote each car’s real-world range. This figure is drawn from our own experience, reviews by our sister publication AutoExpress and other reputable sources.



Real-world range

Tesla Model S

379 miles (WLTP)

320 miles

Mustang Mach E

379 miles (WLTP)

320 miles

Tesla Model 3

348 miles (WLTP)

295 miles

Tesla Model X

314 miles (WLTP)

233 miles

Polestar 2

292 miles (WLTP)

253 miles 

Jaguar I-Pace

292 miles (WLTP)

253 miles

Kia e-Niro

282 miles (WLTP)

253 miles

Hyundai Kona Electric

279 miles (WLTP)

259 miles

Mercedes EQC

259 miles  (WLTP)

220 miles

Audi e-tron

249 miles (WLTP)

220 miles

Volkswagen ID.3

263 miles (WLTP)

240 miles


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