People care about performance. There are entire media organizations built around ICEVs performance, and now EVs are stepping into their ring. We’ll look at efficiency, range, acceleration, top speed, power, torque, towing, payload, charging and cold climate operation.
Reliable and consistent lists comparing car performance are hard to come across. Inside EVs regularly updates this useful comparison of EV range, acceleration, top speed, pricing and more.
EVs are inherently more efficient. EVs convert over 77% of electrical energy to power at the wheels. Gasoline ICEVs only convert about 12%–30% of energy in gasoline to power at the wheels. It is also important to note that EVs do not consume energy while stopped or ‘idling’ (other than for accessories like lights, heating, air conditioning or music).
Vehicle efficiency is measured as miles-per-gallon (MPG) or the equivalent in electricity (MPGe). From fueleconomy.gov (US official source for fuel economy), comparisons of the top-performing cars (looking at combined city/highway efficiency) in the past 5 years (2016–2021):
- Diesel ICEV: 37 MPG, 2017–2019 Chevrolet Cruze
- Gasoline ICEV: 39 MPG, 2017–2021 Mitsubishi Mirage,
- HEV: 59 MPG, 2021 Hyundai Ioniq Blue
- PHEV: 117 MPGe (from electricity), 2016 BMW i3 REX
(note when using gasoline the efficiency drops to 39 MPG)
- BEV: 141 MPGe 2020 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
- FCEV: 74 MPGe 2021 Toyota Mirai XLE
The top BEV is >3.5X more efficient than the top ICE vehicles, and >2X more efficient than HEVs. The top PHEV has quite a good efficiency, but only when plugging in and using batteries.
An interesting difference is that while most ICEVs are more efficient on the highway, most EVs are more efficient in the city. This is mostly the result of recapturing energy during start-and-stop traffic.
Range & Range Anxiety
Range Anxiety is when you are afraid your EV will run out of charge during a trip. Since empty EVs cannot be easily recharged on the side of the road this is a valid situation to avoid at all costs. Jerry cans can’t be filled with electricity. The reality is most people do not often drive far. In the US, the average daily urban commute is under 40 miles and the average daily rural commute is under 50 miles. 95% of trips are under 30 miles, 98% of trips are under 50 miles and 99% of trips are under 70 miles. For daily driving and most single trips, range anxiety should not be a concern. However, this does not mean having lots of range is a waste. Many people want to go on long road trips, and the higher range makes the experience much nicer and reduces the number of stops required. I personally go on multi-thousand km trips and only want to stop every 400–500km.
EV ranges are increasing quickly. In 2011, the median EV range was 68 miles (109 km) and the maximum range was 94 miles (151 km). By 2020, the median had increased 3.8X to 259 miles (417 km) and the top had increased 4.2X to 402 miles (647 km). Between 2013 and 2019, the average EV model range almost doubled. Gas vehicles have higher ranges, with a minimum range of 224 miles (360 km), a median of 418 miles (673 km) and a maximum of 792 miles (1275 km) in 2017. Diesel vehicles have even higher average ranges of 550 miles (885 km).
Power & Torque
EVs and ICEVs generate power and torque very differently. One of the largest advantages of EVs is that they produce torque instantaneously and consistently. ICEVs produce ideal power and torque over small ranges (normally 2000–4000 rpm). This is why an ICEV uses a transmission to shift gears to stay within this sweet spot. In general, EVs tend to have less power, produce more torque, and are overall heavier vehicles.
One of the timeless measures of cars is acceleration. It is most often measured as 0–60 mph (or 0–97 km/h) times, but quarter mile times and 0–100 mph times are also used. Outside the US, 0–100 km/h times are used, which are very close to 0–60 mph times.
Since EVs produce instantaneous torque, they have an advantage against ICEVs in takeoff acceleration. The use of supercapacitors, which are capable of very fast discharge, help get even quicker acceleration. To compare the quickest EVs and ICEVs in the world, we look to Wikipedia’s article list of fastest production cars by acceleration:
- In the 0–60 mph, EVs and ICEVs are tied for the quickest. The 2020 Tesla Model S Performance w/ Ludicrous Mode is tied with the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon (only 3300 produced) for the quickest car at 2.3 seconds to 60 mph.
- In the quarter mile, full EVs don’t perform as well but are still very fast. With a one foot rollout allowed, the 2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S is 14th on the list at 10.3 seconds, almost a full second behind the first-place 2018 Bugatti Chiron Sport ICEV at 9.4 seconds. From a standing start, the same Porsche moves up to 11th on the list at 10.5 seconds, behind the first-place 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder (which is a HEV) at 9.81 seconds.
For a more relevant comparison to the non-supercar consumer, Consumer Reports  Table C.1 looks at EVs and ICEVs in several vehicle classes. They selected the most popular BEVs and PHEVs in each class, and compared against four different ICEVs; the most efficient (including HEVs), the best-selling, the top-rated and one with similar performance (not the best performing). Specs shown include price, efficiency, range and acceleration:
It can be seen that for all classes where available, the most popular BEVs are quicker than the best-selling and top-rated ICEVs. For luxury classes the performance difference is bigger.
Although a classic metric in the supercar and performance junkie world, top speed is not as relevant to the average driver. All mainstream EVs being sold can go beyond top speeds allowed by law outside portions of the German Autobahn. However, it is true that top speeds of EVs are generally lower than ICEVs. Amongst current models:
- The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt is the slowest with a top speed of only 90 mph (145 km/h).
- The top end 2021 Teslas are fastest, with the Model S Plaid at 200 mph (322 km/h), the Model X Plaid at 163 mph (262 km/h) and the Model 3 Performance at 162 mph (261 km/h).
- The 2021 Porsches are slightly behind that with the Taycan Turbo at 161 mph (259 km/h) and the Taycan 4S at 155 mph (249 km/h).
Plenty of ICEVs can go faster than 200 mph. Then there are supercars designed to break speed records. The fastest production vehicle in the world is the 2017 Koenigsegg Agera RS at 277.87 mph (447.19 km/h), although only 25 were built. Most cars designed for record-breaking top speeds are very low run and not-practical for mass production, with none having production runs of more than 300 since the 1980s. Tesla intends to compete with their new Roadster claiming to have a top speed of over 250 mph.
Towing & Payload
How much a car can carry and tow is important, especially for large trucks and SUVs. Although there are no large electric trucks or electric SUVs on the road, they are coming soon with deliveries of the Rivian R1T expected in June 2021, the Rivian R1S in August 2021, the Hummer EV in late 2021 and the Ford F-150 Electric and Tesla CyberTruck in 2022. Since none of these large trucks and SUVS are on the road in customer hands, we will also include the smaller Tesla Model X in our comparison.
- Tesla Model X has a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs
- Rivina R1T has a towing capacity of 11,000 lbs
- Rivian R1S has a towing capacity of 7,700 lbs
- Tesla Cybertruck: payload of 3,500 lbs, towing capacity 7,500–14,000lbs (depending on trim)
There is reason to be skeptical of any of these claimed payload and towing capacities, and it will be interesting to see how these trucks and SUVs do in the critical hands of consumers. At the very least, anecdotal evidence shows towing a trailer appears to reduce range of EVs quite drastically. In principle, regenerative braking may work even better with the extra weight of a trailer behind the vehicle which could offset some range loss.
EVs need to be recharged instead of filled with gas or diesel like ICEVs. Charging speeds depend on both the car and the charging method.
The types of charging and their speeds:
- AC Level 1 charging uses 120V, the standard residential outlet in North America. This method adds 4–5 miles range per hour, or up to 40 miles in 8 hours, and is best suited to nightly charging at home.
- AC Level 2 charging uses 200-240V (standard residential or commercial outlet in most of the world or upgraded residential outlet in North America). This method adds 10–25 miles range per hour, or up to 180 miles in 8 hours.
- DC Fast Charging uses grid power passed through an AC/DC inverter and then directly into the EV battery pack, bypassing the car’s charger. DC Level 1 supplies up to 80 kW at 50–1000 V. DC Level 2 supplies up to 400 kW at 50–1000 V. These methods add roughly 50–170 miles in only 30 minutes, and is the practical way to make road trips further than the vehicle range. Fast charging strains the battery so should be avoided when not needed.
When looking at the numbers from the range section, we saw that 95% of trips are under 30 miles and could be covered by 6 hours of the slowest AC Level 1 charging, and 99% of trips are under 70 miles and could be covered by less than 3 hours of AC Level 2 charging. The average daily urban commute of under 40 miles could be handled by AC Level 1 charging overnight and the average daily rural commute of under 50 miles could be handled by two hours of AC Level 2 charging.
ICEVs have the convenience advantage of being fillable in less than 5 minutes. Some EV proponents argue that stopping for 30 minutes after driving hundreds of miles is desirable, but it is undeniable that for long road trips, ICEVs can save you significant chunks of idle time. This should be balanced with the fact that ICEVs always need to be filled regularly, even if you only do short daily trips. EVs don’t ever have make charging station stops unless you want to go beyond your range in a single day.
The majority of charging is done at home and is simple and straightforward. But what about on the road? The availability, compatibility and reliability of the network of fast charge stations for long trips leaves a lot to be desired and can add to driver anxiety.
Lower speed AC Level 1 and Level 2 are widely available in public parking spots, such as at malls and offices. But these are intended to slowly charge while you use nearby facilities, not to give range boosts needed for a longer trips. For that you need to find a DC Fast Charger. Since Tesla has the most stations and the high average chargers per station, they have vastly more chargers than anyone else in the US:
To put it bluntly, the overall experience of fast-charging electric vehicles sucks. You must first find a charging station that works with your vehicle. Different stations have different speeds and you might not know until you show up. Many stations have few stalls and if someone is there you have to wait for them to finish. Sometimes charging spots simply don’t work. The logistics of charging is chaotic. Filling and payment processes differ depending on both the cars and the stations. Different apps or charge cards are needed. Pricing is non-standard and confusing to consumers, with rates either by kWh, kW or minute and some including session fees or monthly account fees.
Further complication is added by multiple non-interchangeable charging standards for DC Fast Charging. There are three main plug types; CHAdeMO, CCS and Tesla. Japanese EVs mostly use CHAdeMO, US and European EVs mostly use CCS and Tesla uses their proprietary standard.
Charging station maps are available for US/Canada from the US Department of Energy and Chargehub, and for Europe from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory. EV manufacturers often display maps of charging stations and their speeds in the car and can navigate you to them when needed.
There is so much opportunity to improve the experience of fast charging electric vehicles. Anecdotally, Tesla has the best experience, but even Tesla drivers have to step out and use the broader network if no Superchargers are nearby or available. In an ideal world, chargers would be widely available, EVs would be compatible with all stations, app experiences would be similar and straightforward, payment and pricing would be transparent and charging wouldn’t be stressful or annoying at all.
On the contrary, Gas stations are consistent, quick, and reliable, and we basically don’t think about them. This is a huge convenience for the driver. Gas and diesel are widely available. And while fuel blends may vary slightly, everyone shows up at a station expecting to be able to fuel their car. There are rare exceptions when the station is empty or the pumps are down, but then there’s usually another pump or station very nearby. Stations have high throughput so even if many people come to fill up at the same time, lines go quickly. No accounts or apps or special plugs are required. Pricing is standard and payment easy. In general, you don’t need to plan ahead unless you’re way off the beaten path, and even then you’d have to ignore warning signage to get into trouble.
Cold Weather & Range
EV range is drastically reduced in cold weather, due to energy required to heat the cabin and heat batteries to ideal operation temperature. ICEVs make use of their plentiful waste heat from the engine to heat cabins, and range isn’t significantly impacted by cold weather. Consumer Reports  found that EV range was roughly halved in very cold temperatures (0 to 10° F, or -18 to -12°C). In a larger (but milder) test, the Norwegian Automobile Federation (NAF)  found in temperatures from 3°C down to -6°C (37°F down to 21°F) that range dropped on average 18.5%, with the worst car dropping about 30%. AAA  found that operating at 20°F (-6.7°C) resulted in range dropping 41%.
Charging speed is also negatively impacted by cold weather. Manufacturers advise either driving to warm up the batteries or preconditioning the car to counteract drops in charging speed.
Most EVs use electric (resistive) heaters to heat the cabin. Using heat pumps should increase the real-world range that EVs get, especially in cold temperature, and manufacturers are starting to use them.
Next, on to Safety!Header image credit: Marc Sendra Martorell