It’s the number one question we are asked about electric cars, closely followed by "where do you plug it in", as it speaks to the pseudo-barrier to purchase known as range anxiety.
Knowing your car can travel as far as you need it to, based on the representation printed on the windscreen consumption label in the showroom, isn’t always clear cut. We’ve seen it with petrol cars time and time again, where the claimed fuel consumption cycle is only achievable if you drive the car in a semi-controlled environment, and that real-world use tends to skew toward the thirstier end of the scale.
But is this the same with an electric car?
To find out, we tested the all-electric 2020 Mini Cooper SE, in both an urban and cruising cycle, to see if it was capable of reaching its stated 233km range.
Priced from $54,800 (before options and on-road costs, or $59,900 drive-away as a launch offer), the electric Mini has a 32.6kWh battery pack, the electron-equivalent to a fuel tank. For context, this is one of the smaller batteries available in the market at the moment, with the Nissan Leaf offering a larger 40kWh pack, the Hyundai Kona Electric a 64kWh battery and the Tesla Model S 100D the current leader with a 100kWh battery pack.
As you can imagine, between these different cars, ranges ‘aint ranges, but for the purpose of the test, we want to see if our car can meet the manufacturer claim by driving relatively normally, and to understand if there are any major differences between a cruising and urban cycle in terms of battery use.
Electric vehicle range is largely represented by the European standard WLTP (World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test), which in a similar fashion to traditional fuel consumption is a scientifically conducted test to create an estimate of the maximum distance the car will travel on a fully charged battery.
Rather than engaging in another scientific test to check this, we’ve gone with a relatively real-world experiment, that was conducted in two parts.
With a full tank of electricity, we drove around urban Melbourne and ran the car to its 50 per cent battery level. We then charged it up and drove at a constant cruising speed of 80km/h, again to the car’s 50 per cent level of charge.
We kept the two-stage energy recovery system at its maximum setting, which applies a 0.19g deceleration force (as opposed to a 0.11g force for the standard-setting) when you lift off the accelerator. We also ran the car in Green-mode so as to minimise the effect of accessory systems like heating and cooling.
Why only run the car to 50 per cent charge? We felt this would provide enough real-world data to understand the power use of the car in our different situations, and as we’d never recommend running your electric or petrol car completely out of fuel, it seemed like as good a limit as any and made all the maths much easier to boot.
When starting out, the car suggested it only had a maximum range of 160km when set to Green mode. This was likely due to the historical nature of the car’s driving behaviour where the zippiness of the Mini had been thoroughly explored (sadly not by me).
On the move in traffic through, this gradually adapted and at the 14km mark, the range had only dropped by 7km, while the battery showed 94 per cent charge remaining. The energy recovery system through the regenerative braking played a big part in this. While it takes a bit of getting used to the more extreme deceleration of the higher recovery setting, it certainly works well to keep the battery charged.
Fun fact, lifting off the throttle to let the energy recovery system slow the car lights up the brake lights as well, so you won't surprise the car behind you as you wash off speed.
This caused the range estimate on the Mini’s trip computer to fluctuate somewhat, as at one point the range dropped to 124km, then climbed back to 126km – after travelling an extra 25km. Don’t worry if that sounds puzzling, we’ve put the data on a chart.
As you can see, in order to meet the claim, we had to stay on or above the conceptual line of ‘linear discharge’. While that sounds somewhat unpleasant, the data is substantially more favourable, so much so that at the 95km trip mark we still had 64 per cent charge in the battery.
At the 100km point, we had used 14.4kWh of the battery’s charge, leaving a theoretical 18.2kWh to go. Not bad for what was regular urban driving.
I have to say too, that trying to drive a bit over 100km around inner Melbourne in one afternoon is quite an arduous task. When moving our speed was usually between 30 and 50 km/h, but when you throw in traffic light stops, the speed average drops and it takes a decent amount of time to make any distance headway.
Case in point, it took us over five-hours of non-stop driving just to ‘drain’ half the charge of the Mini’s small battery pack. Put simply, if you’re using a car like this around town, and can charge it every night, the modest range is more than enough!
At the 50 per cent mark, our trip meter read 120km, showing that the 233km total range was very much possible in an urban environment. I have to admit, I was surprised by this, especially given the car’s very conservative estimate of 160km at the start of the day. The regenerative braking was a huge aid in achieving this, but how would the car perform without regular braking, on a sustained highway cruise?
The urban and extra-urban fuel consumption figures we are all used to with petrol cars, always skew with heavy favour to the cruising cycle. Here, the engine ‘relaxes’ into its most efficient operational rhythm, and without the regular thirsty bouts of acceleration you experience around town, you are rewarded with a much longer range.
But our electric Mini used its energy recovery function to help extend the range around town, and on the freeway at a sustained speed, we wouldn’t have this, so will the result be the opposite? After being surprised at the urban result, I was not expecting the Mini to perform as well on the cruising cycle.
To allow a reasonably uninterrupted drive, we set off with a full charge and a displayed range of 191km at about 9pm from the high-speed charging station in Airport West and proceeded to ‘lap’ the Tullamarine Freeway and Western Ring Road loop until we again hit our 50 per cent range.
Initially, I ran the car in Green-Plus mode which only seemed to disable the heating, and because it was cold, I put things back into regular ‘Green’ so as to keep things much more pleasant inside.
At the 30km mark, the range had dropped just 10km to 181, and the car was reporting energy use of around 12.4kWh per 100km. That’s 2kWh more efficient than we were on the urban drive. I was using the Mini’s cruise control which mitigated any throttle coasting and afforded a relatively consistent 80km/h speed.
There was still 134km of range left when the car passed the 100km mark and at 130km we dropped just below the 50 per cent barrier with still over 120km range claimed. That’s a 250km total range on a highway cycle, which is both surprising and impressive!
Overlaying the data from the urban and freeway testing cycles shows the Mini is just as efficient in either situation and that with smooth and relaxed driving, you can easily meet the range as claimed.
The light-throttle cruising on the freeway and regenerative braking performance around town both resulting in efficient power usage highlight the versatility of the electric platform.
Plus, as an urban runner, the 2020 Mini Cooper SE range of 230km is more than enough for a day of driving, providing you can charge it at home overnight.
Other electric cars should perform similarly, and with more moving toward Tesla’s market-leading battery size of 100kWh, the distances you can easily travel, free of range anxiety, are only getting longer.