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Getting to grips with range anxiety

By Maxine Ashford | June 18, 2021

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Maxine addresses one of the biggest barriers to electric cars - range anxiety - in this special feature

Getting to grips with range anxiety

Ask any motorist what their biggest concern about driving an electric car is and the majority will state ‘range anxiety’ without even having to stop and think about it.

It’s that dreaded fear of running out of battery charge in the middle of nowhere or, more frighteningly, on one of the not-so-smart motorways.

Obviously, drivers of traditionally-powered petrol and diesel cars have to keep a watchful eye on the fuel gauge too, although most modern vehicles will beep at you and constantly remind you to fill up asap. So why does the same issue fill us with such dread when driving an EV?

The answers are fairly straightforward. Firstly, it’s all still a relatively new concept to the masses and, as a nation, we tend to err on the cautious side when it comes to change.

Secondly, fuel stations are everywhere you look, but EV charge points simply are not – the infrastructure is growing, but is still woefully below par. So even if you manage to crawl to a garage, don’t be surprised if there is no facility to plug in.

Getting to grips with range anxiety Image

And finally, time. It seems to take an age to charge these cars, right? Well, that rather depends on the type of charge point you are using. For example, the faster charges can top up most EVs to at least 80 per cent in the time it takes to order a take-away coffee at the services.

So, armed with these concerns, I decided to put these range anxiety issues to the test whilst driving the very latest Lexus UX 300e – a fully electric vehicle with a range of 185 miles that costs £44,400.

And my journey from Crawley to Cardiff showed as 161 miles on the navigation system, so it should be a breeze … in theory.

However, the majority of my trip was motorway driving and if you drive an EV faster, it uses more battery range. Another problem is that EVs recoup energy via regenerative braking, so if you are in a busy city centre with lots of stop, start driving, the range limit is likely to go up. That opportunity rarely arises on a motorway though (unless you are on the M25 of course!)

There are many tips to conserve the range and maximise mileage and the first is to turn off anything that uses power unnecessarily – that means heating, infotainment and additional lights. So, all those systems were deactivated in my UX. Thankfully, it was not particularly cold, but I did realise after an hour or so how much I rely on my music for company on longer journeys.

The next factor that proved quite difficult was maintaining a very evenly paced speed. When a clear road opens up ahead on the long motorway stretches, it’s very tempting to put your foot down and go. But every time I touched the 70mph mark, the range started dropping far quicker than mile for mile. So, 60mph it was then. And that can be pretty tedious after time.

Another top tip is to always travel as light as possible in an EV. That means getting rid of any junk in the boot that’s not needed and simply adds extra weight to the car or roof boxes that effect the aerodynamics. My Lexus UX was a press car and just had me and an overnight bag inside, so nothing there to ditch. I did question having an extra slice of toast at breakfast though.

Getting to grips with range anxiety Image

It’s amazing the thoughts that go through your head as the range gets precariously low. My mind drifted to something I learnt while scuba diving years ago. If you breath in, you become lighter and you rise a couple of inches in the water and as you breath out, so you drop back down again. Therefore the car would be lighter if I breathed in. However, the main problem with this theory is that my journey was approximately three to four hours. Random thoughts though eh!

At this stage, I should probably make it clear that I did know where the nearest charging facilities were, especially for the latter half of the journey, so I was never more than a few miles from topping up. But that would have defeated the object of my mini-challenge.

After three-and-a-half hours, I was feeling quite tired from concentrating so hard on utilising every ounce of juice in that battery pack to maximise my range. My eyes had spent so much time looking at the range and then the touchscreen to see how far I had left to go and I was aching as I hadn’t stopped all journey as diverting into a motorway services would have added extra distance to my trip.

I was also pretty cold as there hadn’t been any heating in the car and it was evening time with temperatures dropping. 

Getting to grips with range anxiety Image

Then as I drove over the Prince Charles Bridge (or the Second Severn Crossing) into Wales, I started to feel like I was on the home straight, but it was always going to be close. 

But we did it and there were 11 miles left as I finally made it onto my drive where my Pod Point Wallbox was sitting waiting for me. 

I don’t think I’ll be pushing it that close next time though, but at least I can confirm that the projected range on the Lexus UX 300e is remarkably accurate!

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