This is part two of our three-part series comparing all major electric vehicles that will be on sale in the US in 2020. For “Part 1: Offerings, Basic Stats, Safety, and Manufacturers”, click here. “Part 3: Cargo, Internal and External Dimensions, Purchasing” will be posted tomorrow!
Every Electric Car Coming Out, Compared In Every Way.
Part 2: Price, Performance, Efficiency, Range, and CHARGING
1. Price vs. Range
Let’s begin by listing and graphing the numbers 🙂 All prices include doc/delivery fees — both base and fully optioned. All ranges are EPA highway, since highway driving is where range matters the most, and generally increases in lower-speed driving. Numbers in italics are calculated / estimated.
Plotting them, first by brand-only:
At present, Tesla remains the range champions — price-competitive on the low-end, and with no peers at the high end (note: the SR- can only be purchased “off-menu”). Porsche is a standout for its very poor range-to-price ratio — but that is not the market they’re going for, and they try to make up for their low range with Tesla-competitive DC charge rates (more on this later).
Jaguar has announced that an upcoming update will increase their range by improving the I-Pace’s motor efficiency; the updated range is included in the above graph, even though it hasn’t happened yet.
Tesla Model S and X Plaid ranges are a huge wildcard. Tesla has confirmed that they will have a new battery pack, but have offered no clues yet as to its capacity. The range could be as little as 250mi (X) / 300mi (S) if drag increases significantly but pack sizes remain the same… or significantly increase if they significantly increase the pack capacity.
Also of some (but lesser) uncertainty are unreleased upcoming vehicles like the BMW iX3. Only one Taycan version (Taycan Turbo) has an official EPA range, but it allows the other variants to be pinpointed reasonably accurately.
The Clarity Electric is not available for purchase; instead, I’ve roughly back-converted the lease price into a purchase price for the purpose of comparison.
The 2020 Ford Mach-E vehicles currently seem a bit expensive relative to their range; however, in early 2021 lower-cost variants will be unveiled, with a non-premium interior and somewhat slower charging.
To reiterate, the range figures are for EPA highway range (derived by taking the combined-cycle range, dividing by the combined-cycle MPGe, and multiplying by the highway MPGe). As a general reminder, do not compare European (WLTP or NEDC) ranges with EPA ranges without a significant adjustment factor; European range estimates are significantly inflated (usually 10-25% for WLTP vs. EPA combined, worse for NEDC).
While labels were left off the previous graph to make it easier to see, here they’re included to be able to identify specific vehicles.
2. Efficiency / Energy Consumption
A key factor to explaining range variation can be seen when we plot out efficiency — both EPA wall-to-wheels efficiency (stacked bars), alongside pack-to-wheels efficiency (coloured lines; roughly estimated from usable pack size relative to range)
With a focus on low drag coefficients and a highly efficient powertrain, Tesla dominates the left side of the efficiency chart, with the Model 3 facing competition only from the Hyundai Ioniq — another highly streamlined sedan.
A wide range of vehicles with similar interior sizes follow, generally of CUV or hatchback format, which typically costs about 15% increased energy consumption on the highway.
Note that a number of vehicles do not have official EPA wall-to-wheels efficiency figures yet, and are ranked by their (less reliably-calculated) pack-to-wheels figures. I personally expect that the Mach E won’t come in as poor as it appears — but I can only plot the numbers as they stand today.
Model S and X formerly would have been fairly far to the right of the chart, but have since had their (relatively inefficient) pure induction powertrain switched to a hybrid induction / PMSRM similar to that of the Model 3’s. This approach to AWD offloads most of the work to the highly efficient PMSRM when cruising, using the induction motor only for bursts of power or traction; unlike the dual-PM powertrains used by other manufacturers of AWD vehicles, an induction motor can be idled without magnetic drag, causing less of an efficiency penalty for going with an AWD powertrain.
Toward the right of the chart tends to be sportier vehicles. The I-Pace used to be at the top of the list, and its EPA figures still rank it there, but the upcoming powertrain efficiency update should move it down a number of (pardon the pun) “paces”. The top of the charts are now dominated by the Porsche Taycan (whose city and combined ranges are actually lower than its highway range — unusual for an EV),
The rightmost Teslas — the Model S and X Plaid — involve guesswork, as their specifics have not been released yet. However, they're track-optimized versions of the S and X performance, and as a general rule, optimizing for the track involves an increase in drag.
The wall-to-wheels consumption figures — as directly measured by the EPA – should be considered more accurate than pack-to-wheels figures. This comes with two caveats: they’re A) are only available on EPA-tested vehicles, and B) are not the most useful figure to owners. The more useful Pack-to-Wheels figures have to be estimated by publicly-available estimates of actually-usable pack capacity relative to EPA ranges, and thus have more margin for error.
3. Price vs. Performance
As in the previous section, we’ll plot out price vs. performance (0-60 time), then discuss the caveats below.
Even more than in the price vs. range comparison, Tesla also dominates the price-vs-performance comparison. Note that the above figures reflect the recent Model 3 software update that improved motor power, but whose numbers have not yet been updated on the Tesla website. An equivalent S/X update is also expected soon; I have made no attempt to estimate how much that will improve performance, so these figures should be considered conservative for 2020. Model Y numbers may also improve thanks to the software update, but their numbers are, likewise, unadjusted on the above graph. Model S and X Plaid numbers are estimated, and are likely on the conservative side.
As with the price-vs. range graphs, here’s a version of the above graph which adds individual vehicle labels to the previous graph, at the cost of adding clutter.
4. Top Speed
Once again, when it comes to top speeds, Tesla again dominates — although top speeds probably matter little to your average person. Only the ForTwo ED and perhaps the 500e might be too slow for your average driver on the highway.
Top speeds for the Model S and X Plaid are estimated. Some calculations from watching the Model S Plaid prototype on a straightaway at the Nürburgring suggested a speed of around 180mph, and faster speeds might be possible.
5. Charge Rates
Before we can discuss charge rates we should discuss charger types. There are three primary standards for Fast/DC charging in the US.
- Tesla Supercharger: While Tesla offers partnership agreements for other manufacturers to use their standard, at present only Teslas support it (and only in the US; European Teslas use CCS).
- CCS: While the officially-endorsed standard in Europe (CCS Type-2), in the US (CCS Type-1) is not the “official standard”, but nonetheless remains the most popular non-Tesla charging standard. US Teslas cannot charge on CCS connectors, but the vast majority of CCS stations also have CHAdeMO connectors, which Teslas can use.
- CHAdeMO: A standard popular in Japan and found on the Nissan Leaf, it seems to be falling out of favour in the rest of the world, and some new CCS stations — particularly in Europe — seem to be dropping support for it. That said, most CCS stations also have CHAdeMO connectors. Teslas can charge on CHAdeMO with an optional adapter.
We should also discuss networks and distributions. Particularly in the US, the Supercharger network is generally considered to be the best for road tripping, offering high powers, good geographic distribution, high reliability, and low cost. Billing is automatic. Supercharger stations employ numerous chargers (each paired to two charging pedestals), so that if one goes down, capacity degradation is minimal. Upgraded this year (from 120kW max to 145kW), Tesla is in the process of switching to the new 250kW “V3” standard.
Historically, the state of non-Tesla DC chargers was rather poor. The vast majority were, and remain, 50kW, of which only around ~40kW was normal for most EVs. There are many different networks, each with their own payment methods and membership requirements. Maintenance levels have been inconsistent, depending on how much the charger’s owner actually cared about it. Prices have usually been high compared to Tesla, but inconsistent. Locations have historically been mostly in cities, numerous, but with only one or two chargers per location, making it easy to arrive at a station and discover that it was taken or down.
The state of non-Tesla chargers is however finally improving, particularly due to the Electrify America network. Established as part of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate settlement with the state of California, Electrify America is building a geographically-distributed network of high-power CCS/CHAdeMO chargers. They take a sort of middleground between the Supercharger approach and the traditional CCS station approach, with an average of around 3 chargers/stalls per station — somewhat increasing vulnerability to overcrowding or downtimes, but allowing them to reach a broad geographic coverage more quickly.
A main downside to Electrify America vs the Supercharger network is pricing, as can be seen in the below comparison for a sample road trip from Houston to DC. First, the optimized-Supercharger trip (courtesy of A Better Route Planner)
The total cost of the trip is $63. Now, optimized for Electrify America, in the same vehicle and conditions:
Only a slightly longer drive, but over three times the cost. This said: Electrify America does offer a membership program which cuts a third off the cost to charge, in exchange for a (relatively modest) monthly fee.
But back to the vehicles. We’ll plot minutes to charge on the vertical axis and range achieved in that timeframe on the horizontal axis — thus, you ideally want a curve that’s low down and extends far to the right. A 1-minute rampup delay is assumed at the left side of each graph.
It helps if we zoom in; this will show only range achieved in the first 30 minutes.
Teslas (red) are famously good road trippers, and this shows in the above chart. That said, some of the new contenders which support ~150kW, such as the Mach E ER variants (green; SR variants are only 115kW) and the Polestar 2 (dark blue), also put up a respectable performance — with the caveat that I have to make assumptions about when and how they start tapering their charge rates, since they’re not available on the market yet. The slowpokes remain vehicles like the Leaf (yellow), Bolt (brown), e-Golf (pale green), i3 (cyan), Mini (very dark brown), etc, which can only take ~50kW fast charging.
One may wonder why the new Leaf e+, with its nominally 100kW charge rate, still remains in the slowpoke category. In theory, it could indeed charge faster — but I’ve yet to find anyone who’s actually managed to find a 100kW CHAdeMO connector and film a charge session on it! 100kW-capable CHAdeMO connectors do exist, but they’re sort of the unicorn of the charging world. In particular, while Electrify America CCS stations support 150kW or more, the CHAdeMO connectors on the same stations are only 50kW max. The same applies to the major European networks.
A cluster of vehicles such as the Kona (purple) and E-Niro (hot pink) maintain a relatively steady charge rate up to the lower 70s kW, limited by the current limits of their charge cables. In theory, with the new higher-current CCS connectors, they should be able to handle rates up to 100kW, yet don’t seem to, even when hooked up to 350kW Ionity chargers. This may be improved by a later update, and if so, would push them closer to the charge curve of the Taycan (gold).
What was advertised as a charge-rate giant — the Porsche Taycan — actually puts in a surprisingly poor, middle-of-the-pack showing. This is due to the vehicle’s inefficiency; the less efficient you are, the more kWh you have to charge to go a given distance. The same problem affects the Audi E-Tron (pale yellow) — capable of 150kW charge rates, its inefficiency relegates it to charge rates similar to the Taycan (although it partially compensates for this by maintaining 150kW to nearly 80% full, coming out slightly ahead).
The situation changes somewhat when we switch to scenarios where the charger is not the limiting factor (V3 Superchargers / 350kW CCS), which are few today but will increasingly dominate the landscape over the coming years:
As with before, we zoom in to the first 30 minutes:
The Model 3 and Model Y variants now post blazingly fast charge rates, due to their 250kW peak (170kW for SR-/SR+). Model S and X, however, remain unimproved at 145kW, due to their different battery architecture (whether this may change with the Plaid update (not plotted) is yet to be seen). Taycan — formerly advertised at 350kW charge rates, now nominal 275kW, and in typical charging sessions topping out around ~258kW — now performs much better than it used to, and overtakes Model S for the first hundred miles or so. However, Taycan begins to taper early, jumping down to ~200kW at around 37% (e.g. ~74 EPA-combined miles), and then increasingly large jumps down starting around 71% (~143mi). The reduced rates, combined with the Taycan’s inefficiency, allow the Model S to re-overtake it at around 100mi, even when charge powers are unlimited.
Most other vehicles — being unable to capitalize on such high charge powers — remain relatively unchanged.
Note that the Smart ForTwo ED and the Fiat 500e do not appear on any of the graphs, as they cannot take DC fast charging; the smallest vehicle supporting fast charging is the Mini (only 50kW). As they’re designed primarily for use as city cars, this is not as much of a sacrifice for them as it would be for longer-range vehicles.