Forget range anxiety. From EVs and plug-in hybrids to long-haul diesels, here’s how far you can get on a single charge or tank of fuel.
Range, as opposed to fuel efficiency or zero to sixty times, hasn’t always been at the forefront among automotive specs. Sure, some cars were small and therefore had small gas tanks, but their small size usually meant decent fuel economy. And on the flip side, bigger vehicles had larger tanks to make up for their relative inefficiency. Overall, gas cars ranges have run between 200-and 350 miles, with range increasing over time with improving engine efficiency, and diesel cars and trucks enjoying still greater ranges thanks to better mpg numbers (and in some cases larger fuel tanks).
For most consumers, however, the ubiquity of gas stations has meant total range on a single tank hasn’t been high on the list of car-buying priorities. Range and attendant range anxiety has come to the fore along with electric vehicles. Mainly because charging infrastructure can be difficult to locate and vehicle ranges have, until the very recent past, struggled to exceed much over 200 miles. And while most of us drive far less than that in a day, for anyone with southern California style commutes or vast distances between destinations, like out here in South Dakota, range anxiety with an EV is a very real concern.
As for that recent past, EVs have made significant strides in range with improved battery technology. Ranges for many EVs meet or exceed those of their gas-powered counterparts. Meanwhile, hybrids and plug-in hybrids can provide even more range, and in the latter’s case, limited electric-only driving as well.
Five years ago, it was hard to find many EVs that could get you more than 300 miles on a single charge, and in some parts of the country, finding a working charger, especially anything other than a Tesla Supercharger, was a major hassle. But more energy efficient batteries and improved (and improving) infrastructure have changed the game. Today’s range champ is the Lucid Air Dream at 520 miles. That’s over 100 miles more than the next closest competitor, the Tesla Model S with 405 miles of range, and shows just how far ahead of the competition the Lucid Air really is. Tesla, for their part, has done an impressive job adding range to their cars, which now offer as many miles per charge as gas cars get per tank.
This doesn’t mean the challenges of range and range anxiety are behind us, however. All of the above cars are above $50,000 (in the case of the Lucid Air and Model S over double that). More affordable EVs typically offer closer to 250 miles of range, like the Mustang Mach E and Kia Niro EV. For the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a balancing act between the size (and weight) of battery packs, their energy efficiency, overall cost, and total range.
An alternative to going fully electric is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV). These combine limited electric-only driving with a gas engine for added power and longer range. The range winner, the Toyota Prius Prime, also happens to be the most efficient in its class to boot with up to 640 miles of total range, 25 miles of electric-only range, and 133 MPGe. A plug-in hybrid really is the best compromise between efficiency, emissions, and total range. The limited EV range covers approximately two-thirds of the average US daily mileage of 35 miles while maximum ranges of well over 500 miles means infrequent fill-up stops even on cross-country trips.
Even without full-EV ranges, today’s hybrids are fantastically efficient and boast impressive ranges. Hyundai’s Ioniq Hybrid is the hybrid range champ at 702 miles on a single tank and 59 combined mpg. That’s a crazy mpg number for a regular-looking sedan, no weird Prius shapes required. And that’s really the story on today’s array of hybrids. Most manufacturers are now offering a hybrid option for their most popular nameplates. And those hybrids themselves have only gotten more and more efficient in recent years.
All this electrification is great (or not?), but for the greatest ranges in passenger vehicles you need two things, a huge fuel tank and the efficiency of a diesel engine. In the lightest versions of our trio of American made diesels (from Ford, RAM, and Chevy/GMC), you can get over 1,000 miles on a single tank. That’s roughly the distance from New York state to Florida. The RAM 1500 uses a 3.0L V6 diesel with 33 highway mpg and the optional larger 33-gallon fuel tank for 1,089 miles of range. Because pickups (and SUVs) tend to have larger gas tanks, they often sport greater ranges than smaller cars. The Toyota Tundra, for example, has a 32.2-gallon gas tank and gets 24 highway mpg for 772 miles of range. The highly efficient gas version of the Hyundai Elantra has just a 12.4-gallon fuel tank but also gets 43 highway mpg for 520 miles of range.