As you bring out your puffer jackets, snow shovels, and cozy hot toddies for the onset of winter, it’s also the right time to think about how to manage the range of your electric car. While it’s no secret that cold weather reduces EV range, the range loss isn’t uniform across all models. Some EVs fare better than others in how they pre-condition the battery, recycle waste heat, and minimize range loss.
During the 2022-2023 winter season, battery health and data startup Recurrent gathered thousands of data points from 10,000 EVs to analyze how freezing temperatures affected their driving range. After analyzing 18 EV models across the U.S., it found that the average observed range in winter – range after factoring in real-world variables like climate, terrain, and driving patterns – was 70.3 percent of their normal range.
Before we get to model-specific data, here’s why EVs lose range in the first place when the mercury drops: Cold temperatures can resist the chemical and physical reactions that release energy from a battery. Moreover, cabin heating also draws energy from the high-voltage battery, lowering the range further. Nowadays many EVs come with heat pumps that recycle excess heat created by the battery and motors to improve efficiency and reduce range loss.
As per Recurrent, the range drop is relative to the range EVs get in “ideal driving temperature,” which the start-up defines as the “temperature at which a specific model sees its highest average range.” For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to these figures as the winter range and normal range – both figures are different from the EPA range, and appear to be more real-world than EPA’s estimates.
Among the EVs analyzed, the model year 2021-2022 Audi E-Tron, rebadged as the Q8 E-Tron MY2023 onward had the lowest range drop at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Its winter range was only 16 percent lower compared to the normal range. The E-Tron was among the earliest EVs to feature a heat pump, which allows recapturing up to 3 kilowatts of electricity by converting wasted heat from the motor.
The 2019 Nissan Leaf also exhibited a comparatively small range degradation. At 32F, it lost 23 percent of its range. Note that the older Leaf models were more susceptible to varied temperatures due to their passive thermal management (like radiators) compared to newer models that can be had with battery warmers. It’s noteworthy that some Alaskan drivers are extremely satisfied with their Leafs, as per Recurrent.
Lastly, Teslas’ thermal management seems pretty impressive. The Model 3, Model Y, and Model X each lost 24 percent range on average in winter. The brand rolled out its patented heat pump in 2021, which seems to have incorporated several innovations like a “super manifold” and an “octo valve” to improve the heat pump’s efficiency. Features like battery preconditioning also contribute to lowering the range loss during winter.
The Tesla data emerges from an impressive sample size. Recurrent crunched numbers from a whopping 4,375 Model Ys, 4,576 Model 3s, and 249 Model Xs. That said, if you’re interested in thermodynamics, we highly recommend checking out this explainer of how Tesla’s innovative heat pump works.
Note that these tests seem to have been carried out at 32F, and the numbers could vary in colder regions. That said, check out Recurrent’s winter range data for the Chevrolet Bolt, Ford F-150 Lightning, and Volkswagen ID.4 among several others, and leave your thoughts in the comments. Let us know if your EV has shown similar or different winter performance as far as range and charging are concerned.