I've driven 20 electric cars — here are the 7 most important things I've learned about charging, range, and why Tesla still dominates

The Ford F-150 Lightning.
I've learned a ton about charging, range, and what it's like to live with an electric car like the Ford F-150 Lightning.Tim Levin/Insider
  • I've tested 20 electric cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks from Tesla, Ford, Porsche, Polestar, and more.

  • I learned that their advertised range isn't always accurate and charging can be a major pain.

  • But electric cars are quick, convenient, fun to drive, and quiet.

As electric vehicles have taken the world by storm in recent years, I've gotten to drive heaps of clean cars from Tesla, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Rivian, and more.

Hours behind the wheel taught me some important lessons about range, charging, and our electric future.

The range you see isn't always the range you get

I learned this one the hard way. During my first long trip in an EV, I put a little too much trust in the range estimates that the Ford Mustang Mach-E I was driving provided. I watched anxiously as the SUV's battery level drained lower and lower until I was left with just a 6% charge at my destination, which was miles away from the nearest fast-charging station. (When I set out, the Mach-E claimed I'd arrive with plenty of mileage to spare.)

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.Tim Levin/Insider

Long story short, an electric car's advertised range — on paper or from its software — isn't always what you experience in the real world. Sometimes it exceeds expectations, and sometimes it falls short due to factors like frigid temperatures, speedier driving, a heavy payload, or hilly roads.

Long trips are doable, but you need to plan ahead

Despite what the naysayers naysay, long trips are manageable as long as you plan ahead. Yes, charging stations can be far apart and inconsistent, but apps like PlugShare can help you find plugs and determine if they work or not. Just be prepared to wait in line for a charger or encounter broken ones.

Tesla has the best charging experience

The Tesla Model Y electric SUV.
The Tesla Model Y electric SUV.

The Tesla Model Y.Tim Levin/Insider

Tesla's sprawling and easy-to-use Supercharger network is, without a doubt, one of the best reasons to buy a car from Elon Musk. Tesla owners simply need to set up a payment method, pull up to an open stall (as indicated right in the car's touchscreen), and plug in. It's all remarkably seamless.

Charging can be more convenient than getting gas

Recharging an electric car takes a whole lot longer than filling up on gas. But consider how much time the average car spends parked anyway.

The 2022 Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo Turbo S.
The 2022 Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo Turbo S.Tim Levin/Insider

When you drive an EV, you can fold charging into your everyday life, rather than going out of the way. You can plug in overnight in a garage or driveway and wake up to a full battery. With some forethought, you can hook up to a public charger while eating dinner out, shopping at the mall, or skiing, as I did last winter.

EVs are fast and fun

Getting behind the wheel of the world's quickest production car proved just how mind-blowingly, heart-thumpingly exhilarating EVs can be. The Pininfarina Battista, a $2 million, ultra-exclusive supercar, can rip to 60 mph in an incredible 1.79 seconds. Stomping its throttle instantly sends you barreling into the distance as your brain and other organs try, hopelessly, to catch up.

The Pininfarina Battista.
The Pininfarina Battista.Tim Levin/Insider

But electric thrills don't always cost seven figures. EVs by their nature deliver powerful acceleration. And their hefty, floor-mounted battery packs create a low center of gravity and aid handling.

All that's how you wind up with something like the Rivian R1T. A big pickup truck shouldn't be able to hit 60 mph in three seconds or confidently carve corners. But the R1T can because it's an EV.

They're pleasantly quiet, too

The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV.
The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV.

The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV.Tim Levin/Insider

It may be obvious, but the lack of a droning, vibrating engine makes EVs that much more pleasant to spend time in, particularly on long highway stints. Even low-end battery-powered rides don't make a peep, but in more premium EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Mercedes-Benz EQS, the atmosphere is sublime.

Often, carmakers try to fill the silence — and drown out any creaking or wind noise — with an artificial engine noise of some kind. But owners who find that bothersome can usually turn it off.

The best ones offer spacious interiors and clever storage

Today's electric cars typically use what's known as a skateboard platform, which is basically what it sounds like. A big battery pack and a couple of motors make up what's essentially a supersized electric skateboard. Then carmakers plop on the body of an SUV or a pickup truck or what have you.

The 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5.
The 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5.Tim Levin/Insider

EV tech gives automakers a lot more flexibility than the old paradigm, meaning they can expand interior space and create cargo space that didn't exist before.

The 2022 Rivian R1T.
A Rivian engineer climbs into the R1T's Gear Tunnel.Tim Levin/Insider

The R1T, for example, features a nifty storage area that runs horizontally behind the rear seats called the Gear Tunnel. The Tesla Model Y's cavernous under-floor area gives it a leg up over gas-powered rivals. The F-150 Lightning is one of many EVs providing bonus storage in the form of a front trunk. The Hyundai Ioniq 5's flat floor and stretched-out wheelbase boost passenger comfort.

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