Electric car battery battle — The best options for highway trips

South African motorists who can spend around R1.2 million or less on an electric vehicle (EV) should opt for the Mercedes-Benz EQA 250 if they want the best possible range over long distances.

The R1.18-million crossover SUV came out on top in AutoTrader’s latest Electric Car Challenge, beating three similarly-specced competitors.

While new electric car sales surged 85% in 2023 compared to 2022, AutoTrader said the used EV market saw sales growth of 133%

Nevertheless, South African consumers were still anxious about EV range, expressing specific concerns about the distance these cars can travel on a single charge on the open road.

EVs generally have better range in urban environments with slower speeds and lots of stops because they can capture the kinetic energy generated by braking and put that back into their batteries.

AutoTrader designed its challenge to address EV range anxiety concerns and set a national benchmark for electric mobility in South Africa.

“The tests are based on South African conditions rather than the cooler European testing scenarios,” explained AutoTrader CEO George Mienie.

“In addition to setting a benchmark for EV variants, the aim is to produce a historical reference point upon which to look back and evaluate battery performance advancements year-on-year, as battery technology continues to evolve at pace.”

For the 2023 edition, AutoTrader tested the ranges of the Mercedes-Benz EQA 250 Progressive, BMW iX1 xDrive30 xLine, Volvo XC40 Recharge Single Motor, and the GWM Ora 400 GT Ultra Luxury around the Gerotek High-Speed Oval Track in Pretoria.

From left to right — the Mercedes-Benz EQA, Volvo XC40 Recharge, GWM Ora, and BMW iX1.

The cars had their air conditioning set to 21°C on a typically hot and sunny day in November 2023, with an outdoor temperature of 32°C, and were driven at constant speeds of around 120km/h.

The batteries were only depleted 80%, going from 90–10%, to simulate real-world experiences.

The 80% range of the tested cars varied from 199.9km to 254.7km.

The Mercedes-Benz EQA posted the longest distance of 254.7km at an average speed of 117.35km/h in two hours, eight minutes, and 53 seconds.

The BMW iX1 came in second place, covering 238.7km in two hours, two minutes, and 19 seconds at an average speed of 117.5km/h.

It was followed by the Volvo XC40 Recharge, which posted 214.5km in one hour, 49 minutes and 33 seconds while travelling at an average speed of 116.25km/h.

The GWM Ora 400 GT achieved 199.9km at an average speed of 105.25km/h, putting it in last place.

However, it also had the smallest battery of the tested cars and costs about R273,000–R369,000 less than its rivals.

Using the figures established in AutoTrader’s tests, we calculated each car’s energy efficiency and theoretical maximum range on a full charge. We compared this with their advertised ranges using the WLTP cycle.

It should be emphasised that the WLTP cycle assumes the car travels at various speeds, including slower speeds more typical of urban environments.

The Mercedes-Benz performed best in energy efficiency and achieved the highest percentage of its claimed range — 70%.

At the opposite end was the GWM Ora, achieving only 62% of its claimed range.

AutoTrader said that battery technology continued to evolve at pace, with advancements bringing longer ranges.

“This is likely to reduce range anxiety and accelerate greater EV adoption in South Africa,” the company said.

The table below summarises the results of AutoTrader’s Electric Car Challenge 2023 tests and our analysis of its findings.

Highway driving EV Tests
Model BMW iX1 xDrive30 xLine GWM Ora 400 GT Mercedes-Benz EQA 250 Volvo XC40 Recharge Single Motor
Price R1,205,000 R835,950 R1,176,350 R1,108,000
Average speed 117.5km/h 105.25km/h 117.35km/h 116.25km/h
Distance covered with 90-10% battery depletion 238.7km 199.9km 254.7km 214.5km
Total useable battery size
(80% usage)
59.3kWh (47.44kWh) 66.5kWh
Energy efficiency 4.6km/kWh
Theoretical range 298.3km 249.1km 319.2km 270.6km
Advertised WLTP range 440km 400km 456km 423km
Percentage of range achieved 68% 62% 70% 64%

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Electric car battery battle — The best options for highway trips