Michael Cimaricar and driver
- We left our 2019 Tesla Model 3 long-range and 2022 Hyundai Sonata N-Line in sub-freezing temperatures with the climate control set to 65 to see how long it will last.
- Tesla can theoretically last a maximum of 45.1 hours while Hyundai will run 51.8 hours.
- Not surprisingly, but Tesla is considerably more efficient, burning 1.6 kWh versus Hyundai sucking in gas at a rate of 10.3 kWh.
A winter storm in Virginia recently closed Interstate 95 for more than 24 hours, raising the question: Would getting into a traffic jam during very low temperatures be more difficult in an electric car? To see how long an electric vehicle will last compared to a gas-powered one, we left the climate controls on on the 2019 Tesla Model 3 Long Range and 2022 Hyundai Sonata N-Line and let them sit.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the average temperature during the two cars sitting was around 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lowest we’ve ever recorded was 9 degrees. Both cars ran in the afternoon when the temperature was 26 degrees. We set the temperature of each car to 65 degrees and none of the heated seats were turned on. On Model 3 we used Camp mode, which maintains climate control while the car is parked. For the Sonata, we had to disable the auto shut-off function (the car shuts down after 30 or 60 minutes of idleness). Later, after dark, when he was about to spend the night sitting in our driveway, we worried that his running lights were beaming too loudly on their condition (you can’t lock the doors when you’re idle), so we recorded it.
A few things about our Model 3: It uses the old resistive heater instead of the new, more efficient heat pump introduced for 2021. After more than 40,000 miles, the 80.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack has lost nearly 8 percent of its capacity, according to a third-party program called TeslaFi that we use to collect vehicle data. It is noteworthy that the human body also generates heat, but neither of the two compartments was occupied during the test.
The Model 3 started with a 98 percent charged state, and we didn’t pre-condition the battery. However, in a real-world traffic jam, the battery and cabin will be warm, not to mention they probably won’t be near a full charge. But despite cooling the cabin to 47 degrees prior to testing by opening the windows, we didn’t see a significant drop in battery percentage as the cabin temperature rose to 65 degrees. We finally plugged it in after about 37 hours—with 17 percent battery left and a set range of 50 miles. The battery pack drained at an average rate of 2.2 percent per hour; In other words, it could theoretically last for a maximum of 45.1 hours, or just under two days.
We turned off the Sonata just 24 hours later, after it had used up just under half of its fuel tank. Its average idle consumption was 0.3 gallons of gas per hour or a maximum total idle time of 51.8 hours, or just over two days, based on a 15.9-gallon tank.
Converting these consumption figures to power equivalents shows the electric vehicle’s dramatic efficiency advantage, with the Model 3 consuming 1.6 kWh and using the Sonata more than six times as much energy at 10.3 kWh. That’s not surprising, as the Tesla is only able to run its HVAC system and just enough to keep the cabin at our 65-degree set point, while the Sonata has to keep its 290-horsepower turbo ineffectively idle. Climate control.
Of course, there are a number of variables to consider. We deliberately chose a specific temperature of 65 degrees instead of 70, because we would expect a stranded person to immediately attempt to conserve energy. Using a higher temperature would certainly have affected the Model 3, but it probably wouldn’t change the consumption in the Sonata. Also, even temperatures cooler than our average cold 15 degrees would make the Tesla’s climate control work harder, while potentially having a much smaller impact on the Sonata.
Although in our scenario the Sonata could theoretically be idle for nearly seven hours more than a Model 3, which car might fare better in the real world would largely depend on which car started with more power in its tank . Are electric vehicles more likely to be plugged in every night and kept at a higher charge than gas-powered vehicles, which may only be filled once their tank is often exhausted? Either way, based on our results, electric vehicles aren’t necessarily worse off in a cold weather disaster scenario.
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