Charging is holding back the switch to EVs

02nd March 2022
Ethan Jupp

The apprehension around the switch to EVs is understandable. What’s the range? Are those numbers truthful? How much do they cost? Where can I charge them? How long will it take? As the internal combustion ban looms large, we thought we’d put the average 2022 electric car proposition to the acid test: a 450-mile round trip in freezing January up to the middle of nowhere – the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience, if you’re wondering.


While we were due to set off Saturday afternoon, my journey – or at least the planning – began the day before, as the Audi Q4 Sportback e-Tron 40 arrived with 85 per cent charge. The WLTP-certified rating on a full charge for this car is 315 miles, meaning that at 85 per cent, it should be showing 267 miles of range.

EVs don’t like the cold, though, do they. So as it sat, in a crisp frost, it was telling us 170 miles. Some fairly clunky maths told us that in these conditions, driven as it had been, a full charge would give us just 200 miles of range. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling optimistic.


You can get by using a three-pin socket

Happily, even after some errands the day before, an overnight charge from a bog-standard three-pin domestic wall socket – at an indicated cost of £6 – was more than enough to boost the Q4’s range from 60 per cent to 93 per cent. Once on the road for a good few miles, the car’s range estimates were more optimistic, too, showing 200 miles from 90 per cent at motorway speeds. It also didn’t take long to work out that beyond driving itself, climate control is by far the biggest range sucker.

Just under 130 miles across the A14 and M6 later and we arrived for a dinner stop in Birmingham. By this point, I was used to the three-mode energy recuperation system controllable via what are in other cars shift paddles on the steering wheel. Mode one is perfect for motorway offramps, mode two a nice balance and mode three a stronger slow-down, perfect for 60-to-roundabout situations.


Public chargers: easy (ish) to use but slower than advertised

What I wasn’t used to, or even acquainted with at this point, was public charging infrastructure. Zap Map (and apps like it) are near-essential for the EV uninitiated, or if you’re leaving your local area. It’ll tell you where the chargers are, whether they’re free, whether they’re working and how much they’ll cost, which lead us to a 50kW charging point in a nearby pub car park.

Slower 7kW and 22kW units are more numerous, but unless you’ve hours to kill – if you’re wanting a significant-enough boost from a low-ish charge – nothing less than 50kW will do. Especially given that while technically 50kW chargers add range at a rate of 180 miles per hour, you only get maximum charge speed for a limited time in practice. Just for reference, the Q4 is designed to be able to charge at speeds up to 135kW, or 310 miles per hour, making it more than ready for the future proliferation of faster chargers.

Then there’s actually getting there and plugging in. Two parking spots not meaning that two cars can charge at once at some 50kW charging points was something of a jarring discovery in situ. Happily, the Volkswagen ID.4 – a car with which the Q4 shares its underpinning – that was in the hot seat unplugged and hummed away, leaving us free to ‘fill up’.

Getting hooked in and charging was relatively painless, though the not-so-tech-savvy could need more than the five minutes it took me to go from zilch to app downloaded, details entered, fully signed up and ready to charge. Once charging, both car and charger were informing me it’d be about an hour and a half to go from 37 per cent to full. As above, this roughly 180 miles per hour charger in our experience was giving more like 90 miles per hour. 

Leaving with 98 per cent charge and an indicated 217 miles of range, we scurried up from Birmingham to our hotel. That, along with a magical jaunt back out through the countryside to our Harry Potter experience and then back to our hotel, saw us eat up 89 miles. The next day, we covered another 48 fast miles up the M6 and M62 for our day in Liverpool before plugging in in the evening before the drive home. 

I did attempt a charge earlier in the day near our Liverpudlian lunch spot but was met once again with a single charging terminal with two parking spots, serving the one and only car it had the capacity for. That carvery was served with a tiny side of range anxiety. We did manage to plug in later on at a different charging point at a nearby pub, paying via Zap Map’s Zap Pay facility, which added more juice than the Birmingham charge point and did so 15 minutes quicker. A point to note: EV owners will be spending money and gaining weight, given how many charging points are tied to pubs, restaurants and fast-food joints.


The Q4 is a good car, not just good for an electric car

So with a full ‘tank’ and 215 miles to cover in a oner, while also attempting to get home at something resembling a reasonable hour and without freezing to death, the game was on. It was really time for the Audi to impress. Setting the car to a leisurely (and efficient) 65mph cruise for a straight shot back down the M6 and A14, our indicated range was suggesting we’d arrive home with 12 miles to spare, even with some warm air in the cabin.

It was in this four-hour slog I came to appreciate the Q4 as a car, not just an EV – how well-equipped, effortless at speed and comfortable it was. Being an Audi, the cabin is stylishly designed and well nailed-together and the tech is first-tier and near-flawless. Android Auto crashed a few times but given how many other cars I’ve seen this in, I suspect it’s a software issue on Google’s end.

EVs give far from their best in cold conditions or at high speeds. Tasked with both at once, the Q4 did well by my count. We arrived home with those 12 miles to spare, meaning the car’s estimate was bob-on. No, 227 miles isn’t great, but the only way is up in the warmer months of the year. With 300 in the ‘tank’, charging from home and trundling around locally, I’d have zero issues running the Q4 as a daily driver and on reasonably long trips, with a bit of forward planning for the latter. It’s no flying Ford Anglia, nor is it imbued with magic powers, but it is a very good, relatively affordable and futureproofed electric car.


The infrastructure is the weak link

So what about the rest of my fraternisation with the electric frontier? Firstly, if you want to be able to drive for 200 miles at least in the very worst circumstances, you need a car with over 300 miles of stated range. Secondly, there really are good EVs on sale now that don’t cost the Earth and that will still make sense in a decade’s time. Thirdly, that the charging infrastructure is the weak link. It isn’t suitable for the number of EVs on the roads today, let alone how many there will be in years to come.

While mostly easy to use and reliable in my experience – though it’s lucky we dodged a few out-of-order machines thanks to Zap Map – the rarity of useful chargers remains a concern. They need to be faster, more reliable and there need to be more of them. That I needed Zap Map, and that I needed to forward plan quite so diligently, is proof to me that most drivers with routines anywhere beyond a 50-mile radius of a home with a driveway, might not be suited to life with many EVs on sale today.


For most motorists, driving isn’t a lifestyle choice. It’s a necessity. They don’t want to have to put any extra thought or effort in. We need to be able to charge without thinking, as we would fill a car up with fuel. This wasn’t the nightmare some had warned me it would be but the problems with EV life in the UK did come into clear focus. T-minus eight years, nine months, and counting…

If you are considering an EV today, ask of yourself to the best accuracy you can, questions not dissimilar to those we asked of EVs themselves as we opened. What miles do you do? When do you do them? When and where can you charge and at what speed? Are more chargers coming to your local area soon? Some who don’t think an EV would suit them might be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was. Others who think one would, might find it won’t.

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