Road tripping from New York to DC — on just electricity

Why did we take a Volkswagen e-Golf on a 250-mile round trip? Because we could

By the best estimates available, the average American driver puts about 30 miles a day on their vehicle of choice. The 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf, at an EPA-estimated 83 miles of range, can handle that kind of daily commute easily. It’s those distances beyond that range which give many would-be electric vehicle owners pause – and which is why Volkswagen has supported efforts with Chargepoint over the past year to build new corridors of DC fast chargers along the East and West Coasts.

Between Boston and Washington, there are now 37 Chargepoint DC Combo fast chargers; another 43 dot stops along highways from Portland, Ore., to San Diego. On the typical Interstate 95 route between DC and New York City, you are never more than 50 miles from a DC fast-charge station. Which gave us the idea of taking a 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf with the optional DC fast charging package on a road trip.

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If you don’t drive an electric car, the charging technology can seem complicated, but it essentially comes in three speeds: slow, medium and fast. Using the e-Golf’s standard J1772 port, users can plug their cars into a typical 110-volt home outlet. Referred to as Level 1 charging, this option takes quite a long time to fully replenish most EVs, including the e-Golf. With the optional 7.2 kW on-board charger, those Level 1 charging times can be reduced by several hours for a full refill. Using a 240-volt Level 2 charger, available in more than 30,000 public locations, the e-Golf can recharge in roughly 4 hours. Using the e-Golf’s Combined Charging System, also called an SAE Combo port, users can utilize DC fast charging, or Level 3, which can cut that time down to as little as a half hour for an 80% charge.

We started from Liberty State Park in New Jersey with a full battery. By the time we pulled into a chain super store parking lot in Burlington, N.J., about 78 miles later, the e-Golf registered 16 miles of range left. Throughout the whole stint, we had the air conditioning on, and used either normal or “eco” mode driving rather than “eco-plus,” which limits the climate control and accelerator response.

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Driving an electric car requires some minor adjustments to maximize range. Electric vehicle range reflects your driving style and road conditions; it tends to improve in stop-and-go traffic and shrink more quickly on highways, where you have to stay on the accelerator pedal. Terrain can make a difference; so can weather, both for better and worse, and the e-Golf has several driving modes to help make the most efficient choice for any given situation.

After 40 minutes on the DC fast charger at the super store, we had recharged to just over 80 percent of capacity. DC fast charging tends to be best for bursts of energy rather than topping off, as the fast chargers tend to slow down dramatically once the battery approaches full energy. At our next two waypoints, we spent roughly 40 minutes on each charger, providing enough range with room to spare for detours, bad weather or the unexpected. The chargers were stationed at convenience stores or hotels, giving us some place to linger and relax. At the end, we parked in front of the Washington Monument with more than half of our expected electric range left.

Doing the same trip in a gas vehicle that averaged 30 mpg would have cost $17, at the average gas prices of $2.10 per gallon for regular. Our charging fees for the entire drive cost $12; if that typical car had required premium gasoline, the gap would be larger. It’s not a trip that even many EV enthusiasts would consider, but it shows that today’s technology puts longer drives on pure electricity within reach. And with a roughly 50 percent increase in range for 2017, more e-Golf drivers can cover more miles between plugging in.