Testing a Tesla and the European charging network in a 1,500-mile EV odyssey
Reflex Vehicle Hire’s André Pardal put a Tesla Model Y through its globe-trotting paces to experience the pros and cons of long-distance, emission-free motoring
Driving a car through Europe has been a holiday highlight for millions of families over decades, but that was in the ICE-age. What happens to these long-haul holidays when you switch to an EV?
Can you even take an EV to Europe? How do you charge? Can you take electric cars on the Channel Tunnel?
To answer these questions and more, my family took the new Tesla Model Y for a 1,500-mile round-trip to Europe.
I have driven a fossil-fuel car across Europe before, once passing through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal in a single trip.
As this was our first time swapping the petrol pump for a plug, we stuck to the roads of France, but the trip still provided valuable lessons about taking an EV abroad.
You can see our journey and my charging stops on this map - My 1,500 Mile EV Odyssey - André Pardal – Google My Maps
A European EV odyssey
0 miles: A new beginning
Before we set off on our first family holiday in an electric car, I fully charged the battery and spent time planning my charging stops. On my own, I may have been a bit more relaxed as I have done lots of European road trips before, but with my wife and three children aged 2, 13 and 17 along for the journey, I wanted to ensure the trip was problem-free. Luckily Tesla has a fantastic charging network. They also have a planning tool, which shows recommended charging stops on your journey. My plan was to charge to 100% each time to give me maximum range and the fewest stops.
130 miles: Quick charging stop
After an uneventful start to our emission-free journey, we followed the Tesla’s guidance to recharge our battery at a Supercharger close to Dartford’s Bluewater Shopping Centre. This 15-minute stop was enough to get us to the Channel Tunnel with plenty of energy to spare. As we were using the rapid charging network, energy costs were higher than home charging. On average, the cost per mile for charging was close to an equivalent petrol or diesel. The journey was completed before Tesla announced a Europe-wide cut of around 25% in charging rates on its Supercharger network.
190 miles: Preparing for France
We plugged in at a conveniently located Supercharger near the Channel Tunnel, while waiting for our train. This topped the battery up to 100%, ensuring we reached France with a full charge. While the car made suggestions for charging, I wanted to ensure we always had enough battery for me to feel comfortable. Ideally, I didn’t want the battery going below 20% before we reached the next charger.
287 miles: Our first French charge
If I hadn’t charged in the UK, I would have arrived at the charger near Sailly-Flibeaucourt with just 15% battery. Instead, I had plenty to spare for our first charge on French soil. This was in preparation for driving around Paris, which proved to be the longest and scariest leg. At one stage, the car was estimating we would have 9% battery left when we reached our next charger. Luckily, the predicted remaining charge crept back up to 14%, so we continued.
450 miles: Rest and recharge
Regular stops are a feature of life when you travel with young families. Our fourth stop near Ury took us away from the main road and down what we feared was a farm track, until a Novotel appeared ahead, complete with a Tesla supercharger. We combined charging with some lunch and said hello to some local farm animals, which our two-year-old loved. We barely noticed the time passing before our battery was replenished.
630 miles: Thinking ahead
We could have reached our destination of Montbrison without charging, but as there were no Superchargers near the town, we wanted as much energy as possible for trips during our stay.
750 miles: Destination discovery
Our stay in the hills of Montbrison meant our first foray into the non-Tesla charging network, as climbing to our gite used 7% of our battery (although the Tesla’s regenerative braking system recouped 2% on the way down). The search for a charger meant downloading lots of apps. I now have 15 on my phone, but found Chargemap was the one I liked the most for European travel. However, I just couldn’t get my first choice of charger to work, as it wouldn’t release the plug. Eventually I discovered a different one, which was tucked away in a municipal car park. It provided slow charging, so I combined plugging in with lunch. It became my go-to charger during our stay.
870 miles: Homeward bound
For the first part of our return journey, we visited the chargers we had used on the way down, which meant we knew what to expect. The first stop near Toulon-sur-Allier was a quick and simple experience.
1,045 miles: Preparation for Paris
This was our pre-Paris stop, so we wanted to ensure the car had enough energy in reserve to cope with a change of plan. It was lucky we did because the traffic around Paris was a bit of a nightmare, with stop-start traffic eating into our remaining range, so we had to look for alternative routes. That meant I stopped at a different charger to the one we had planned, which took us to Senlis.
1,120 miles: A change of plan
After lengthy delays and stop start traffic, we were glad to reach our alternative charger at Senlis, so we could stop and unwind. We then had plenty of charge to get us back to the Channel Tunnel, where we planned to top up again.
1,270 miles: Farewell to France, hello to UK roadworks
Our final charge on French soil ensured we could hit the road quickly when we reached the UK, I intended to ignore the car’s advice to charge again at Dartford and instead push on to Milton Keynes. However, I hadn’t reckoned on late night engineering works closing the M25. This required another change of plan, which took me on a completely different route past Cambridge.
1,417 miles: The final push
With the final leg of my journey ahead, I wanted to get home quickly, so I just charged to 80% at Cambridge Park and Ride. We had been driving all day and it was past midnight, so my focus now was on getting home.
1,500 miles: Home again
After an exciting return journey that tested our ability to adapt, we were home at last. Despite the charging stops, our journey only took about an hour longer than the same trip in a diesel or petrol car.
So, should you take an EV to Europe?
From my experience with the Tesla, the answer is a definite yes. The confidence inspiring range and extensive recharging network mean international travel just isn’t a worry, even when you need to change your plans as we did. Like me, you may stop more frequently than necessary just to be on the safe side, but I found rapid charging doesn’t add too much time to long-distance journeys where you typically need to take a break anyway.
However, if you are in a different brand of electric car, without its own dedicated charging network, then it may take a bit more planning, based on your vehicle’s range and the journey you want to take.
I am now planning my next trip to Europe – a more ambitious journey taking us across France, Spain and Portugal. With a little planning, I expect it to go just as smoothly.
Car: Tesla Model Y Standard Range
Range: 267 miles (WLTP)
Driver: André Pardal, Head of IT, Reflex Vehicle Hire
Journey: Loughborough, UK to Montbrison, France
Distance: 1,500 miles return (750 miles each way)
Charging stops: 12
Energy used: 375kWh
Fuel efficiency: 4 miles/kWh
Energy cost: £225
Average energy cost/mile: 15p