All-electric vs. Total: Which range is more important?

Scott Benjamin

The all-new 2013 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid
The all-new 2013 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid
Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

If you're like me, you probably tend to think about your car's fuel consumption in terms of miles per gallon (or maybe kilometers per liter) rather than the total distance you can travel without stopping to fill up. And that's fine -- as long as you're driving a conventional, gasoline- or diesel-powered car or truck. But now that there are a few plug-in hybrid options available to us, we have some other important numbers to consider: all-electric range and total range.

All-electric range is just what it sounds like -- in fact, it's probably the number that attracted you to that snazzy new plug-in in the first place. It's simply the maximum distance your car can drive on electric power alone (with no assistance from the on-board gasoline engine).

Total range is determined by adding the all-electric range to the distance the vehicle can travel using its internal combustion engine.

Here's a simple example of how this works. In one of our own articles about range anxiety, the author tells us that using its gasoline engine, the Chevy Volt can travel about 350 miles (563.3 kilometers) beyond its maximum 35-mile (56.3-kilometer) electric range. So in other words, the total range of the Chevy Volt is about 385 miles (619.6 kilometers). If you left your home with a full charge and a full tank of gasoline, you could drive about 385 miles before you had to either plug it in or fill the fuel tank.

But which figure is really more important? Well, that depends. The real question should be which one is more important to you. If you're a city dweller that has a relatively short commute each day and/or plenty of access to charging stations, then you're likely more concerned about a vehicle's all-electric range. But if you regularly take that car on longer trips that exceed the all-electric range, then you're likely to be a bit more concerned about the total range.

And if you can keep the distance travelled between charges below 35 miles (or whatever the all-electric range is for your specific vehicle), you might never have to fill up at the pump. Just ask Jay Leno. He claims to have gone 11,000 miles (17,703 kilometers) without a fill up in his Chevy Volt.

With plug-ins arriving from several other manufacturers like Toyota, Ford, Fisker and Volvo, there's actually a pretty good selection available -- or soon to be available, anyway.

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