Electric cars are officially mainstream. Like ‘em, love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no arguing that they’ve become a full-fledged part of the automotive world here in 2022 — not when the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Ford are cranking them out en masse, with just about every other carmaker close behind.

Why? Well, even setting aside the obvious long-term environmental benefits of swapping millions of cars that spew 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every mile for ones that don’t, electric vehicles offer plenty of perks over their internal-combustion equivalents.

They’re more efficient, in terms of pure energy spent. They require less maintenance — there’s no oil to change, few to no gears to keep tabs on, even their brakes wear out more slowly thanks to regenerative braking that uses the motor’s own resistance in lieu of mechanical stoppers. They generally ride more smoothly than gas and diesel rides, thanks to both the lack of large clattering metal pieces beneath the hood and the added low-riding weight of a big battery pack. And unless you have an oil refinery in your backyard, there’s no way to refuel your internal-combustion car overnight at home every night as easily as plugging in your iPhone before bed.

Oh, and don’t forget, they can be a lot of fun, too. Electric motors can crank out incredible amounts of power from a much smaller apparatus than the gas powerplants used in production cars; the Lucid Air’s motor / transmission / differential / inverter assembly, for example, fits in a roller bag, but makes up to 670 horsepower. As a result, performance EVs can pack enough punch to make up for the portly weights brought on by giant battery packs; it’s not by accident that Porsche’s most powerful production car is powered by electricity. On top of that, the instantaneous reactions of electric motors — which don’t need any revving to reach maximum torque — makes an EV feel punchier than an ICE car of equivalent power in most real-world scenarios.

porsche taycan gts sport turismo wagon red
The Porsche Taycan GTS Sport Turismo, for example, is about as much fun as any car I’ve ever driven — electric or otherwise. Also, it just looks rad.
Will Sabel Courtney

But while they may meet or beat petroleum-powered vehicles in many categories, there’s one part of driving where old-school rides still seem to have a leg over those newfangled tech-tastic electric machines: long journeys. Or, if you prefer the more romantic term…road trips.

Such travel, after all, is as deeply ingrained a part of the appeal of the car as anything else: the idea of being able to step into your own personal transport and go wherever you like, stopping whenever you like, knocking out a mile a minute while seated in a comfortable chair at whatever temperature you like, carrying practically whomever or whatever you like. Its roots run as deep as humanity’s nomadic nature, our desire for exploration — the gravitational pull of wondering what’s over the next hill that led us out of the Great Rift Valley and on to every inch of the globe — and even the spheres beyond. To ask people to give that up for the sake of the future is to ask them to cease being human. If electric cars are indeed to succeed in supplanting internal combustion ones, they need to be able to road trip — and without much more trouble than we're used to.

The two charges traditionally levied against EVs in this regard are that they can’t go far enough, and that they take too long to recharge. To see if those still hold true — and to see whatever other challenges might lie between EV owners and their distant destinations — I took two of today’s freshest, cutting-edge electric cars on a road trip I’ve done many, many times before: the drive from my home in New York City to where I grew up in Stowe, Vermont. In November 2021, I did the trip in an Audi RS E-Tron GT; in December, I did so in a Mercedes-Benz EQS 580.

mercedes benz eqs 580
Will Sabel Courtney
audi e tron gt rs
Will Sabel Courtney

Here's what I learned.

Fast chargers are too few, and too far between.

Glance at the U.S. Department of Energy’s map of public CCS fast-charging stations across America, and you’ll see a sea of green dots that seems to suggest they’re everywhere. (CCS, in case you’re unfamiliar, is the widely-accepted fast charging standard for most new EVs. Unless you drive a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf, odds are good you’ll use CCS.) That is, until you start zooming in, and you realize that at the initial scale, each of those green dots are half the size of Delaware.

ccs charging map us

The formal DOE count tallies up 3,994 CCS chargers across these 50 states, which seems like a lot — until you realize there are more than 150,000 gas stations in the nation. And while most of those gas stations have several pumps, each capable of refueling a car in five minutes or less, many of the CCS chargers only have a single connector.

For now, at least, there are few enough EVs that finding an open plug usually isn’t a problem…so long as you live in a part of the country where they’re prevalent. Most of them are located in urban areas — not surprising — or along select major routes, like interstates.

The highways and byways of, and connecting to, Vermont seem like an obvious place for such fast chargers. After all, the state is a huge tourist destination, with close to 50 million people within a day’s drive. Under good conditions, the 332-mile drive from NYC to Stowe should be a one-stop trip for the RS E-Tron GT or EQS 580: drive around 180-200 miles until the battery is comfortably below half-charge (the less charge you have, the quicker the battery recharges, so it’s advantageous to try and get it as low as you feel comfortable doing), plug into a high-speed charger capable of refueling the car at max power, spend 20 minutes or so composing a truly biting clapback tweet, then unplug and finish the trip in style.

Trouble is, Electrify America — the only network with widespread CCS chargers powerful enough to deliver 200–270 kW, and the de facto official charging network of Audi and Mercedes-Benz by virtue of their decision to offer limited free charging with new-car purchase — doesn’t offer an EV charger that’s convenient to that halfway point. Indeed, as of this story, they don’t have a single charger in Vermont — nor in West Virginia, North Dakota or Wyoming. One lies directly over the Vermont-New Hampshire border on Interstate 93, making it a convenient stop for travelers from Boston, but it’s 264 miles from New York — and should it be out of commission, there’s nowhere else nearby for desperate travelers to hook onto for a fast charge. The next-closest one is in Chicopee, MA, 192 miles away from Stowe. That’s within the range of most new EVs under good conditions…but as you’ll see below, good conditions can be more elusive than you might expect in rural winter climes.

In other words, anyone traveling from New York City to Stowe — or Vermont’s biggest city Burlington, or the capital of Montpelier, or major ski resorts like Jay Peak, Smugglers’ Notch or Sugarbush — will likely have to make two stops along the way, and likely need to go a bit out of the way to do it.

Adding inconvenience to insult, Electrify America’s chargers also tend to be located in locations that aren’t always ideal for road trippers. For the most part, they’re located in the (far back of) Target and Walmart parking lots, and often a mile or two away from the highway, if not more — usually down unfamiliar local roads, usually while being taunted by the gas stations clustered by the highway in the process.

Once I reached Vermont, I stumbled across another issue: how to sock enough charge into the battery to get me home. EV owners with their own homes will likely opt to add Level 2 chargers to their garage or driveway that can top up the car overnight — but that does little good when you're away from home, spending your nights in a hotel or AirBnB or relative's place without one. A household 110-volt outlet — a.k.a. Level 1 — in my mom's garage managed to add a couple dozen miles per night, but to actually make it to the first fast charger on the way back, I needed more juice than it could provide. Yet even the well-heeled tourist town of Stowe – a place where visitors' fancy cars often outnumber local Subarus — only has a handful of Level 2 chargers — mostly at local hotels — and a sole fast-charging station at The Alchemist Brewery, famous creator of Heady Topper. Thus, my trips home were interrupted by sojourns to the electric pumps...and sadly, The Alchemist was closed when I stopped by.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Charging at my mother’s place. Like most Americans, she lacks a Level 2 charger in her garage; in fact, her garage isn’t even rated for 220-volt power.
Will Sabel Courtney

Down in the New York area, chargers are more plentiful; unfortunately, electric cars are, too. On my return home in the EQS, I rolled up to an EA station in White Plains that had shown itself to have an open charger not 10 minutes before — only to find it was not only full, but there was a line waiting to use it. I set off for Queens, where a shopping mall between the Whitestone Bridge and LaGuardia Airport claimed to have open chargers…only for me to find that, in spite of what the app said, both were full. And, to add insult to injury, I was charged $3 for the privilege of not actually parking in said parking garage. (Also, both EA stations had one of their four chargers out of commission — a trait I’ve found common to nearly every EA station I’ve tried this year.)

mercedes eqs electric car charging at the alchemist stowe vt
Copping a charge at The Alchemist Brewery in Stowe, the only fast charger in town — or for miles around.
Will Sabel Courtney

Public chargers are too hard to use.

Much as there are different chains that run gas stations — Mobil, Shell, Citgo, Irving, BP, 76, Sheetz, etc. — there are several main companies running the majority of public electric car charging points. Unlike gas stations, however, most public EV chargers require you to download an app and set up an account (or at the very least strongly encourage you to do so). That means you not only need a smartphone — which, to be fair, anyone buying a new electric car probably has — but also a strong enough connection for the app to work properly. Oh, and the charger also needs to connect to the cell system in some cases, as well, so here’s hoping nobody’s clogging up the local towers TikToking at a school dance or Citizen streaming a fire.

The ones that don’t require accounts that have credit card readers — but in my attempts to use them, I’ve found they work about one time in six. Whether this is because of the hardware, the software or some other factor, I have no idea. (Even more infuriating, while I often couldn’t get the readers to work, my partner could, suggesting they may just not respond to frustration and testosterone.)

Worse yet, sometimes the stations can go haywire and simply not work with no warning. An EVGo station that served me well on my trip home in the Audi then refused to deliver charge a month later when I tried to power up the Mercedes there. If stations were more prevalent, this wouldn’t be much of an issue — but when they’re scattered about as they are now, one malfunctioning charger can be the difference between being home for Christmas and only being there in your dreams.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
A 100-kW EVGo charger in Rutland, Vermont. This one proved easy to use with the Audi, but failed me when trying to charge the Mercedes.
Will Sabel Courtney

Electric car range varies greatly based on temperature.

For years, “range anxiety” was bandied about as the major barrier standing between EVs and widespread adoption. It was a logical concern: with electric cars of less than decade ago only capable of less than 200 miles, and most drivers’ desire to not take their cars all the way down to empty regardless of what propulsion system is in use, past electric vehicles could make any one-way trip of more than 100 miles feel stressful.

That’s far less of an issue with today’s crop of new EVs. The RS E-Tron GT is rated for 232 miles of range, according to the EPA; the independent team at Edmunds, meanwhile, found it capable of doing 285 miles on a mixed-run test cycle. The EPA says the EQS 580 can do 340 miles on a charge; Edmunds, however, found the EQS 450 (which is about 3% more efficient than its more powerful AWD cousin, according to the EPA) capable of going 422 miles on their test route.

Here’s the thing, though. Lithium-ion batteries are a little like your grandmother: they don’t like being too hot, but they really hate being cold. Edmunds tests their cars in California; the ambient temp the day they drove the EQS was 67º Fahrenheit, and it was 77º when they tested the RS E-Tron GT. My drives, meanwhile, started out in global warming-balmy temps of around 50º in New York City, but by the time I reached Vermont — which, in case you weren’t aware, is a bit chilly in winter — temps were below freezing.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Powering up the RS E-Tron GT on a Level 2 charger in Manhattan before hitting the road. At 50º outside, the Audi claimed it was good for 258 miles on a full charge.
Will Sabel Courtney

Driving up in the Audi, I’d juiced up the battery all the way to 100 percent in Massachusetts, giving me a claimed 220-mile range — more than enough for the 192 miles to Stowe. As the temps dropped, however, the range began falling faster than the odometer was rising. Before long, range-to-empty was dangerously close to the remaining distance shown on Google Maps, forcing me to begin slowing down from my usual 75-mph cruise: first to 70, then the speed limit of 65, then to 60, then finally all the way down to 55. I switched off the climate control, leaving my poor partner to shiver in her parka in the passenger’s seat — at least, until the windshield fogged up, and I was forced to burst-fire the defroster. Even those measures couldn’t cut the mustard in the end; only a last-minute late-night pit stop at an out-of-the-way 50-kW charger in Barre, Vermont gave me enough juice to get to my destination.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Making an emergency pit stop at one of Vermont’s fast chargers. The state is among the better ones for EV charging infrastructure...but still has a long way to go.
Will Sabel Courtney

The Mercedes faired a bit better in absolute terms, by virtue of the fact that it simply offers more range overall than the E-Tron GT. Even so, while maximum range rang up around 340 miles in warmer temps, it fell to around 265 miles with the temperature in the mid-20s — and even that proved closer to 250 miles of real-world range once it recalibrated for 75-mph highway driving.

And keep in mind, while gas-powered cars are more efficient on the highway than in-town, the polarity is flipped for EVs, which dump electrons back into the battery more often in variable-speed city traffic than they do on the open road. If you’re planning on driving at the sorts of speeds the average American averages on the highway — say, around 75 mph — your real-world range is likely to track close to the conservative EPA estimate suggested by the window stickers on most (non-Tesla) electric cars, even when driving at shirtsleeve temperatures.

That bodes poorly for rural EV drivers, many of whose trips tend to be at continuous high speeds — and come winter, often in range-sucking temperatures. Bottom line: if you’re planning a longer trip to or through someplace like Vermont in the colder months, plan around your EV having 20-40% less range than you’re used to.

Even many fast chargers are too slow.

Peruse the websites of most cutting-edge electric cars, and you’ll see some sort of claim about how quickly they can guzzle up electrons when needed. “the EQS can get a quick boost in just 15 minutes,” Mercedes-Benz USA’s website says, adding further down that, at its maximum charging power of 200 kW, it can go from 10% to 100% in 31 minutes. An Audi release celebrating the launch of the E-Tron GT last year touts its ability to add 120 miles of range in 10 minutes and 180 miles in 22 minutes, when hooked up to a 270-kW charger.

Here’s the thing, though: Those fast chargers don’t always want to serve up electrons that quickly.

If multiple EVs are all charging at the same complex simultaneously, for example, the maximum output may not be available. Or there could be a hardware or software issue limiting the speeds. Or, for whatever indeterminate reason, it might just not want to charge as quickly as it should. Boom — all of a sudden, your carefully-planned nine-minute pitstop can stretch out twice as long. Most of the time, that’s not a problem — but when you’re racing to meet a deadline (catching a flight, getting to a meeting, trying not to miss a performance), those added seconds can make a big difference.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Sharing an Electrify America station with a Mustang Mach-E on the first stop of the E-Tron GT's trip.
Will Sabel Courtney

And — looping back to point number one — that’s if you can even find the really fast chargers. As of now, Electrify America is the only network with widespread chargers offering power in that 200-to-270-kW range. A good number of other fast chargers you’ll come across are in the 50-100 kW range. While that’s certainly far better than a Level 2 charger, it still greatly extends the time needed to add decent range when driving long distances. The EQS, for example, needed 50 minutes on a 50-kW charger to go from 85 miles of range remaining to 220 — 50 minutes in which the poor guy in a Leaf who rolled up behind me to recharge on the only fast-charger on his way home from Christmas was forced to sit and wait.

Even if everything works out exactly the way you want — if your car can charge at 200 or 270 kW or more, if there’s a charger exactly where you need one, if it’s operating at full power — you’ll still be sitting there for three, four, five times as long as you’d need to add the same amount of range to an internal-combustion vehicle. Try as we might, the wonders of man still haven’t invented a mass-producible, cost-efficient battery pack that can come close to matching the energy density of compressed fossil juice, and it’ll likely stay that way for several decades at the very least.

Chargers often aren’t friendly or accessible for many folks.

Honest question: have you ever stopped to take a good look at the layout of a gas station? Apart from a handful of smaller, older ones scattered around the country, pretty much every filling station these days shares a similar layout: four or more brightly-lit gas pumps under a solid roof, with some sort of garage or convenience store attached and manned most, if not all, hours of the day.

Many electric car charging stations benefit from none of that. Instead, they’re often tucked out of the way in the back of buildings or on the far edge of parking lots, with only the patchy light of streetlamps for company at night. Unless there’s someone nearby also charging, there’s a good chance you’ll be all by yourself after the sun goes down.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Will Sabel Courtney
2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Will Sabel Courtney
(Note how isolated the EV charging area is, compared with the well-lit gas station just a hundred yards away.)

Being a six-foot-four-inch white male, that was something I’d never considered — not until I had to leave my partner in the car at that quiet, isolated charging spot in Barre while I walked the hundred yards uphill to the nearby 24-hour convenience store / gas station / craft beer emporium. (In Vermont, every gas station is a craft beer emporium.) I came back 10 minutes later, only to find her mildly terrified after a pickup truck had pulled up next to her and blasted her with its headlights, leaving her wondering how to lock the doors. The truck drove off uneventfully — we suspect the driver was just checking out the Audi’s curves — but as she pointed out, being alone in a dark parking lot when an unknown car rolls up is exactly the sort of thing young women are taught to avoid at all costs.

Many EV chargers also don’t seem well-designed for human use. Even at my size and strength, I often struggle with bending and stretching the meaty Level 3 charging cable to my car and plugging it in; the cables are rarely long enough to make the trip without some frustrating finagling. A good deal of chargers are behind concrete bollards or up on curbs, as well — logical steps to keep heavy cars from backing into them, but also steps that make it tough for wheelchair users to reach them in the first place.

2021 audi rs e tron gt in flat gray
Stopping at New York state’s government-installed EVolve NY high-speed chargers in Lagrangeville, NY. Like EA, these offer up to 350 kW of power; also like EA, their credit card readers are spotty and hard to use. They’re also poorly designed; the cable was so short, I couldn’t reach the Audi’s charge point when parked in the designated charging space, and had to move over to block another space.
Will Sabel Courtney

If electric cars are truly going to succeed gas-powered ones, they need to be not just as easy to refuel as them — note that I didn’t say as quick, rather, just as easy — but as convenient and safe for everyone, no matter their race, gender, size or level of mobility. Right now, there’s still a good deal of work that needs to be done before we get there.

And of course, there’s always the threat of ICE-ing — when someone in an internal-combustion vehicle, accidentally or intentionally, occupies a parking space meant for an electric car. I only came across such an a-hole once — perhaps unsurprisingly, in New York City, where a gas-powered Mercedes was blocking the spot my electric Mercedes needed to use to recharge. Luckily, however, the charger was one placed by the City of New York — and in a rare instance of clever forethought by that governmental body, the cable mount could swivel away from the charger’s main panel, giving it enough reach to get to my car anyway.

mercedes eqs charging blocked
Who ICE-s the ICEmen?
Will Sabel Courtney

Can you take a road trip in an electric car?


Interpreted strictly, the answer to the question is undoubtedly yes. I did so twice in the span of a month, in two different cars, under conditions that were hardly ideal for an electric car due to low temperatures and a deficit of charging stations.

On the other hand, those two trips were far and away the most stressful of the 100-plus times I’ve driven between New York and Vermont. (The previous runner-up: driving up in a BMW M6 Gran Coupe on summer tires in a mix of freezing rain and snow at night.) Each included at least one instance of borderline panic at the suddenly very real possibility of running out of power on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, several moments of severe frustration at inoperable / uncommunicative charging stations and a constant low-grade anxiety at the ever-dropping percentage of charge remaining as the miles went by. (Guess range anxiety is still a thing.) For the most part, these are small frustrations, but even these micro-annoyances add up to an irritating experience over time for anyone used to taking long trips in gas-powered cars.

The Audi RS E-Tron GT and Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 are spectacular machines, ones that both redefine their brands and remind us what we always loved about them in the first place. They’re fast, comfortable, eye-catching and luxurious, everything you want in a car in so many ways. Yet today’s current charging infrastructure makes driving these wundercars long distances a struggle that feels like something from the early days of motoring.

Help is on the way. Last year’s monumental infrastructure bill includes $7.5 billion for EV charging stations, with $5 billion going to the states to install them and $2.5 billion more for other public entities to do so. That money should enable the creation of an additional 400,000 chargers across the nation, four times the current number.

Will that be enough? That’s up in the air. An IHS Market analysis claims that plan will only give America two-thirds of the new chargers it’ll need by 2026 if people buy electric cars in expected numbers over the next five years. But it’s a start…and as my experience so far has found, a much-needed one. As Elon Musk’s hairline said in the early 2000s, those new plugs can’t come soon enough.