What is an electric car like to drive?
Mike Askew4 Jul 2023
Mike Askew4 Jul 2023
We know that electric cars are quiet and efficient. We also know that they produce zero tailpipe emissions and can potentially save you money. But did you know that they are also great fun to drive? Although many ‘driving enthusiasts’ are often quick to dismiss electric cars as soulless devices, those who have made the switch are often surprised by how much driving pleasure they deliver.
Let’s start with the stuff you won’t see. There’s no gearbox doing a million and one things under the bonnet. There’s no gearstick to stir around and no clutch to give your left leg a good workout in traffic.
All you have is a drive selector where you to choose between going forwards…. or backwards…. And for the times that you’re not doing either of those things, you can select park and it locks the wheels. Drive selectors come in all shapes and sizes and can appear in a few different locations. On a Citroen ë-C4, for example, you’ll find it on the centre console, while a Tesla has it on a steering column stalk.
Like an automatic, there are two pedals, accelerator and brake. The one that delivers the most entertainment is, of course, the one on the right. Unlike a petrol or diesel, electric cars deliver full power the second you press the accelerator. That means they feel really perky as soon as you pull away, which is great if you are facing up a hill or pulling out of a junction.
You’ll also find that an electric car feels a lot more secure to drive, and that’s because the battery pack is right below the seats which keeps the centre of gravity very low. This makes them feel way faster and more fun than their power outputs suggest. If your first experience of an electric car is driving away from a dealer forecourt - just take it easy okay?
If you want the simple life (and who doesn’t?), that’s pretty much all you need to know. However, if you want to fine-tune your driving experience to make it more fun or efficient, we’re here to help.
First, let’s look at what happens when you press this ‘B’ button. B stands for ‘brake’ although that’s a little misleading. Select B mode and you’ll notice that when you lift off the accelerator, the car slows down on its own. It’s a bit like changing down a gear in a petrol or diesel. This is called regenerative braking and it means that you’ll probably use the brake pedal far less than you would before.
But the big benefit is that it’s actually saving energy too, meaning you don’t need to plug in as often and will spend less on electricity.
It sounds complicated, but trust me, it’s not. When you’re slowing down and take your foot off the accelerator, the electric motor performs a bit of a party trick and it sends energy from the wheels back to the battery to give you more range.
It might feel a little odd at first, but once you get used to it and realise that every time it happens you’re putting power back into your battery, it does get a bit addictive!
It’s worth noting that not all cars come with a B mode and that some manufacturers give the same system a different name. Some call it regen, others call it E-pedal. Some cars also come with adaptive regenerative braking that alters the amount of regen delivered according to road conditions.
Like B mode, the names of the various modes vary by manufacturer, but generally speaking, they all do the same thing. When you start the car, it will be in Normal. This gives a good balance between performance and efficiency and will be the mode you’ll be using most of the time for your everyday driving.
You might want to change that occasionally though, choosing an Eco setting. This maximises the battery power by reducing the electric motor’s power output and in some cases reducing the functions of the heating system. Eco mode is useful if you are doing a longer journey and don’t want to stop to charge. And the car still feels plenty fast enough, so it’s not a real hardship.
At the opposite end of the scale is Sport. This is for when you want a bit of fun and it allows maximum electric engine power output as well as tightening up the responses from the accelerator pedal and steering. Sport mode does affect the efficiency though, so it’s best to use it when you’re not trying to stretch your range to the max.
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