Learn about electric car handling and driving
Electric cars are fun to drive and designed to run well in all road conditions. You should instantly notice a difference in the ride when you get behind the wheel for the first time. If you’ve wondered what it feels like to drive an electric car, it’s time to start your engine.
The inside of an electric car, or EV, will be familiar to most drivers. To start the car, you typically press a starter button or use a lever. In some models, you may need to depress the brake pedal and press the starter (or adjust a lever) at the same time.
When the engine starts up, there’s no rumbling or idling noise. The engine is so quiet you may not realize the car is on, and it will stay nearly silent even when you’re moving. This lack of engine noise may take some getting used to. (If you’re in the market for an electric muscle car, keep an eye on the news: some new electric muscle cars set for production will sound just like their gas-powered counterparts.)
Most electric cars will have an automatic gear stick or buttons for “drive” and “reverse.” At your feet, you’ll find two pedals. The pedal on the left is the same as a standard car brake, which you tend to use to make quick stops or fully stop the car after the car has self-braked (more on that later). The right pedal is the accelerator, sometimes called a “throttle pedal” in an electric car—what we call the gas pedal in non-electric cars.
In the passenger cabin, you won’t find much that’s different. There may be a lever or button on the steering wheel that will control how quickly the car will self-brake when you take your foot off the accelerator. On some cars, you might find hand pedals on the steering wheel to control braking.
New-model EVs tend to also have smart screens that can digitally control certain driving and braking settings, navigation, entertainment systems, etc.
The fun begins when you’re on the road. You’ll instantly feel a difference in the ride the first time you accelerate from a dead stop. From a stoplight, an electric car can beat all but the highest-performance conventional cars off the mark. It’s like a race car. Plus, the car remains silent. The engine doesn’t rev up or skip into gears to get moving.
Here’s why electric beats gas, hands-down: Gas-powered cars gradually increase torque as the engine revs up in low gear and transfers energy from the pistons to the crankshaft to the wheels. The complicated process slows the acceleration. Conventional cars also need to shift into higher gears as they build speed, often causing a jerking and slipping feeling when rapidly accelerating. There’s none of that with electric cars. They have one gear, allowing for fast and seamless acceleration.
From zero to 60 in less than five seconds
From a dead stop, an electric car will feel extremely powerful. Only high-performance gas-powered sports cars can match an electric car’s acceleration from a stationary position. At higher speeds, however, they gradually lose torque, so the rate of acceleration slows as you hit higher speeds.
Although standard EVs can beat any conventional car at a dead stop, they’re not necessarily “faster” or more powerful than a conventional car. In fact, some electric cars have lower top speeds than similar conventional cars. But that may soon change as technology improves and manufacturers announce new electric muscle cars, trucks and SUVs.
When you drive an electric car close to the speed limit on the highway, the ride won’t feel that different from a conventional car (other than the silence of your engine). But you won’t feel the jump of gears shifting up and down as you accelerate or scale a hill.
Electric car braking can help to extend your range. Electric cars and hybrids recapture energy and recharge the batteries by braking. (Think of it as returning energy to the battery whenever you tap on the brake.) And, rather than slamming on the brakes, you can do most of your braking by simply taking your foot off the accelerator. Plus, your brakes are under less stress and will tend to last much longer than brakes on conventional cars.
A Tesla Model 3, for example, has three driving modes that can be adjusted on a smart screen found on the dash: “Creep,” “Roll” and “Hold.” In “Creep” the car will slowly move when you take your foot off the brake. Once you take your foot off the accelerator, the car will slow down to a few miles per hour and then continue to creep along at a slow speed until you use the brake pedal. In “Roll,” the car is like a conventional car in neutral, rolling with the force of gravity only, like down a hill. In “Hold,” the car will slow itself down when you take your foot off the accelerator and provide a small charge to the battery. In “Hold” mode, the Tesla will stop the car without touching the brake pedal.
Coming to a stop
All EV models use regenerative braking, which ultimately puts a lot less stress on your brake’s hardware.
The way regenerative braking works varies by the model. In some cars, you can control how quickly the car will slow down on its own. You may have a maximum, moderate and minimal braking option, as well as a cruise mode that allows the car to coast naturally. For example, with a Kia Niro EV, you can control the level of regenerative braking via paddles on the left and right sides of the steering wheel. In fact, you can do all your braking with your hands by manipulating the paddles. The Kia also uses regenerative braking to a point when you use the brake pedal. It will only use the disc brakes to make an abrupt stop.
The superior braking systems in electric cars also help them perform well in adverse weather such as snow, and on curves and hills. Furthermore, an electric car is heavier on average, and the position of the motor and the battery at the bottom and center give electric sedans a lower center of gravity. This makes electric sedans good all-weather cars and improves the handling at higher speeds, making them less of a rollover risk and more stable in the event of a collision.
For more information on the experience of driving an electric car and trends, see this video from the U.S. Department of Energy.
—Written by Victor Whitman
—Top photo: hutangach/AdobeStock
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