How differently does an electric vehicle drive?

PHOTO: Motorist

We’d all be familiar with the driving characteristics of an internal combustion engined (ICE) car. But electric vehicles (EV) do not subscribe to the same set of mannerisms.

That’s because even though both are sources of propulsion, the way forward momentum is achieved varies greatly between the duo.

As we are living through a transitional period, automakers have resorted to making their EVs behave like traditional, torque-converter automatics (especially at lower speeds), in a bid to make their cars more familiar to the layman.

But it may not always be like that moving forward, as mechanically, an engine and an electric motor are functionally very different.

If that’s the case, then just how is life like with an EV?

Not a night and day difference

To be clear, we are not suggesting that you need to completely relearn everything driving-related when jumping behind the wheel of an EV - ultimately, a motor vehicle is still a motor vehicle, regardless of the choice of propulsion system.

PHOTO: Motorist

It’s the subtlety in which you approach the controls that you have to take into account when first driving an EV (especially true when you are given the keys to a high-powered modern EV!).

For the time being, features to mimic the behaviour of petrol-fuelled vehicles are fairly commonplace, but they may gradually be phased out as automakers continue to chase ever greater economy figures.

Creep functionality for instance, can be found in many modern EVs, and as is the option to toggle regenerative braking to a setting that either apes the sensations of engine braking, or to completely turn it off. But ultimately, there are really only two major differences when you find yourself behind the wheel of an EV. They are as follows!

Instantaneous torque

PHOTO: Motorist

This is the very reason why you’ll see many accelerative reaction videos of passengers in Teslas. Access to maximum torque on a whim means you no longer have to worry about keeping your car in the powerband à la a petrol-powered car.

In your ICE car, to create that luscious wave of power needed for some spritely drives, engine revolutions have to be kept within a certain working window.

Wheel speed is then regulated by the car’s gearbox, which is equipped with various ratios to help the car both off-the-line, and to sustain higher speeds once the car is on the move.

These traits means that unless you have a well-tuned and geared ICE car, an EV with a similar level of power will always feel faster.

PHOTO: Motorist

Again, this is down to the differences in the power on tap - peak power in both cases may be similar, but how much power are you making lower down in the rev range in your petrol car?

Instantaneous power is very much a double-edged sword, especially if you are unable to smoothly modulate your throttle inputs.

The upside? You’ll always be able to catch gaps in traffic.

The downside? The constant transition between surging and regenerative braking if you are not inept at throttle control can simulate a turbulence-like experience on land, guaranteed to empty the stomachs of those prone to motion sickness.

Regenerative braking

In regenerative braking, the car uses the motor as a generator to retard its speed. This puts precious energy back into the battery pack, allowing for improved efficiency and greater range.

It is also what allows some modern EVs to have one pedal driving. The aggressive deceleration when one first lifts off the throttle is something most would struggle with in the initial phases of EV ownership.

PHOTO: Motorist

The vigour in which energy is recovered depends on the rated power figure of your car, as well as the regenerative map you left your car in. In the most aggressive setting, several EVs today will replicate fairly aggressive braking when all you’ve done is lift your foot off the throttle.

Again, when not modulated properly, you’ll have some occupants with very upset heads and stomachs. For overall comfort and efficiency, you’ll want to optimise the rate of deceleration.

In an ICE car, that is achieved by controlling the pressure on the brake pedal. But that’s not the most optimal way to slow down in an EV.

PHOTO: Motorist

Gradually bleeding in the regenerative braking, achieved by first finding the point in the throttle pedal travel that effectively puts the car into a coast mode - i.e the car is neither recouping or deploying energy, then feeding the accelerator out as desired to bring the car to a halt.

For some EVs, regenerative braking only works to slow the car down to about 10km/h - you’ll then need to use your friction brakes.

Other user experience differences

There are other variables that make these cars so different to operate. The lack of engine noise, for instance, makes it difficult to gauge speed auditorily.

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Also, modern EVs often have higher floors to stow the battery packs underneath the bodyshell, and some manufacturers have yet to compensate for that by either raising the seat bases or creating wells in the battery for greater passenger comfort.

When driven hard, certain EVs definitely feel more sluggish in the bends than a petrol-powered car, especially true of converted EVs, as weight distribution in that application may not be ideal.

Range anxiety is also a factor, at least when you first start driving electric.

You do soon learn to trust the range readouts more, and also instinctively start to remember the fast chargers around where you live, so that is also a non-issue in the long run!

Interested to make the switch?

Decide which EV best suits your need, before heading down to the respective showrooms for test drives. Mainstream EVs that are really competent include the Hyundai Kona Electric, as well as an MG ZS EV.

If you’re after an electric premium saloon, a Polestar 2 or Tesla Model 3 would be solid buys.

PHOTO: Motorist

The duo is probably also the cheapest way into owning cars with decently high horsepower figures.

If budget is not a concern, and all you want is a large SUV that is ridiculously quick, do consider the Audi e-tron S Sportback!

PHOTO: Motorist

And before you pull the trigger to put a deposit on any of the cars mentioned above, you may want to get a competitive quote for your existing car.

ALSO READ: Driving assists and how they work: Launch control and drift mode

This article was first published in Motorist.