Is driving an electric car really so different from a traditional petrol or diesel one? Yes and no. Firstly, of course, there is no engine rumble. Many motorists miss it but for pedestrians and cyclists it is a danger and automakers are seeking alternative solutions.
Energy saving is a priority for all vehicles today and for electric cars it is really the aspect that makes the difference, although recharging times (still long, but getting shorter) and charging stations (still rare but becoming more widespread) do not allow you to move about with the same range or customary carefreeness of models with an internal combustion engine. The future course has been mapped out and there’s no turning back now. Of course, in an electric car, you need to change your old (and cherished) habits, reconsidering your approach to driving. Once you get accustomed, you can have a lot of fun and save a lot of money in the long run, too.
There is no rev counter
A noteworthy preamble is that the instrument cluster is significantly different from what was once the norm. The rev counter is missing from the panel. There is a voltmeter or an instantaneous energy consumption indicator in its place. Understandably and in general terms, the residual range is always shown.
Very useful are the graphs that help you understand whether you are driving carefully and economically or if you are overdoing it and wasting too much. Forget the rev counter and the oil temperature gauge. On an electric car, monitoring the residual range is what it is all about.
Contrary to what you might think, electric cars, or at least many of those on the market, can deliver performance that is as good as that of their traditional petrol counterparts. And remarkably so. Torque delivery is immediate. Pressing your right foot on the throttle is like pushing a light switch. Thrust is delivered by the motor all at once, immediately, from zero rpm.
The result is astounding acceleration and the pick-up will leave everyone else nearby gobsmacked. The more powerful models can blaze off from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 4 seconds. The only flaw is the considerable weight of these cars that has a major impact on handling and braking. So, at first, you’d better take it easy.
Quiet and laid back
The pick-up of an electric car is excellent but you mustn’t forget that a great deal of energy is lost in acceleration so you need to practise moderation if you do not want to find yourself with a low level on the infamous range indicator. The ideal is to learn to accelerate in gradually and then travel at a constant speed barely skimming the throttle. Actually, 90 km/h is the most efficient speed.
The key is to adopt a predictive driving style as far as possible. Being able to interpret the traffic ahead can put you in a position to save a lot of energy, releasing the throttle when the cars in front are starting to stop or slow down before reaching the traffic lights that are about to turn red.
The method will become your second nature after a while. By exploiting the kinetic energy recovery system, the car distinctly slows down whenever you release the throttle, that implies that you can use the brake pedal only to come to an actual standstill and hardly ever to decelerate.
Your driving style will need to change at the wheel of an electric car, whether you want to or not. It could be the silence that accompanies your trips or maybe because of the need to keep an eye on energy consumption but you find yourself travelling in a more laid back way, adopting a smoother, more relaxed driving style, exploiting every small slope and red light to help the car reach the promised range.
Many models are equipped with Brake mode which, by increasing the electromagnetic resistance of the motor, recovers even more energy and slows down the car a lot. Average speeds are becoming slower and not because electric cars cannot reach top speeds but simply because when you see how much energy you are wasting with fast accelerations, it becomes almost instinctive to dose the throttle more gently.
Study the route
The last chapter concerns the route. Counterintuitively, the shortest way may not always be the most energy-efficient one. For instance, you need to evaluate any differences of level on your daily commute. A route with a long uphill road will lead to greater use of energy, only a small part of which will be recovered on the downhill stretch. It is actually better to choose on an alternative route with fewer inclines, even if this lengthens the way by a few kilometres.
For longer journeys – say 250 kilometres or more – the issue is entirely different. With an electric car, you must necessarily think about planning stops – which will not be very short – along the way at the appropriate charging stations or splitting up your journey into stages, recharging the car at the hotel overnight. An important tip. Never set off without a plan B. Always take the possibility of unexpected events into account, such as a particularly long queue or problems at the charging station where you planned to stop. The advice is to carefully study your route and always consider an alternative plan.