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What’s an electric car like to drive?

Our comprehensive guide reveals EV driving secrets – and routes to free power – that might surprise you...

Instant performance

What is very noticeable in almost any electric car is that power is delivered instantly. Even a tiny Renault Zoe electric car delivers a solid shove as soon as you put your foot down – much faster than any petrol- or diesel-powered car can do. The difference is that shove doesn’t keep building as it does in a petrol or diesel car. Instead, the acceleration tails off rather more quickly.

Even the pint-sized Renault ZOE electric car packs a punch in city driving
Even the pint-sized Renault Zoe electric car packs a punch in city driving

The e-Golf is no slouch, but it very much depends on your driving environment. The technical figures are 136hp and 290Nm of torque, which translates to a 9.6-second 0-62mph time – half a second slower than a petrol-powered 1.5-litre Golf GT with 130hp. However, the performance is delivered quite differently.

If you lined them up side-by-side for a drag race, you’d see that the electric e-Golf jumps off the line much more quickly, but the petrol Golf GT catches up and eventually overtakes it as you approach 60mph.

The petrol car will then keep on pulling away. Top speed is significantly better in the petrol model – the Golf GT can get to 131mph, while the e-Golf tops out at 93mph. That might not sound especially relevant in a country with a national speed limit of 70mph, but it means that the petrol car is far more responsive when (for example) you want to pull from the middle lane into the fast lane on a motorway.

So for urban driving, where you’re accelerating from rest or slow speeds on a regular basis, an electric car feels very responsive and rapid. Get it on a motorway, where you’re trying to build up to and hold 70mph, and you’re operating outside its comfort zone.

Range – the reality

Of course, the big elephant in the room for any electric car is how far it will go before running out of battery charge. The ‘official’ range of the e-Golf is 186 miles, but Volkswagen says a ‘realistic’ range is 124 miles. That compares to the 400-ish miles you can expect to get from the petrol-powered Golf GT.

Now before you stop reading, there are two key points to bear in mind.

Firstly, 124 miles is usually more than enough for most drivers to cover all their driving needs and return safely to their preferred charging point each night.

Secondly, the way you drive the car – and where you drive it – can make a whole lot of difference to the case for going electric.

An electric car doesn’t just rely on plugging into a socket to charge the battery. Just as important is energy recuperation. Every time you lift off the accelerator and let the car coast, the wheels become little turbines that generate electricity. When you brake, this energy generation is increased. This is often referred to as ‘harvesting’ electricity.

The car will collect, or harvest, this electricity and send it to the battery, topping up your charge a little bit each time. By driving carefully and lifting off to coast up to a junction, you will be helping to add extra range to your battery. If you simply keep your foot on the throttle and then brake to a stop at the last minute, you won’t recover anywhere near as much energy.

Over a normal day of urban driving, you could be boosting your car’s range by dozens of miles simply by driving smarter – you’ll still get to your destination at the same time, but you’ll use less electricity and recover more of it back again.

Energy in, energy out

In addition to your driving style, most electric cars have additional settings that you can engage to increase the amount of energy you recover.

Looking at the gear lever, you’ll see the Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive settings familiar to anyone who has driven an automatic petrol or diesel car. But as well as these, the e-Golf lever goes back a further notch into Braking mode, to increase the energy recuperation. Other cars, like the Nissan Leaf, have slightly different settings to do the same thing.

The best way to explain what this actually does is to set off on a drive.

1902 Volkswagen e-Golf The Car Expert
The extra ‘B’ mode on the transmission is the key to boosting your electric range

In normal Drive mode, you can lift off the accelerator and the car will glide to a halt, feeling much the same as any petrol or diesel car. You don’t really feel it, but as you coast the car is harvesting some energy from the wheels to convert into electricity.

Move the gear lever back a notch to ‘B’ for Braking – recuperation mode – and coming off the accelerator becomes very noticeable as the car begins to slow significantly, the recuperation hardware acting like a brake – a gentle, consistent one, but a brake.

It feels odd to begin with, but quickly becomes familiar and before long you may find that you’re using ‘B’ mode as the general means to slow down, only employing the brake pedal for final stopping or emergency braking. That can make a big difference to the car’s usefulness, because it maximises the energy going back into the battery for you to use later.

Continued on next page: Charging your electric car and cost calculations

Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.


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