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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...

Choose your road

During our time with the e-Golf, we tested it on two very different 25-mile routes to compare the effects on battery usage.

The first route started on reasonably quick country A-roads followed by a stretch of motorway, on which we travelled at the 70mph speed limit. When we returned to our start point, we had taken a good chunk out of the battery capacity and significantly eaten into the car’s predicted range to empty.

On our second trip, however, instead of turning right towards the motorway we turned left, through the centre of the town of Bicester. A succession of roundabouts and traffic lights meant we were constantly decelerating and then accelerating again.

It became very easy to use the B mode as our stock method of slowing down, with just a graze of the brake pedal to halt the car. And guess what – when we got back to our start point after a 25-mile trip, the car’s indicated range to empty had actually increased from when we started.

Volkswagen also offers an Eco mode on the e-Golf to further eke out the range, and does suggest a number of other ways to reduce your energy use. Some are practical, some not worth worrying about.

For example, you should expect fewer miles per charge on a cold day – all electrical batteries behave this way. If there’s a strong wind blowing straight at the car that will cut the range too – EVs try to be as slippery as possible, and you can help this by driving with the windows up as it reduces aerodynamic drag.

However, if you keep the window up and turn on the air-con, this will increase your electricity consumption. But this is no different from traditional cars – few people realise that constant use of air-con in a petrol or diesel car can knock as much as 10% off the fuel economy.

Using the infotainment, lights and heating all have an effect on electricity usage, but so little it’s not worth worrying about. Volkswagen does advise that using heated seats (optional on the e-Golf) is more effective at keeping an occupant warm than using the heating system, plus it uses much less electricity.

Weight cuts miles

Not surprisingly, if your route involves climbing lots of hills that will hurt the range, you can recover some of it by using the energy recuperation when going down the other side. And don’t forget about the weight of extra passengers and luggage. Okay, you can’t suddenly stop taking the kids to school, but if the boot is full of stuff you hardly ever use then leaving that at home will help.

Not to be ignored is how you drive generally. Accelerate and brake aggressively and that charge will disappear a whole lot more quickly. Smoothness is the way to economic progress (as indeed it is in a traditional car). And driving smoothly also makes it easier to use the energy recuperation instead of the brake pedal when decelerating.

Charging an electric car

The e-Golf is typical of current EVs in its charging times, but these are reducing rapidly as new models and better battery technology starts to reach the market.

You can use a regular three-pin socket like you have at home, but the e-Golf will take a very tedious 17 hours to fully charge from completely flat this way.

1902 Volkswagen e-Golf The Car Expert
There are several charing options for EVs, and they are being added to all the time.

VW has a deal with charging point supplier POD Point, and for £279 offers customers a 3.6 kW AC home wall box charger, which cuts the full charge time to just under 11 hours – basically the difference between arriving home from work and heading off again next morning.

Volkswagen claims that using this method could cost as little as 2p a mile, compared to (at today’s prices) 12-14p for a typical 40mpg petrol car…

There are 6.6kW home chargers available, slashing times to five hours. And if you need a boost out on the road, rapid chargers are mushrooming across the UK, at motorway service stations and such like. These 40kW DC units can restore 80% of the car’s capacity in 40 minutes – DC chargers rapidly charge the battery to 80% and then slow down when adding the final 20%.

VW also offers a phone app that allows you to control charging remotely – starting and stopping it at times to suit you, as well as various other functions.

What’s important to remember is that, in practice, you won’t usually be charging the car from a completely flat battery each time you plug it in. If your car still has a 50% charge when you get home, it will only take a few hours to fill back up to 100%. Or you may find you can go for several days without having to plug in for a charge.

Cost calculations

The other big drawback of electric cars, of course, is price. Even when you take off the plug-in car grant the government gives to buyers of electric vehicles, you are still looking at a shade under £30,000 for an e-Golf, and other EV models are similarly pricey.

You will need to do the maths, work out your fuel costs and how much of that you would save by driving an EV. You will need to add in other savings too – tax (road fund licence and benefit-in-kind if you have one as your company car), congestion charges and such. Servicing should also be a bit cheaper, although exact prices will vary among makes and models.

And there are some extra factors to consider. You might be surprised to learn that, in terms of specification, the e-Golf is no entry-level model – it certainly hasn’t been pared down in toys in order to improve the range.

Included as standard are a range-topping navigation system with a nine-inch touchscreen, front and rear parking sensors, LED headlamps (they use less electricity) and a full safety suite including autonomous emergency braking. Overall, the e-Golf is comparable to the top specification offered on a petrol or diesel Golf.

Your electric avenue?

So what’s the conclusion? Well, if your driving involves tooling along for mile after mile of motorway, an electric car is likely not for you. At least not yet.

But if your commute involves up to 50 miles each day then a car like this could work for you. And if any of that travel involves sitting in traffic, negotiating busy urban streets, then you could potentially go for days without having to plug your car in to charge.

1902 Volkswagen e-Golf The Car Expert
High speed on motorways, and aggressive acceleration and braking are the enemies of a long EV range.
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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