Gregory Milligan

What is an EV like to drive?

Well, for the most part if you have ever driven an automatic car you will find an EV easy to drive. This is for a reason…EV manufacturers have designed their cars to be intuitive to drive for the average user. Home converted cars can be a whole different kettle of fish…depending on the thinking of the person who converted it!

The dash of the Mitsubishi i MiEV...fairly conventional
The dash of the Mitsubishi i MiEV…fairly conventional

Take my Mitsubishi i MiEV as an example. When you get in you see a set of controls that looks quite normal, except for some of the markings on the gear shifter. Turn the key and it goes to a spring loaded “start” position like you would expect, although the noise of a starter motor is missing. After a second or two there is a “ding” and a green light comes alive on the dash saying “Ready” and all of the gauges spring to life. Put the shifter in D and press the accelerator, and the car moves away smoothly from a stop. All of the other controls do exactly what you expect them to do.

The gauges are laid out to be intuitive and easy to read.
The gauges are laid out to be intuitive and easy to read.

The speedometer is digital, but so are many new cars. The battery gauge works like a fuel gauge, and there is a “power meter” which shows you how much power you are drawing from the battery (or putting back into it through regenerative braking). The shifter has Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive just like a normal auto. On my 2010 model there is also an Eco position and B for Brake. The two extra positions give more engine braking feel by using the electric motor as a generator when you lift off the accelerator and performing regenerative braking. B gives the strongest regen. You simply select which gear position gives the amount of regen you like (D is similar to an auto, B is more like a manual in 3rd gear…) and away you go. Of course the i MiEV doesn’t have a gearbox…the electric motor is hooked up straight to the axle via a single speed reduction gear, but the conventional looking shifter means that you don’t need to know this and it all does what you expect it to do. Reverse is simply a command to the controller to turn the motor backwards and limit the speed to 20 km/h. Neutral commands the controller to shut off power to the motor. Only Park has a physical function, applying a brake inside the transmission.

The Nissan Leaf is a little different, using a start button instead of an old style key, and the transmission shifter is a little knob on the centre console that you slide sideways then backwards for drive, or forwards for reverse. Park is a separate button. Teslas are their own thing again, as long as the smart key is in your pocket you simply need to sit in the driver’s seat and select drive…

Once you are moving the feeling is weird the first few times you drive an EV…at low speeds there is silence and the only thing you can hear is the sound of the tyres rolling along the road. As speeds increase the sound of the wind racing past becomes the loudest thing (unless your stereo is cranked of course!) and when you stop at a traffic light everything becomes completely silent! For the first week you will keep thinking that it has stalled…but there is no petrol engine to stall, you are just enjoying electric motoring! With time you will stop noticing this, until you get into a petrol car and immediately think how noisy and rough and vibrating it is!

With an electric motor, full torque is available from standstill, so they go a lot better than the power figures suggest. The i MiEV has 48 kW which sounds like not much at all, but it has 180 Nm of torque which is about the same as a 2 litre Ford Focus. It weighs less than a Focus, and the torque is there from low speed. Off the line and up to 20 km/h or so most current 4 cylinder cars will be in front, but about the time they need their first gear change the i MiEV is getting into its stride and starts to pull away…up to 80-90 km/h it will keep up with any of the commonly seen 4 cylinder cars on the road, although a V6 will generally catch it. And the i MiEV is the lowest performance EV on the market here in Australia…a Tesla can take off quicker than a current Ferrari!

Mid speed response is instant and strong. Overtaking is good. Plant it at 70 and there is a background sound like a jet engine spooling up…magic!

The feeling of cruising past petrol stations knowing you don’t need to go in there is kind of cool too.

I have let many people drive my EV, from dyed in the wool petrol heads, to EV enthusiasts, to friends and family who were simply curious about them. Nobody who has driven it has disliked it. A few have said it was cool in its own way but they would never buy one, most have said they would buy one if there were charge points more available, and quite a few are now champing at the bit to get their hands on an EV one day! The funniest reaction I got was from a stereotypical lowered scruffy Commodore driver who after a ride in it said to me “it’s still a gay piece of ****, but it’s a cool gay piece of ****!”