Top tips for test driving an electric car

We talk you through what to expect and look out for when trying an EV for the first time.

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and switch to an electric vehicle (EV), then you might want to go and test-drive one before you buy. But if you’re daunted by the idea of that, don’t worry – we’re here to guide you through our top tips for testing an EV.

Remember – it’s just a car

Lots of people want to differentiate EVs and make them feel otherworldly, but in truth they’re just cars, only they don’t have petrol or diesel engines. So, aside from one or two key differences which we’ll expand on below, they’re very similar to automatic cars with an internal combustion engine (ICE). You’ll have an accelerator pedal, a brake pedal, a steering wheel and, usually, the same sort of buttons and control interfaces as you’d find in an ICE vehicle.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that a lot of EVs are truly keyless; if you get into the car with its key on your person and then put your belt on, the whole vehicle powers up and is ready to drive – you don’t even need to push a ‘start/stop’ button.

What’s that noise?

When you start the test drive, one of the things you’ll probably be expecting is that EVs are silent – there’s no engine burning fuel, after all. But while that’s true to a degree (EVs are quieter overall than ICE cars), they’re not silent… as you’ll soon discover when you begin moving. A piece of EU safety legislation stipulates any car which can drive on electric power alone (so hybrids and plug-in hybrids too) has to emit an audible noise at speeds of up to 30km/h in order to warn pedestrians near the vehicle that it is moving. This is usually a low keening noise, although some EV manufacturers choose to go with noises which either imitate ICE vehicles or which amplify the electric car’s own propulsion motors.

Electric Car Test Drive

Either way, it’s a part of EV ownership and you’ll soon get used to it. Oh, and the noise doesn’t have to be emitted at speeds of more than 30km/h, as the sheer physical sounds of a large vehicle, such as its tyres rolling on the road surface or its bodywork cutting through the air, are enough to warn people that an EV is on the move nearby.

Be aware of regenerative braking

After the keyless start procedure and the low-speed warning noise for other road users, perhaps the remaining key difference about driving an EV is the regenerative braking process. These electric cars can harness otherwise-wasted kinetic energy generated when you press the brake pedal and put it back into the battery pack, recuperating a bit of extra driving range. If it’s in action, this works as soon as you’ve let go of the accelerator pedal – you don’t need to press the actual brake pedal to get the car to slow down.

Usually, manufacturers will let the driver alter the level of this regenerative braking effect, from either a mild setting, where the car hardly slows at all when you lift off the throttle, to a very strong effect which is pretty much as powerful as deploying the physical brakes themselves with the pedal; additionally, a few manufacturers will let you turn regenerative ‘braking’ off so the EV coasts just like an ICE car would do. Anyway, if you have the electric car on maximum regenerative braking, it is described as ‘one-pedal driving’ – in which you can control the EV’s speed using just the right-hand pedal alone. It takes a little getting used to but it’s really enjoyable once you’ve acclimatised, and don’t worry – the car will automatically illuminate its brake lights in maximum regenerative settings, so there’s no fear of someone going up the back of you.

Don’t get hung up on range anxiety

You might be aware there is a discrepancy between the number of kilometres an EV is claimed to go by its manufacturer on a single charge, and then how far it actually goes in real life. And yes, there is a whole other article about how various factors, such as the outside temperature and which electrical systems you are using on the EV while you drive, can affect the range of an EV. However, if you work on the basis of getting around 70 per cent of the official range in reality, you will find every new EV will be more than enough to cover your needs if you’re planning on using it for semi-urban commuting.

Something like a Honda e, with one of the smallest battery packs in a new electric car, reckons on up to 222km on a charge, so that’d be 155km or thereabouts in reality. Unless you need to regularly – and we do mean regularly – do the 520km round-trip from Dublin to Cork and back without time to stop for charging, an EV is going to be fine for your daily driving needs. And there are even plenty of electric cars that will do the Cork trip too, if you need them to.

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