How to drive an EV

How to drive an EV
Driving an electric car might seem like a brave new world, but the uninitiated have nothing to fear.

Indeed, in many respects, electric vehicles (EVs) are actually easier to drive than conventional petrol or diesel cars.

This guide demystifies the process of driving an EV and explains how to get the most from one in regular use. 

How to drive an electric car: the basics

The way you drive an EV is broadly the same with every model. Starting from the driver’s seat, press the ‘Power’ button on the dashboard to turn the car on (or simply climb aboard with the key in the Polestar 2). Then select Drive – usually via a traditional gear lever, similar to the one you’d find in an automatic car. 

Some cars, such as the Volkswagen ID range and BMW i3, have relocated the drive selector to the dashboard. On the right-hand side of the instrument panel, twist the selector towards the windscreen to go forwards, and towards you for reverse. Other EVs may have a rotary dial, with gear markings around it. With these, just turn the dial to select forward or reverse.

On the move, there are no gears to worry about, and no clutch pedal either. It’s simply a case of ‘stop and go’ using the brake and accelerator pedals. EVs are impossible to stall.

They are also very smooth and quiet. The instant torque of their electric motors serves up swift acceleration (extremely so in some upmarket EVs, such as in a Tesla). Be very careful – you may need to watch your speed.

EVs use regenerative braking, which harvests kinetic energy to recharge the batteries. This means an EV may slow down more than you expect when you lift off the throttle. However, you can use this to your advantage.

How to maximise electric car driving range

As with any car, driving smoothly and anticipating hazards ahead are key to preserving energy. This is of particular importance in an electric vehicle.

Saving as much energy as you can and refilling the battery using kinetic energy from regenerative braking will preserve your available driving range, meaning you need to charge less often.

The easiest way to do this is to ease off the accelerator when approaching junctions. It feels strange to begin with and you may end up stopping short of the junction itself, but over time you’ll get used to how you can modulate your EV’s regenerative braking. Coasting down hills or when on motorways are other ways you can save precious energy.

Most electric cars have adjustable regenerative braking settings, selected via paddles behind the steering wheel or buttons near the drive selector. These allow you to adjust the level of regenerative braking force. Stronger settings are helpful in stop-start urban driving.

Many EVs also have a ‘one-pedal’ option that uses regenerative braking to bring the car to a complete stop. This means you only have to use the accelerator – hence the ‘one-pedal’ name – to accelerate or slow down.

Getting your car’s battery and interior conditioned to optimal temperatures before you leave the house – ideally while it is charging – also saves energy to give you more range. Called pre-conditioning, this process can usually be started and controlled via a smartphone app.

It’s common sense that the more electrical devices you switch on inside the car, the more energy you’ll use. So be mindful and only use what you need. If you’re travelling solo, use the air conditioning’s ‘driver’ setting if there is one – or even better, turn it off. 

If fitted, activate the heated seat and heated steering wheel instead, as these only heat up items, you’re in contact with. Infotainment screens also use energy, but they are often needed to access navigation and charging settings.

Almost all EVs now come with a smartphone app that allows you to monitor their available range, find the nearest charging locations, and set the preconditioning controls.

Read our comprehensive guide about how far you can drive in an EV.

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Do electric cars make a sound?

Yes. Under EU legislation, from 1 July 2019 all car manufacturers have to fit a noise system to EVs to warn pedestrians they are approaching.

So, extra care is needed when manoeuvring and driving at low speeds.

As speeds increase, wind and tyre noise will become the most noticeable elements inside the car, due to the absence of engine sound. However, EVs are still more refined than their internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalents.

Can I take my driving test in an electric car?

Yes, you can take the driving test in an EV. Currently, doing so only allows you to drive automatic cars in the future.

There are also presently no practical differences in terms of the test procedure or questions, but both these provisos may change in future.

What else do I need to know about driving an EV?

Before setting off, planning your route is more important with electric cars. This is crucial for longer trips where you need to charge away from home.

Because of their batteries, EVs are generally heavier than ICE cars, which can make them feel less wieldy in corners. 

The layout of some electric cars is also different. There may be motors at the front or back, or both if the car is all-wheel drive. If the motor is at the rear, with no engine to accommodate, there might be extra luggage space under the bonnet (Tesla calls it the ‘frunk’).

An EV’s batteries are usually beneath the floor, with the charging cable in the boot.

Get used to an electric car and most ICE vehicles will feel noisy and needlessly complicated. The greater challenge won’t be how to drive an EV itself – this is very straightforward – but the change in mindset around charging and preserving range.

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