Same, but different: what does it feel like to drive an EV?


Bruce Newton 

Posted January 04, 2023

After a lifetime of dealing with fuel and internal combustion engines, you’re probably expecting the driving experience of an EV to be a bit different. This is what it’s like. 

So, you’ve made the decision that your next new vehicle purchase is going to be electric. 

Perhaps you want to transition to a cleaner energy future, enjoy the long-term saving in running costs, or a combination of both. Whatever reasoning you have, you might be a bit nervous about the transition, which is understandable.  

But there’s very little need to worry. The fundamental driving objective is the same, and if anything, the battery-powered electric vehicles that are becoming more common on Aussie roads simplify the experience further than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles ever could. 

This is what it’s like to drive an EV. 

The Genesis GV60.

EV's like the Genesis GV60 can be pin-drop quiet in the cabin while driving.

The basics 

The good news is you can step straight out of your Toyota RAV4 into a Tesla Model Y and drive away with very little need to acclimatise. 

There is still a steering wheel to make the car turn, a foot-operated accelerator pedal to make it move and a foot-operated brake pedal to make it stop. 

If you’re used to a manual gearbox and fossicking around for a clutch pedal, you’re out of luck. EVs don’t have either.  

Nor do they have multi-speed automatic transmissions like ICE models. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque at zero revs - they don’t need lots of gears to keep them in the performance sweet spot. 

Just select ‘D’ for drive on the shift lever/knob/handle/button/crystal dial (it varies in EVs) and away you go. It’s called a single-speed reduction gear and it’s how most EVs are equipped. 

A few, like the Porsche Taycan add a second gear, not that you notice it when driving.

When you boil it right down, the EV driving experience is actually less complex than an ICE. 

The driving 

Once you are moving, the first thing you’re going to notice is an EV produces a lot less noise than an ICE vehicle and moves a lot more smoothly. 

Fun fact: some EVs produce a low siren-like noise when driving slowly to warn pedestrians of your approach. 

All that doesn’t mean EVs are always quiet in the cabin. The lack of engine and exhaust noise can allow tyre roar and wind rush to become more obvious.  

But in EVs like the new Genesis GV60 that do a great job of quelling those other factors, the cabin can be pin-drop quiet. 

If it’s too quiet, the GV60 offers the ability to tune artificial motor noise into the cabin. It can even sound like a rocket.

The next thing you’ll notice is that EVs deliver impressive acceleration from a standing start. That even applies to cars with small electric motors and low kilowatt counts like the MG ZS EV.  

That appealing trait relates back to the delivery of max torque from the second you press the throttle. It means EVs are great for nipping round town.


kia niro internal

Electric vehicles don't have manual gears or need for a clutch.

Handling the weight 

More subtle than the powertrain differences, is the way an EV feels compared to an ICE rolling down the road. 

An EV will usually have a large and heavy high-voltage battery pack slung between the axles. This has a couple of notable impacts on ride and handling.   

First, the length of the battery means the wheelbase (the length between front and rear wheels) is usually quite long for the overall size of the car. That can make the ride a bit smoother but the cornering a bit less nimble. 

Putting so much weight down low also means a lower centre of gravity, which is the holy grail for car engineers. That aids the vehicle’s cornering prowess. 

But all that battery weight means EVs are usually pretty heavy. Many weigh well over 2.0-tonnes - making it harder to provide a worthy compromise between agility and comfort.  

A very important bonus of having a long wheelbase is increased interior room. Get in the rear seat of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, for instance, and you’ll see what we mean. Sprawling space galore!  

Them’s the brakes 

I know we said the essential EV driving experience was even simpler than an ICE, but it can get a bit more complicated if you drill down into the braking experience.

That’s because when you lift off the accelerator pedal, the electric motor regenerates rather than expells electricity, and produces a braking effect that slows the car - even if you don’t hit the brake pedal.

Don’t worry, EVs do have traditional friction brakes as well. In fact, when you use the brake pedal in an EV, you may notice it feels a bit wooden. That’s because the two braking systems are working together and there’s lots of electronics controlling the transition between the two. 

The regenerative braking effect is used in EVs in a number of ways, but in every instance, it puts some electricity back into the battery pack. 

Some makers offer you the chance to tune the level of ‘regen’ you want when you lift off the throttle. Some even allow you to manipulate the level of regen via a dial on the dashboard or paddles on the steering wheel. 

They can be used a bit like the gear paddles of a traditional auto transmission. Raise the regen to help brake for a corner and lower it to help accelerate out the other side. 

You can even set up an EV for what’s called one-pedal driving. You literally only use the throttle pedal and rely on regenerative braking to slow and even pull up the vehicle when you lift-off.  

It feels a bit weird at first and some brands set it up it more aggressively than others. But it does work. A good idea is to get the feel of it in area like an empty car park before trying it out in traffic. 

It’s all part of the same-but-different experience that is driving an electric vehicle. Enjoy!

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