WHETHER YOU’RE AN EV VETERAN OR ARE SHOPPING FOR YOUR FIRST ELECTRIC CAR, HERE’S THE BEST WAY TO EVALUATE IT FROM BEHIND THE WHEEL.
No matter how much research you do ahead of time with regard to an electric vehicle’s operating range, performance, and features, it’s essential to give any model you’re considering a thorough test-drive before sealing the deal. As it is, surveys indicate that only about a third of the general car-buying public bothers to spend time behind the wheel before buying or leasing a given vehicle. With most EVs being priced over $30,000, this is no small investment, so you’ll want to make sure the model you ultimately choose best meets your needs and preferences.
Electric vehicles not only feel differently on the road than conventional cars, their driving demeanor differs from one model to another, so you may want to plan on taking more than one make and model for a spin before making a final decision. If a community group is sponsoring an event with multiple EVs available for test-drives, or a regional auto show is letting attendees give electrified rides a spin, be sure to attend so you can get your hands on multiple models without much fuss.
Before you visit a dealership and get down to business, it’s a good idea to make an appointment ahead of time to arrange a test drive so the vehicle will be ready and waiting for you – and with a full charge. Since a given brand may sell as many as 20 or more separate car and truck lines, but perhaps only a single EV, ask for the salesperson who’s most knowledgeable about battery-powered vehicles to answer any questions that may come up.
BEFORE YOU DRIVE
Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the vehicle before hitting the road. Locate the charging port to see if it’s situated where a cord can easily reach it from the electrical outlet in your garage. Make note of things like whether the trunk or hatchback is sufficient for an average shopping trip, and that the keyless entry system works smoothly and intuitively. Check to see there’s sufficient leg- and headroom for back-seat passengers with the front seats adjusted fully rearward. If you have kids, consider how easy or difficult it might be to get them in and out of their child seats.
Now get in and assume the driving position. Pay attention to how easy or difficult is it to enter the vehicle, given the shape of the door and position of the seat and steering wheel. Buckle the seatbelt and adjust the driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, and both rear and side mirrors to provide an upright driving position. Make sure the seat gives sufficient lower-back support and that your feet reach the pedals comfortably without having to position yourself too closely to the steering wheel. Ensure that the cupholders are located within reach, and that there are sufficient storage cubbies for things like your wallet, mobile phone, and sunglasses.
Many electric vehicles come with overly complex video displays and touch-screen controls instead of the usual gauges, switches, and dials. Make sure you’re able to read the instrumentation at a glance – especially vehicle speed and battery range – and that the dashboard displays are legible in bright sunlight. Determine whether all the necessary controls come readily to hand without having to stretch across the dashboard. Take a few minutes to operate the vehicle’s audio, climate, navigation, and infotainment systems before driving off, and don’t hesitate to ask the salesperson questions about how they work. Get a feel for how easy or difficult they might be to operate while trying to keep focused on driving.
ON THE ROAD
If you’ve never driven an electric vehicle prepare yourself for a different kind of motoring experience. For starters, EVs drive silently, which you may find unnerving at first. Electric cars are also quite lively, given that an electric motor delivers 100 percent of its available power instantly and continuously via a single-speed transmission. Without a heavy motor up front, and their big battery packs usually situated low to the ground, EVs generally handle well, though this attribute differs from one model to another.
As you settle into a test drive, chart a course that mirrors your usual driving routes. You may want to take things easy at first to get a feel for how the vehicle operates, and then push things a bit harder – though still safely – as you get accustomed to it. If you can, get onto a highway to determine how quickly the vehicle merges into fast-moving traffic, to gauge its passing abilities, and determine its stability at higher speeds.
EVs come with a feature called regenerative braking which recovers energy that would otherwise be lost while decelerating and braking, and sends it back to its battery pack to help maintain a charge. Given EVs are more or less aggressive in this regard. Some models let the driver adjust the regenerative braking effect to afford either greater energy recapture or a more “normal” feel. A few maximize it to the point where a driver can nearly bring the vehicle to a complete stop just by modulating the accelerator. This is known as “one pedal” driving. Make sure you’re comfortable with how the vehicle performs in this regard.
Be sure to find some curves in the road, twisting on/off ramps, and lower-speed cornering to ensure the steering is smooth and that vehicle’s handling abilities are to your liking. Make sure to hit some bumps along the way to see how smoothly or roughly the car rides over broken pavement. If the vehicle is equipped with selectable driving modes that let you dial in more- or less-aggressive performance, try each setting to determine which, if any, you prefer.
Check the car’s range indicator from time to time during your test drive to get an idea of how quickly heavy acceleration and use of accessories – especially the heater and air conditioning – drains the battery.
Rather than just drive the car or truck onto the dealer’s lot at the end of your test, park the car at the curb. Note the ease or difficulty of its low-speed steering and the tightness of the car’s turning radius. Pay attention to the vehicle’s outward visibility to ensure you can you find the front, rear, and the corners of the vehicle without blind spots and back into a spot without banging bumpers.
Pay special heed to these details and don’t be afraid to nit-pick. If you’re not comfortable with certain aspects of the vehicle at this point, they could come to irritate you greatly over time.
The same basic test-driving tips apply if you’re shopping for a pre-owned electric vehicle, like any of those listed for sale here on MYEV.com (if you’re selling one, keep in mind our listings are 100 percent free). One important thing to consider with a used model is to make sure the car is fully charged when you come to inspect it, and check the state-of-charge gauge to learn what extent the battery has degraded, if at all, from its claimed range when new.