Electric Cars are Better Than Piston Cars for Long Journeys

After four years of driving electric I would much prefer to take an electric car on a long journey than a piston car. Most people wouldn’t expect that, except those experienced with driving long distances in an electric vehicle.

Charging at Sedgemoor Services on the M5 (Image: T. Larkum)

Charging at Sedgemoor Services on the M5 (Image: T. Larkum)

Some of the benefits are obvious, of course, such as the cheap fuelling costs and reduced environmental impacts (both local pollution and reduced greenhouse gases). However, it’s worth looking at the other aspects as they aren’t often spelled out.

An electric car is much better to drive for a number of reasons. The electric motor itself is quiet and smooth so you don’t have to put up with the noise and vibration of a combustion engine. As well as being less stressful, this also means it’s more enjoyable listening to music, radio, audiobooks, etc.

Further, the lack of a gearbox is a big benefit. Compared to a manual gearbox, there is no need to operate a clutch or gear lever – this is a particular advantage in stop-and-go traffic. Compared to an automatic gearbox, there is smooth acceleration from zero to full speed without the annoying jumps as the gearbox changes its gear or the sound of the gear changes.

Best of all, electric cars have braking regeneration, meaning the motor can act as a brake (and in so doing recharge the battery). This feels like ‘engine braking’ but can be considerably stronger. Electric vehicles with strong ‘regen’, like the Tesla Model S and BMW i3, are best of all as they allow for ‘one-pedal driving’.

Releasing the accelerator pedal causes the car to slow down all the way to a stop. This means it isn’t necessary to use the brake pedal at all, except in an emergency. Using the accelerator alone for speed control makes the driving very easy and relaxing. This is such a benefit that Nissan are promoting it heavily, as the e-Pedal, for the next version of their Leaf.

Of course, if the electric car isn’t a Tesla then it will have less range than most piston cars and this has to be taken into account as there will be a need to charge on a long journey. However, as the range of all electric cars increases, and the infrastructure improves, charging isn’t the issue it used to be.

Even in going from the 80 mile range of my previous Renault ZOE to the 120 mile range of my current BMW i3 I have found charging to become much easier. I now have to stop to charge only after about 2 hours of driving, which is as long as my family is prepared to go without a break anyway.

We’re currently holidaying in Devon, having driven from Northampton. On the way down we stopped twice to charge. The first time we stopped for lunch, so the car just charged while we ate. The second time we stopped for a comfort break, and then just waited an extra 15 minutes or so for the charge to complete.

Quarter of an hour is a small time cost in a journey of 7-8 hours. It would have been quicker if it hadn’t been for some terrible Friday afternoon traffic around Bristol, and the one-pedal driving and other benefits outlined above more than made up for small time spent charging.

The charging itself went really easily both times. The first time we had just a brief delay (although we saw a queue as we left). The second time we were the only EV there and just started and stopped charging as we wanted. And each charge cost me less than £5.

Overall the benefits of driving an EV on a long journey far outweigh the minor inconveniences of charging, so I personally could not go back to driving a piston car. As EV ranges continue to increase, the benefits will become obvious to all drivers.

Comments (4)

  1. MarkG UK


    I’ve made the switch and don’t plan returning. But I feel we are still very much in a early adopter/pioneer phase. Yes we can and do make long journeys but with the glaring exception of Tesla (who have a reliable extensive charging network with multiple points per location), in the real world the rest of us are sharing one or two plugs that may or may not work (irrespective of just being used), may or may not keep going for the duration, may or may not be ICE’d and increasingly expect to queue for a go.
    Like most EV drivers, 95% of my journeys (13k pa) are satisfied via home charging (and the joy of being “full” every morning – and pre-heated/pre-cooled – should not be understated), but if I go on a longer trip Ines to plan 3 or 4 charging options to be sure of a safe return.
    I still don’t see any other OEM planning to improve this situation soon so guess I’ll go through with my early model 3 reservation when they eventually get to RHD versions.
    Come on VW/Ford/PSA/Nissan/Toyota please bring some competition to the market (and may be find s long term future for your companies while doing so). Holding back because you can’t turn a profit isn’t a long term solution now the world has realised ICE is dead and the future is ZEV (which for now means BEV). And please no more hybrids that solve nothing!

  2. MarkG UK


    To be clear, RX (rangeextender – a form of series hybrid) are a good solution to the range anxiety issue for now (and won’t be used most of the time providing real BEV motoring) but parallel hybrids just add more complexity, more weight, more cost, less BEV range and in reality the ICE engine fires up every journey ensuring the legacy industry (servicing, maintenance, stuff to fail/replace), continues unreformed.
    Insist on RX, reject hybrids!

  3. Trevor Larkum


    Mark, I agree with your comments. I think I’m more optimistic though – the REx was a good short-term solution but as intrinsic BEV ranges get longer (new ZOE, new Leaf, i3 120Ah) I think it will fade away. Hybrids were always just a stop-gap solution.

    • MarkG UK


      I disagree on both. I must be optimistic to have committed to a first gen EV – esp as I choose one of the few without fast-charge capability!
      But the range argument (let’s assume we do have fast-charge capability), is not a total range limitation, because even when (if) an EV could do 700 miles, you still get to a point where, if there are no charges around or they all don’t work or all need a different card or all have a queue, still mean inconvenience and risk of journey continuation. With an on-board RX can be sure of ability to go and go (even if in reality never have to fire it up from one month to the next).

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