The Middle East’s first electric MotorShow closed its doors this week, but not before we had a chance to test drive some of the electric vehicles on display! The lines were long, but we managed to get our hands on the Chevrolet Bolt EV hatchback, and the Volvo XC90 SUV. The experience of driving these vehicles was completely mind-blowing.
Getting in the driver seat of the fully-electric Bolt, you are greeted by a completely unfamiliar sight. The shifter stick in the Bolt EV and many other fully electric vehicles is much more basic than the gear stick in an automatic or manual transmission car, displaying only R, N, P, D and L (stands for Low, which is a mode that slows down the car automatically, engaging regenerative braking which charges the battery).
At the centre of the dashboard, you get a dose of the full-tech feel, with a massive 10.2 inch screen that screams modern. The overall cabin is filled with sleek lines, and blacks and grays.
But enough about the design. How does the car drive?
For a subcompact hatchback, and considering it is a full electric car, I was not expecting the sheer power of the car when I laid down my foot on the pedal. I was expecting the car to struggle to build momentum, for the speedometer needle to slowly inch up.
I was sorely mistaken.
Silently thunderous power
The lightest touch on the gas pedal (yeah… we are gonna need to rename this), and the car would fling into acceleration. I would say “roar to life,” but the thing is, there was barely any sound! No engine revving, no perceivable sound of a gearshift. I felt amazed, and… cheated. Deceived.
I don’t mean this in a negative way. With such power, we’ve come to expect an equally roaring engine to accompany our shifts to upper gears. There is no such thing with this fully-electric EV. In turn, you feel deceived when you are speeding, or about to speed. Subconsciously, we are used to the sound of a roaring engine warning us that we are, indeed, speeding. This can be exciting, but also alarming – alarming in the sense that we are risking our lives right now. Maybe slow down a bit, the car subconsciously nudges us. But nope, not with EVs.
It’s not surprising then why Europe has created a new law that states “all new electric and hybrid models seeking approval in Europe will have to emit a noise when travelling at low speeds.” According to the Guardian report, the law will be implemented starting from July 2019. Existing vehicles are expected gradually to be retrofitted with devices by 2021. This law stems from the fact that EVs pose a risk to pedestrians when travelling under 20 kph, when they barely produce any audible sound.
Volvo XC90: A luxurious notch above
When I got into the Volvo XC90, it was a completely different ride. First off, this was an SUV, so the experience was never going to be the same. Also, it was a plug-in hybrid rather than a fully-electric vehicle, so the internal combustion engine (ICE) would factor in significantly in this test drive.
However, what truly grabbed my attention was the luxurious feel of the cabin, and the endless amount of little notches, buttons and lights. There was no question that this was a premium vehicle.
As a hybrid, the experience differs, the Volvo rep sitting beside me stated. He explained some of the intricacies of the car, like how the two engines work together, and how the battery is charged while you’re on the move. Through regenerative braking, you actively recharge your car’s battery. The power level is clearly indicated on the dashboard LCD screen, like a scene out of a video game or sci-fi film. I felt like a kid behind a TV screen, clutching a game controller.
“Once you hit the pedal fully, you will notice the internal combustion engine kick in,” the rep declared, filling me with anticipation. The way he said this made me feel like I would be unleashing some sort of beast. I was thrilled, but uncertain.
“Wait till we exit the building first. We’re not allowed to run gas-powered engines inside.”
I nod, and proceed to drive out of the building.
“Alright, hit it now,” he states, once we’re out.
And so I did. Boy, was I not ready.
The sound was less muted here, compared to the fully electric Bolt EV, as the ICE engine jolted to life. Within a split-second, I was racing across a short stretch of concrete. It was surreal. The combination between the electric and gas-powered engines meant I was in control of unbridled power like I’d never been before. The sound was not much louder than before, but the sensation of motion completely differed.
Safe to say, I immediately let go of the pedal, as I was driving in a small, controlled environment. Still, the memory was seared into my mind. I completed my test run, and stepped out, exhilarated.
EV-phobia: Fact or fiction?
Completing my test drives, I immediately recalled the common misconception among the public that assumes electric vehicles (EVs) lack the raw power of internal combustion engine automobiles. Often, the public envisions “toy” wannabe cars that could never rival a Camaro or a Mustang. After my test drives, I was ready to argue back.
In fact, hybrid versions of existing models tend to be more powerful. Speaking to Gaston Paulikevitch, Certified Sales Consultant at BMW, AMEinfo learned that the standard BMW X5 is actually less powerful than its hybrid counterpart, putting out 330 hp. The hybrid version, on the other hand, produces a whopping 394 hp, 64 hp more.
“Hybrid cars are more powerful than gas-powered [ICE] vehicles,” he boldly declared.
With plug-in hybrids, such as the BMW X5 in question and the Volvo XC90 I drove, two engines (internal combustion and electric) power the car, either individually or simultaneously, providing the car with unprecedented power and torque. Common concerns regarding power might be reasonable when talking about a parallel hybrid EV, where the thermal engine does most of the work, oftentimes producing the energy needed to power the car’s battery. This siphons power from the internal combustion engine and disrupts the driving experience, which is likely where performance concerns with EVs originated.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV hatchback I test drove outputs a serious 200 hp. For a car of its size to pack such power is truly surprising. As for the Volvo XC90, we are looking at 400 hp of hybrid technology.
After my first true brush with EV technology, I can safely say that I’m a believer in this tech, cheesy as it may sound. You need to try it to see for yourself. Countries like the UAE and Lebanon have started stocking EVs at their showrooms. Why not give them a visit. Get yourself a test drive and see for yourself. Feel free to share with me your experience – I’d love to hear it.