EV1 Highway Driving Impressions

Just finished a 22 mile highway loop. The most amazing thing is the low (mechanical, tire and air) drag. Going downhill at highway speeds (70+), it actually accelerated with coastdown off and no throttle input. With coastdown off on level ground, it coasts about a quarter mile before slowing down significantly. When more efficient cars become more common we'll need to adjust driving styles. Brakes may be used more :-)

The other very noticeable thing is the lack of wind noise. The gear and motor noise are less annoying than at first, but less would be an improvement.

The car feels a little heavy and suspension perhaps slightly under damped, but overall the car is quite responsive to driver inputs. The special, highly-efficient 50 psi tires feel a little twitchy. Of course it's possible the great stability and sleekness of the car undersell the magnitude of the forces at a given speed. In other words because the perception of speed is reduced, the chassis needs to do more in response to control changes than is expected by the driver.

The stiffness of the chassis is not something most people would think about or notice, but it makes the car easier to drive by making the control responses more linear and therefore easier to comprehend. A sophisticated suspension design helps also of course. Chassis stiffness and a good suspension work together and reinforce each other in creating consistent, predictable responses.

The braking, steering and suspension response rates don't seem to match a "standard" car quite perfectly. Its almost as if they need a little more development. In racing terms you'd say it's not fully sorted, though of course I did not come close to any limits on the road, just did typical driving. However it's clear the underlying car is excellent. If the tuning is off, it's only very slightly and subtly; overall driveability is very good. For example, with the current setup quick lane changes are quite responsive and accurate. Overall suspension tuning is a bit soft, probably appropriate for most drivers. It's not Cadillac-like, but it's not sports-car-like either.

Update: working the EV1 around low speed corners a little harder reveals some very competent tuning. Properly driven, it's very smooth, predictable and fast. It tracks well even with some roll if it's driven smoothly. Abrupt moves seem to overexcite the suspension, but then my own cars are usually pretty stiffly sprung and firmly damped, moreso than most drivers would like. The chassis itself is rock solid but the dampers again feel a bit soft. Then again the goal is always supposed to be just enough damping to control ride motions, not more.

The overall performance parameters of the car seem well in line with a typical gas powered car. In other words, it drives well. The only obvious limitation is short 50-70 mile range. Even with forthcoming Nickel Metal Hydride batteries doubling that range, energy management will be more of a concern than most drivers are accustomed to. For short distances it's clear it can readily meet most needs, as long as those needs include up to two people and limited cargo. The EV1 is a great car for commuting to work 20 miles or less or for running local errands like shopping.

Most people want to hop in a car without thinking it will run out of gas soon, or at least that a gas station is 'round the corner. Here in Northern California, more free public chargers are being installed at places like Fry's Electronics, Costco, hotels, shopping malls, and workplaces and that's changing the equation too. (The Los Angeles area already has several hundred charging stations.) You can now go to work or shopping and end up with more battery energy than you started with.

I know it's a bit blasphemous, but this car with a 5 gallon fuel tank and equivalent power internal combustion engine could get 80 highway miles per gallon, would be lighter, have greater usable interior volume, and drive really well. The weight savings and energy density improvements over electric power would be significant. Being able to "refuel" the electric car at home is cool, but I hope we eventually get better internal combustion cars too.

Jeff C.

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