How to drive an electrified vehicle

Electrified cars are becoming more and more popular. In fact, twice as many battery electric vehicles were sold in the UK in 2020 compared to the previous year, and across Europe sales of electrified cars overtook diesel for the first time in September 2020. The government has announced that by 2030 all new cars sold in the UK must be electrified. If you’re daunted by the thought of swapping a petrol or diesel car for a whole new driving experience, then you’re not alone. But the good news is that for most of us switching to an electrified car isn’t very hard – and you’ll love the advantages it brings.

Here’s everything you need to know about driving an electrified car.

TYPES OF ELECTRIFIED CARS

There are two main types of electrified cars: fully electric and hybrid.

In a fully electric vehicle like the Honda e, the wheels are driven by an electric motor (more than one in some cars). The electricity powering the motor usually comes from a battery, and these cars are also known as battery electric vehicles or BEVs.

The battery is charged by plugging into a mains electricity supply when the car is parked, and the car can also recapture energy as it slows down, sending that energy back to the battery for use later. This improves the energy efficiency of the car and reduces running costs.

Hybrids like the Honda Jazz and CR-V have an electric motor and a battery too...

...but there’s also a conventional combustion engine to add extra power and to recharge the battery on the move.

DRIVING AN ELECTRIFIED VEHICLE

You don’t need a different type of driving licence, and you won’t need to learn anything new. Most of the driving experience will be familiar; if you’ve driven a combustion engine car with an automatic gearbox, then an electric or hybrid vehicle will feel very similar. 

You’ll notice the biggest difference when you start the car, because you won’t hear the sounds of the starter motor and the engine kicking in as you would in a conventional car. In fact, you probably won’t hear anything at all – but you’ll see the dashboard instruments come alive.

A simple selector lever, like that in a conventional automatic car, selects Drive and then when you squeeze the accelerator pedal the car moves away on electric power, almost silently. They’re so quiet at low speeds that new electrified cars make artificial noises up to 12mph to alert pedestrians.

You don’t need to do any gear changing because an electric car has no gears, so you just experience smooth, seamless acceleration. In a hybrid, the petrol engine will automatically start up when it’s needed, and the gearbox is automatic.

In a battery electric vehicle, driving is made even easier with what’s called single-pedal control. When you reduce the pressure on the accelerator pedal, electricity stops flowing to the motor. As the momentum of the car takes over, the wheels begin to turn the motor, which now becomes a generator and sends electricity back to the battery for use later. This produces a resistance at the wheels, slowing the car down.

With careful use of the accelerator pedal, you can control the speed of the car without needing to use the brakes at all. So in city driving, for example, instead of constantly moving back and forth between accelerator and brake as road and traffic conditions change, you can just vary the pressure on the accelerator pedal and the car’s speed will follow suit. The brake is still there, of course, just in case you need it.

CHARGING ELECTRIFIED VEHICLES

You can charge a battery electric vehicle at home if you have off-street parking, by connecting to your domestic power supply. It takes around 16 hours for a full charge, or just six hours if you install a charging station at home – you can get a government grant of up to £350 to help with the cost.

Alternatively, an increasing number of companies are installing charging facilities for employees, so you can charge while you work. It’s best to think of charging an electric car the way you would charge your phone. Usually you put it on charge when it’s not needed – overnight, for instance – so it’s topped up when you go out the next day. A full charge will typically cost around £3.64, so you don’t have to worry too much about the effect on your electricity bill.

For the majority of journeys, that’s all you’ll ever need to do, making electric car ownership easy and convenient. For a really long trip, you might need to charge up during your journey. There are more than 35,000 charging points across the UK at locations ranging from supermarkets and services to National Trust attractions, which you can find using a map of charging points.

Charging points at supermarkets and car parks are often free.

Rapid chargers found at places like motorway services offer payment by phone apps or special cards, and it’s increasingly common to be able to pay using a normal contactless credit or debit card.

The Honda e can fast-charge to 80% in 31 minutes, and that typically costs around £6.50.

Hybrid vehicles are convenient to use because they self-charge, using a generator driven by the combustion engine. As long as there’s fuel in the tank, the car can charge its battery. The assistance of the electric motor and battery improves the efficiency of a hybrid, which means low running costs – the Honda Jazz hybrid returns 62.8mpg in official tests, for instance. That means less time spent in petrol stations and more time doing what you want to do.

RELIABILITY OF ELECTRIFIED CARS

Fully electric cars have far fewer moving parts than conventional cars and have low servicing costs.

Because there’s no combustion engine, they never need oil changes. Electric motors are reliable and need little attention.

The regenerative braking system, where waste energy is captured for re-use as the car slows down, means the brakes can last longer. 

A regular service of a hybrid car costs much the same as that of a normal combustion engine car, and hybrids have been around long enough that mechanics are used to working on them.

To minimise fire risk, lithium-ion batteries have air-cooling systems to prevent overheating and collision detectors that send signals to fuses and circuit breakers, allowing them to disconnect from the battery in a crash.

For peace of mind, the Honda e battery comes with an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.

All Honda dealers in the UK are equipped to service and maintain electric and hybrid cars. They can offer five-year service plans to make maintenance simple.

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF AN ELECTRIFIED CAR

If the battery runs out of charge in a battery electric vehicle, then, just like a petrol- or diesel-powered car running out of fuel, you’ll come to a stop (a hybrid can carry on until the fuel tank is empty). There are a few things you can do to maximise range:

Charge up before you set out on your journey.

 Avoid harsh acceleration as this needs more energy. Gentle acceleration is more energy efficient.

Wherever possible, allow the car to slow just by relaxing the pressure on the accelerator instead of using the brakes.

Using the brakes turns some of the energy that came from the battery or fuel tank into heat, which is then lost to the air. By easing the pressure on the accelerator instead, the car can capture some of the waste energy and turn it back into electricity, which is sent to the battery to be used again later.

Anticipate changes in road and traffic conditions and drive accordingly.

For instance, if you can see a traffic light up ahead is changing to red, don’t drive up to it and then brake to a stop. Instead, ease off the accelerator early and slow gradually – if you time it right you might not need to stop at all.

But a great advantage of a plug-in car is that you can charge up before your journey. You always have the maximum zero-emission range available every time you set off – unlike a combustion-engined car where you’ll almost always set off with the tank only part full. You can view the Honda e’s battery level in real time, or check the charging status when plugged in, using the My Honda+ app.

So, switching from petrol or diesel to an electrified car isn’t as big a leap as some people think. Electrified vehicles are quiet, convenient and offer low emissions and low running costs – so it’s easy to see why they’re becoming so popular.