How Do You Compare Different Electric Cars? Whine? Top Speed?

· · 9 years ago

Automobile magazine recently spent a day with the Ford Transit Connect Electric, and came away impressed with the all-electric small delivery fan. It’s interesting to see the electric light bulb flash over the head of one mainstream auto reviewer after the next. Each one approaches an electric vehicle expecting the wheels to fall off, but lo and behold, they’re blown away by its “realness.” Don Sherman writes:

"The electric systems are impressively well mannered, performance is commendable, and there's sufficient range to support the intended mission…If there were doubts in your mind about the viability of electric propulsion, chalk up the Transit Connect Electric as one more piece of evidence in favor of the powertrain of the future."

I think we’re all trying to get a handle on the best way to review these cars—and to present the most useful points of comparison. The Automobile review of the Transit Connect featured two comparison criteria that could make sense—but only to some extent.

The first is “whine.” Sherman compares the Transit Connect to the Tesla Roadster. “You've heard about the silent smoothness of electrics but many of them—including Teslas—generate prodigious amounts of gear and electrical whine,” he writes. “The Transit Connect Electric, however, is as silent and civil as a gracious butler. This powertrain responds enthusiastically to a prod of the pedal with barely a murmur.”

The other is “top governed speed.” On this account, Automobile compares the gas-powered version’s top-speed of 90 mph, to the electric Transit Connect’s limit of 75 mph. He clarifies, “Sustained high speeds rapidly deplete any electric car's battery so they are naturally discouraged.” (FYI: the Chevy Volt has a top speed of 100 mph, while the Nissan LEAF manages 90 mph.)

I get the point about electric whine—too much of that is annoying—but the difference in top speed of 75 mph versus 90 mph in a delivery truck seems irrelevant. Is the extra 10 mph of capability a selling point for the Volt over the LEAF? I doubt it.

So, here we are at the dawn of a new age of electric automobiles trying to develop the right conversations—and the most useful vocabulary to hold those chats. Of course, driving range comes first and foremost. But what do you think we should be talking about when comparing the road manners of one plug-in car compared to another?

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