What’s it like to drive an electric van?

What’s it like to drive an electric van?

Posted by

David Blackmore

March 2022

Let’s state the obvious and most dramatic difference first: it’s virtually silent. No diesel rattle. Just quietness. It’s a big difference.

Inside the cabin, though, there’s a degree of familiarity.

The majority of electric vans (we’ll shorten that to eLCVs) still use an ignition key, though you may be presented with a starter button. Press the brake pedal, turn and hold the key – or push the button – to bring the dash to life. There will be no noise, which can be disconcerting at first, but the van is now ready to drive.

Most eLCVs have a simple choice of P-D-N-R gear selection. This can be through buttons or a repurposed auto transmission gear lever.

There may be driving modes available, too

The Stellantis vans – these include Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and Fiat, plus Toyota through a marketing agreement – have a three-position switch. The van always starts in Normal, which delivers 80% of the motor’s available power and torque. Switch to Power for 100%, or to Eco for 60%. Using the Eco setting will limit air conditioning performance to improve the driving range.

In the Mercedes-Benz eVito and eSprinter, you have the choice of Comfort, which offers full power; Eco restricts power and reduces the air-con slightly; while Eco+ turns the air-con off completely. This won’t be suitable on a wet and chilly day, as the windows are likely to steam up.

On the Maxus eDeliver 3, there are two driving modes. Eco limits the top speed to 50mph, again to maximise the range as much as possible.

Once the eLCV is in gear, simply release the hand brake, which is often an electric parking brake that can be ‘driven through’ and you are silently away.

Ready for take-off

Electric motors create maximum torque from standstill, rather than building power like a diesel engine. That means acceleration can be surprisingly brisk in an eLCV, making it easy to keep up with urban traffic. When you lift off the accelerator pedal, the motor becomes a generator, harvesting energy from the braking forces and replenishing the charge in the battery.

In some vans it is possible to affect how much regenerative braking is available. In the Stellantis vans there is a ‘B’ button. This increases available braking force to the point where you rarely need to use the foot brake in town. On the eVito and eSprinter, what would have been transmission paddles in a diesel van, can be used to choose between four settings of braking force. The Maxus van has three levels of regeneration, accessed via a button to the right of the steering wheel.

When travelling at speed, on a dual carriageway for instance, it is best to reduce the amount of regenerative braking as much as possible. This allows the van to roll when you lift off the throttle for maximum efficiency.

It is worth noting that when the battery is fully charged, the regenerative braking will not work, as there is no capacity in the battery for the regenerative charge to be stored. It will usually become effective again as the battery level drops below 75-80% charge. It’s important to remember that as you might be surprised when the regen braking doesn’t kick in as you expected and it’s back to using the brake pedal!

What will also become apparent is that a variety of factors will affect available driving range: weight, ambient and internal vehicle temperatures, terrain, driving speed, even turning the lights on, will all have an effect on the battery. Pre-conditioning the vehicle (warming it up in cold weather or cooling it down in hot weather) while it is attached to a charger, for instance, will get the van in a comfortable state to drive – and provide additional battery range.

Driving an eLCV is very enjoyable. In effect it is an almost silent, automatic van with plenty of acceleration. It actually makes it very relaxing. And so long as you have worked out your operating range, or in-use recharging strategy, it should be a stress-free experience.

And, remember, no more filling up at the greasy diesel pump!

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