Motoring News

Chilling news on winter driving with an EV

HIGH TECH ON SNOW: Are dual-drive electric vehicles up to the challenge of winter driving. Image: Supplied

by TONI JALOVAARA

HELSINKI, Finland – Whether we’re ready for them or not, electric vehicles are a reality. The reigning World Car of the Year, until the 2020 winner is announced on April 8, is the electric Jaguar I-Pace.

Many of 2020’s candidates also are available only with an electric motor, or perhaps two.. the latter makes a difference as I’ll explain later.

Winter is also a reality where I live here in Finland. The biggest difference between driving in summer and winter can be crystallised as traction. That reality came to my mind while I was testing the latest version of Porsche’s Taycan, one of the most interesting WCA candidates.

Instead of testing in the usual sunny and warm climes I was driving in Finnish Lapland, at Levi, where the temperature was well below zero Celsius and the sun was up for just an hour and 14 minutes a day.

THREE SETS OF TYRES

The subject of traction had come up in discussion already during the previous evening, specifically with respect to tyres. Instead of studded tyres (most common in Finland) our test cars had unstudded winter rubber. They were not specially-made for northern countries but were so-called European M+S (mud and snow)  tyres because Porsche has approved only one type of tyre for driving a Taycan in winter – not the best for when roads are covered in snow and ice.

In Finland and other Nordic countries there is some discussion that instead of having two sets of tyres (and rims) we should have three sets. Behind this surprising idea is safety…

Summer tyres are very dangerous on iced roads. Winter tyres, especially studded, may not be very good on asphalt. (In some other countries studded tires are not allowed at all because of potential road damage.) While some brands have developed tyres that perform quite well if the temperature suddenly drops in autumn or spring, those tyres are not meant to be used in severe winter conditions.

KEEPING THE LAWS OF PHYSICS

So the best solution could be three sets of tyres. You have to understand that almost every car owner in the Nordic region already has two sets.

Back to Levi and behind the wheel of the Taycan 4S: taking into consideration the tyres and their traction pulling away was done cautiously. The Taycan has and electric motor front and rear and it accelerated almost the same as in the summer. From behind the wheel, one might not realise the road was slippery. At least not until you had to turn or stop.

Only at that point might you realise that you can’t defeat the laws of physics!

The latest surveys from the Nordic region have found that all-wheel-drive cars are more dangerous in the winter than front- or rear-wheel-drive cars. The reason is obvious. With AWD it’s very easy to move and accelerate. As a result, the driver can get the wrong impression of the road conditions until it’s time to stop or turn.

A silent electric vehicle can make things even worse.

PATIENCE PAYS OFF

Electric motors may also be better connected with all the electronic systems of the car than in an ICE-powered vehicle. In electric cars, everything works seamlessly for smooth driving. That seamlessness can hide from the driver the dangers which might lurk on the road – such as very low traction.

During my test drive in Lapland the traction between the road and the tyres, plus almost 373kW of power, created something of an unbalance. It was possible to drive safely but patience and self-control were needed – though it would have been so nice to push the accelerator pedal a little harder.

Luckily, an opportunity to do just that came later…

After our road-testing, we moved to tracks and circuits on the ice. As a native Finn with 40-years experience of winter driving, one could expect to have some knowledge of slippery conditions. But driving the Taycan on the ice track with all the electronic aids switched off taught me a lot.

This two-motor electric car behaves totally differently to anything I’d driven…

FAR FROM NORMAL

Normally, for example, when the tail starts to slide you turn toward the direction you want to go. With the Porsche Taycan, you turn, illogically, in the other direction. And push for more power with the right pedal!

When you’re ready to do these things, against all odds, you can control these electric cars at the limit with the latest technology. Fortunately, such situations are far from normal, and today’s cars have more and more safety systems supporting the driver.

Whether you’re driving an old petrol or diesel car or a brand new EV, the most important thing to remember in winter is simple: if the street or road feels slippery under your feet then four driven wheels, even with good winter tyres, don’t change that fact. With a modern electric car you may start your journey without noticing the low traction characteristics at all.

That situation could make driving dangerous so more consideration than normal is needed…

If you suspect that there is limited traction, check that there are no cars around you, and try to brake. What happens then will tell you the truth about the conditions.

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