GREEN SPECIAL: The rise of high-performance BEVs
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The old idea that Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are slow is just that: a very old idea. While smooth, silent running and maximum efficiency defined many early BEVs, as the technology spreads across every vehicle genre it’s now clear that BEVs can also make very exciting performance cars.
“Performance” doesn’t just mean going fast; a true performance car should also be entertaining and accomplished around the corners as well.
We should probably thank Tesla for showing the wider world that a BEV can boast the kind of performance that can put an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle to shame. Launched in 2012, the Model S could out-accelerate most supercars, getting to 100km/h in well under three seconds – despite being a large luxury sedan.
BEVs provide thrilling standing-start acceleration for a number of reasons. While ICEs only deliver maximum torque (pulling power) in a narrow range and require multi-stage gearboxes to maintain strong performance, BEV motors offer full power pretty much consistently and can spin much faster than an ICE: a petrol engine might rev to 7000rpm, but an electric motor will happily spin to 20,000rpm and deliver consistent torque.
Having to build up engine speed and change gears means an ICE has a lot to overcome in a standing start. Whereas all a BEV really has to do is get that torque to the wheels, which most (but not all) do via a single-speed transmission. BEV manufacturers simply choose a ratio that’s the best combination of acceleration and cruising speed and that’s that.
The latest generation of BEV models is now focusing on handling and driver appeal more than ever before. BEVs are often heavier than equivalent ICE models due to the batteries, which is a drawback for handling agility; but manufacturers are also making that weight work in their favour, because batteries can be mounted evenly in the wheelbase and very low down.
A “low centre of gravity” and “even weight distribution” are two things makers of performance cars work very hard to achieve. But BEVs can deliver both quite naturally.
All-wheel drive, such as the quattro system in the Audi e-tron, is also a natural fit with a BEV. Not just to maintain traction during that sprightly standing-start acceleration, but also because electric power enables it to work in a quicker and more sophisticated way. With no conventional drivetrain, each axle can have its own motors and they don’t need to be physically connected to the rest of the car.
The first wave of premium BEVs have focused on the SUV genre – a logical move due to the popularity of that vehicle type globally and the packaging advantages of having a higher cabin.
But now we really are starting to see performance BEVs. One of the most exciting thus far is the Porsche Taycan, the first-ever BEV (although certainly not the first EV) from the German sports car maker.
As expected, the Taycan can be super-fast when required: the top Turbo S model has launch control and can hit 100km/h in just 2.8 seconds. But the Taycan has also been acclaimed for its engaging handling and sports-car character.
Next year’s Audi e-tron GT will share its platform and much of its technology with the Taycan, albeit in a package with much more of a four-ringed flavour. It’ll be the performance flagship of a rapidly expanding range of e-tron models. One not to miss.