Illustration of an EV winning the car race.

Julie Bang

EVs Perform Better Than Gasoline Vehicles and Here's Why

Don't believe the myths about poor EV performance

Electric vehicles have gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years in some ways. But electric doesn’t mean poor performance. In fact, it can mean quite the opposite. 

Torque, Horsepower, and Other Engine Talk

Mention ‘low emissions’ and ‘high performance’ in the same sentence and you’ll likely get strange looks. Be honest: In over 100 years of cars, have you ever seen a muscle car with good fuel economy? Still, electric vehicles offer just that: exceptional performance and low emissions, even though it might be hard to believe.

The key to including both lies in how electric motors and internal combustion engines (ICE) develop torque and power. Torque is twisting force, measured in pound-feet (lb-ft), and power is how much work the engine can do, measured in horsepower (hp) or kilowatts (kW).

Electric vehicle motors deliver torque and power but

Conventional ICEs (used in gasoline-powered cars) generate torque and power based on displacement and speed, but you can’t get both high torque and high power. 

Think of ICE engines like this: A big diesel truck engine might be likened to a weightlifter with high torque and low speed. A racecar engine might be likened to a sprinter with low torque and high speed. The average sedan might be likened to a generally athletic person, with moderate torque and speed overall. Ultimately, any ICE engine needs to get up to speed to develop torque and power, which takes time.

Electric vehicle motors, usually called motor-generators (MG) are another beast altogether because they deliver torque and power but don’t need to get up to speed to do it. 

This is because MGs deliver all their torque at zero rpm, right off the line, then keeps on pushing through about half its maximum speed. A typical EV might be likened to an Olympic weightlifting champion lifting 450 lbs and then running the 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds.

“But I’ve seen sports cars beat EVs on the track,” you say. There’s a good reason for that: The only reason ICE cars accelerate at all is because shifting gears keep their engines at peak torque and power output. On the other hand, EVs are usually equipped with a single-speed step-down gearbox. Once the MG has passed its own power band, it won’t upshift like a conventional vehicle can.

Julie Bang

Quiet Acceleration

It's true that sportscars sound pretty good when revved up but there’s a beautiful simplicity in the way an EV sounds with so few moving parts. 

When you mash the accelerator to the floor, you’re instantly pushed into the seat, with just shy of a whisper from the powertrain: electricity is silent, electric motors nearly-so, and barely a whine from the single-speed gearbox. In fact, the only thing you’re likely to hear is the radio and the tires. Even on hard acceleration, EVs generate just one-tenth the noise of a comparable ICE-car.

Some EVs can hit 60 mph from a stop in under 2.5 seconds.

Just how fast do these machines accelerate? Well, with all torque available right at the start, there are few supercars that can match the ridiculous acceleration some EVs are capable of. 

The average sedan (think of the generally athletic person) can sprint from a dead stop to 60 mph in 6 to 8 seconds while the average supercar (the sprinter) can do the same in under 4 seconds. The weight-lifter might take a few minutes to get there, fully-laden.

Of course, depending on EV configuration, sprint time can vary, but some can hit 60 mph from a stop in under 2.5 seconds without scaring your neighbors. Whether you can do it without scaring yourself is another matter.

The Efficiency Factor

Ugh, there’s that “e-word” again, but what does efficiency have to do with performance? The real question is: How much energy in the fuel gets to the ground? To illustrate, let’s think about Usain Bolt, the world-renowned sprinter.

ICEs are horribly inefficient. Depending on several factors, just 12 to 30 percent of the chemical energy in the fuel ever makes it to the ground.

True, Bolt had natural talent, but he trained regularly, followed a strict diet, and didn’t overload himself on race day. Can you imagine attempting the 100-meter dash in 75 pounds of firefighter gear? Of course not! By choosing light and effective running shoes and clothing, Bolt expends more power moving forward, not overcoming the mass of unnecessary clothes.

Like Bolt dressed as a fireman, ICEs are horribly inefficient. Depending on several factors, such as engine design, forced induction, gearing, and tires, just 12 to 30 percent of the chemical energy in the fuel ever makes it to the ground. The rest is lost to heat, out the exhaust pipe, and friction, in the drivetrain. 

Even high-efficiency test gasoline engines are limited to 40 percent. A sporty EV is going to be less efficient than an off-road EV, but when compared to similar conventional vehicles, you’re not likely to miss the feel of confident acceleration. Perhaps the noise, but not the feel.

Like Bolt in running gear, because MGs contain few moving parts, they are more efficient—almost 80 percent of the chemical energy stored in the battery moves the vehicle down the road. Electric vehicle drivers enjoy confident and spirited acceleration with the knowledge they're doing their small part to save the planet.