Quick – But Not So Fast

  • July 30, 2023

You have probably heard a lot about the quickness of EVs – and what you have heard is true. Some of them, like the Tesla S “plaid” – the reference is to the ’80s Spaceballs movie; “plaid” is one notch above ludicrous speed – are very quick indeed.

But most of them aren’t very fast – which you’ve probably not heard as much about.

For instance, the ’23 Mercedes EQE this writer test drove recently. It can get to 60 MPH in about 5 seconds, which is quicker than most V8 muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s. But its top speed is only 130 MPH, which is a speed practically any modern car can reach or come close to reaching, given enough time. Even a Prius – regularly mocked for being not-quick – can get to about 120 if you give it enough road to make it there.

I know – because I did.

I also know what the Benz didn’t. As well as other EVs I have test driven. I am able to convey expert testimony regarding these vehicles as I have test driven thousands of new vehicles over the 30-plus years that I have been test-driving new vehicles. I can personally attest to what is quick – and fast.

Or one – but not the other.

The muscle cars of the past were pretty quick. But most of them were not very fast. They accelerated forcefully from a standstill. But they were slowed down by their gearing. Most of the old muscle cars had three or four speed transmissions – and axle ratios designed to give maximum leverage from a standing start. That is why classic muscle cars always touted how quick they were – 0-60 and through the quarter-mile. You rarely heard their manufacturers brag about how fast they were – because they usually weren’t.

By 100 MPH, a 3.73 rear axle gear combined with a three or four speed transmission without any overdrive gears typically resulted in an engine that was already revving not far from its redline, the point after which it was likely to blow up if you kept on revving it. You might be able to get it going a little faster, but usually not much. Most were at redline – in top gear – by the time the speedometer read 125 or so.

You could go faster – by giving up going quicker. This was done by pairing the three or four speed transmission with a “taller” axle ratio that reduced engine RPM at high speeds. A given car with a top speed of say 125 MPH with a 3.73 rear axle ratio might be able to hit 140 with a 2.41 axle (assuming enough power). But it would no longer get to 60 in 5 seconds.

It would be slower off the line.

It needed more time to get up to speed.

EVs are different, but also similar in that the reason they’re able to accelerate quickly has to do with the thing that makes them slow down. They have powerful electric motors fed by very heavy electric batteries. The batteries provide the power source for the motors – but they also weigh down the vehicle. It takes more power to move a heavier object; this is basic physics. And it takes more power to keep a heavier vehicle moving, too.

A heavy vehicle can be fast, no doubt – but because it uses up more power (energy) to go fast, it will not go fast for as long. Try driving an EV at 80 or 90 MPH for any length of time and see what happens to the range. I have done this – and so I know what happens to the range. I also know what happens when you get up to speed quickly. It is the same thing that happens when you maintain high speed.

Going fast can also create excess heat – which is not only bad for EV batteries (and electric motors) it can be dangerous, in that it increases the risk of a fire. Cars with engines get hot, too – but the heat is less a threat because the fuel (gas) doesn’t heat up as a result of rapid/repeated acceleration or high-speed driving. It just sloshes around in the tank. In fact, the fuel (in a modern, fuel-injected vehicle) cools the fuel pump, which is part of the reason why it is often located inside the gas tank of a modern, fuel-injected car.

Some EVs – Ford’s Mustang Mach e, for instance – will power down the motor after a burst of acceleration (or even during it) in order to keep things cooler. And every EV I’ve test driven – which is a lot of them – begins to feel draggy after it has accelerated quickly from a stop. The “plaid” and “ludicrous” speed wanes as speed increases.

That’s also true as regards non-electric cars. But most of them are still faster – because they’re not weighed down. Don’t believe me?

As the Toothless Man said, why don’t you try it and see?

. . .

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