Canadian winters bring snow and ice that can challenge drivers, even with the help of winter tires and all-wheel drive. When the roads become treacherous, modern gas-powered vehicles are prone to skidding and sliding. Since electric vehicles weigh more, we wondered whether that makes a difference when driving on slippery surfaces.
To find out, I signed up for a “skid school” course led by Canadian Pro Drivers president Manny Sousa. We tested a 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Ultimate P8 all-wheel-drive crossover equipped with EV-rated winter tires. Since it was Sousa’s first time instructing with an EV, we decided on just a few basic manoeuvres.
Although the sky was overcast, the bright orange cones were easy to spot on the big parking lot of the Ancaster Fairgrounds, located about 80 kilometres west of Toronto. A set of cones outlined an entrance to a skid pad. There was no snow or ice, but the skid pad, which was made of loose pea-sized gravel, was much more slippery than asphalt.
My first task was to accelerate onto the skid pad through a gate flanked by flags in tall orange bollards, then hit the brakes. This braking point was about 50 metres from the entrance to the pad.
With Sousa riding shotgun, I rolled gently toward the entrance. He pointed to a large tree at the end of the parking lot. “Look at that tree, and that’s where you want to aim,” said Sousa. “We’re going to call the tree Bob. Look at Bob. Go forward, and hit the brakes hard, to engage the ABS [anti-lock braking system].”
Keeping an eye on Bob the tree was important to maintain focus. “You want to look where you want to go; otherwise, you’ll skid out,” Sousa said. Looking at a line that’s parallel to the road, in the direction you’re driving, can help to ensure drivers keep control and go where they want the car to go, he added. In emergency situations, such as skidding on ice and snow, drivers can panic and lose focus on their direction, which is more likely to lead to a collision.
We shot forward at about 40 kilometres an hour, my eyes on Bob, and I slammed on the brakes, engaging the ABS. The C40 boasts 486 lb-ft of torque, and like all EVs, doesn’t have a transmission, so acceleration was powerful and immediate. “That torque feels like being in a slingshot,” Sousa declared.
Right away when braking, we realized the C40 had not dipped down in the front with the abrupt stop, like a gas-powered vehicle does. Braking heavily in a gas car creates a weight transfer to the front brakes, which results in a nosedive. But in the EV, there was hardly any weight transfer. Sousa believed this was because of the heaviness of the vehicle, and the central location of the C40′s 78 kilowatt-hour battery.
We repeated the exercise, going faster each time, until I was hitting 60 kilometres an hour. Each time, the C40 rebounded from the hard stop with no weight transfer, no skidding, staying absolutely level to the ground.
Sousa got out of the car to see for himself what the acceleration and sharp stopping looked like, and how any weight transfer occurred. He stood safely to one side while I barrelled out of the entrance at 60, and then stomped on the brake.
“Incredible!” Sousa exclaimed. Holding a rolled-up flag horizontally, he demonstrated how the C40 had not tipped down, but instead hunkered down about an inch, perfectly flush to the ground, then rose back up. There was a bit of compression on the front tires, he said, but very little compared to a gas-powered car.
And although it took me less time to hit 60, the C40 did take longer to stop – about 44 paces in total. Sousa explained that on the same course, at the same speed, a comparable gas-powered vehicle would stop in about 38 paces.
Simple physics can account for the difference in stopping distance. Although there is no gas-powered Volvo C40 for comparison, EVs weigh more than their gas-powered siblings owing to their large batteries. Because the battery is located in the middle of the vehicle, the weight distribution is more evenly spread for a more balanced ride.
By now, both Sousa and I were ready to try the next exercise in collision avoidance. He pointed at Bob the tree and said, “When you get to the brake initiation point, brake as hard as you can, and steer to the right. You should still be facing Bob.”
I kept my eye on Bob, floored the throttle, slammed on the brakes when I reached the tall orange bollards, swerved right and stopped. Even with sudden braking and hard steering, the C40 didn’t tip to one side. “It’s almost like a sailboat; the weight on the bottom of the boat keeps you stable,” said Sousa. “I’m surprised that there’s next to no weight transfer.”
We did the same manoeuvre again, but at a slightly faster speed. While the C40 did slide a little, there was no real skid, and everything felt solid.
We agreed that the C40 deserved high marks for staying level and not skidding out. On the other hand, its longer stopping distance lowered the score.
I bid Sousa farewell, and soon realized I needed to top up my battery. As I headed for my go-to fast charger, I saw the battery had been depleted considerably. My round trip of 155 kilometres had consumed 57 per cent of its juice. The estimated range posted on Volvo’s website is 364 kilometres, so the trip should have only consumed 42.5 per cent of the battery.
I’m a conservative driver and try to stay within the speed limit, especially in an EV. Sure, it was cold outside, the cabin heat was on and the winter tires had taken their toll on range, but a more likely culprit was the hard acceleration, speeding and rapid braking, which consume more energy on both gas and electric cars.
So while driving an EV may provide better stability when braking, there are still two good reasons to avoid aggressive driving. First, an EV takes longer to stop than a comparable gas-powered vehicle. Second, your battery will run down much faster with all that hard acceleration.