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Touchscreen in the Polestar 2 that changes the settings for the regenerative braking. When set to standard or low, the car slows when you lift your foot off the accelerator pedal.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

I’ve decided to get an EV for my next car, as soon as I can actually find one. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews and there are terms I don’t really understand. For instance, I keep hearing about one-pedal driving. What is it, exactly? Do all EVs have it? Do I need it? – Mike, Victoria

On EVs with the feature, you can come to a complete stop by taking your foot off the accelerator and without touching the brake pedal. It uses regenerative braking, to slow the car without using the brakes.

“When using one-pedal driving, the [regenerative braking] is set to maximum,” Michael Stanyer, program co-ordinator with Plug In BC, said in an email. “It can take a few minutes to get used to, so drivers should take time to experiment with it before going onto busy streets – but [it] quickly feels natural.”

So how do you use it? It varies by car, but on those that have it, you can potentially drive a lot of the time without touching the brakes.

For instance, on the Polestar 2, a battery-electric sedan, you can use a menu on the touchscreen to set one-pedal driving to off, low or standard.

When it’s off, if you lift your foot off the accelerator, it feels the same as when you do so on a gas car. There’s no active deceleration. You just lose momentum.

But if it’s set to low or standard, the car actively slows when you lift your foot off the accelerator. On low, it feels like a cross between gently hitting the brake pedal – again, the actual brakes aren’t being applied – and engine braking by shifting into low gear. Eventually, you’ll coast to a stop.

On the standard setting, it’s more abrupt. As you become accustomed to it, you’ll quickly figure out how to ease off the gas to slow down a little without your passenger asking why you’re stopping in the middle of the block. Personally, when I had the Polestar 2 for a week, I think I hit the brake pedal twice – once because someone was darting across the road and once because the car in front of me hit the brakes.

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On other EVs, I’ve found one-pedal driving might not bring me to a stop fast enough – for instance, if I’m approaching a light that’s turned amber – so I’ve had to use the brakes.

“Drivers should still be prepared to use the brake pedal for quick stops and emergencies,” Stanyer said. Brake lights come on when the car is slowing significantly because of regenerative braking, even though the actual physical brakes aren’t being applied.

A brake to recharge?

Why is it called regenerative braking? Because it recharges the battery as you slow down.

“One of the common misconceptions is that regenerative braking uses the traditional brake pads and rotors, but that’s not the case,” Stanyer said. “Instead, the regen system uses resistance from the vehicle’s electric motor to slow down while converting momentum to electricity.”

Basically, the electric motor is being used as a turbine to generate electricity, and there is enough resistance to bring your car to a stop, Stanyer said.

“The motor drives the wheels during acceleration or cruising, but the wheels drive the motor while decelerating,” is how J.D. Power describes the process on its website. “This two-way energy flow allows the motor to act as a generator, resisting the rotation of the wheels and creating electricity to recharge the vehicle’s battery.”

You’ll gain back range when you ease off the gas – and also if you apply the brakes to slow down. How much range can you get back? It varies.

“I’ve seen 15 to 18 kilometres gained when descending especially long, steep hills from ski resorts,” Stanyer said. “In stop-and-go city traffic, it’s less dramatic: maybe a couple of metres’ worth of range at a time. But EVs are remarkably efficient at low speeds to begin with, [so] those seemingly small gains really do help over a day of city driving.”

Another benefit of regenerative braking is you’ll likely see much slower brake wear, Stanyer said.

Who offers it?

While not all EVs allow one-pedal driving, all EVs have regenerative braking. Some just let you adjust it to be strong enough to stop your car.

So, which cars have one-pedal driving? We asked carmakers with battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Of those that responded, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Lucid, Mercedes, Nissan, Polestar and Volvo all say their BEVs allow full one-pedal driving that will bring you to a stop without hitting the brakes. The feature can be turned off.

Volvo offers one-pedal driving on its 2022 extended range XC60 and X90 PHEVs.

But four companies – Audi, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen – said they don’t offer one-pedal driving on any EV.

For instance, Volkswagen’s all-electric ID.4 allows you to shift into a B mode that will slow the car as you lift your foot off the gas – but it won’t come to a complete stop without using the brake pedal.

“It’s close [to one-pedal driving], but not quite,” Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada spokesman, said in an email. “The ID.4 was designed from the outset to be a customer’s entry point into the world of EVs, and a more ‘drastic’ braking force was not felt to be in alignment with that goal.”

Toyota’s upcoming all-electric bZ4X will offer a boost mode that will slow the car if you lift your foot off the gas pedal, but it won’t stop completely for “safety reasons.”

“The fact that the throttle pedal becomes the pedal to use for both acceleration and deceleration, and sometimes braking, can be confusing for drivers,” Romaric Lartilleux, Toyota Canada spokesman, explained in an email.

Have a driving question? Send it to and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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