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The lower the kilowatt hours, the greater the efficiency.Illustration by Glenn Harvey

When I was driving home from a family visit in the spring, the display on the dashboard notified me that my electric car’s energy usage over the hour-long drive had – are you sitting down for this? – dipped below an average of 12 kilowatt hours per 100 kilometres.

I just about pounded the air and screamed, “Yes!”

There are many joys to driving an electric vehicle. The silence comes to mind. The impressive acceleration never gets old. Living on the cutting edge of technology for the first time in my Luddite life offers another thrill.

But for me, nothing tops the happiness I get from observing, and improving upon, energy efficiency – that is, how far I’m going on a charge.

Dipping below that 12-kilowatt average was a major threshold. If the number looks a bit unwieldy, let me translate: It tells me how much of my battery was being used to travel 100 kilometres. The lower the kilowatt hours, the greater the efficiency.

The reading implies a theoretical range of 480 kilometres on a full charge if I could keep that efficiency going until my car’s 58 kWh battery – that’s how a battery size is described – was depleted. That is an impressive 90 kilometres beyond the official estimated range for my Hyundai Ioniq 5.

For context, over the first week of December this efficiency was essentially cut in half, to a crummy 24 kWh/100 km. I’m assuming that’s because my car was spinning clunkier winter tires, blowing interior heat and trudging along wet roads that were often slicked with soggy leaves.

No, I’m not a hypermiler. Those auto-enthusiasts take efficiency to great lengths in order to break records, earn bragging rights and score sponsorships from car manufacturers. They avoid braking and travel at a modest speed that would irritate my passengers and deal me one of the worst punishments imaginable on Canadian roads: a prolonged honk.

Still, in my own lackadaisical way, I’ve been taking a greater interest in my car’s efficiency. Getting as much distance as I can from my battery charge – without a huge amount of effort – seems like a good fit for a vehicle that is supposed to shrink my carbon footprint.

And there is something fun about tracking this sort of thing as I while away my time behind a steering wheel.

It’s true that efficiency can be a hobby among drivers of gas-burning cars too, which is where hypermiling began. But I never caught the bug in my old combustion-engine car, probably because it would have involved manually tracking fuel inputs and distances. There’s not much of a thrill, either, when efficiency still highlights the fumes I’m spewing into the atmosphere.

Electric-vehicle efficiency, on the other hand, can make a relatively clean car even cleaner. The vehicles do all the number-crunching, and they often come with features to help improve your efficiency. (I wouldn’t call it a hobby of mine – yet – but it’s better than trying to decode personalized licence plates while on the road.)

The most interesting efficiency feature: regenerative braking.

This technology generates energy from braking and sends it to the car’s battery, extending your range and increasing efficiency. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the regenerative braking kicks in, slowing your car and providing a charge as you approach a red light or coast down a hill.

In my car, I can even choose among different levels of regenerative braking, from light – the car barely slows – to a level that will bring me to a full stop without having to put my foot down.

An electric vehicle can also tell you, in real time, the power draw of your driving habits and terrain. Sudden acceleration, a heavy foot, a big hill, heat or air conditioning, bad weather and additional passengers – they can all have an impact on your car’s efficiency.

I might not be able to do much about some of these power drags – I can’t eject passengers, avoid hills or dodge rain – but I’ve found there is a powerful disincentive to go really fast. I usually ignore speed limits of 110 km/h because I’ve suspected a substantial drag on efficiency at speeds above 100 km/h.

I’m guessing my record-breaking level of efficiency in the spring came partly as a result of heavy, but flowing, traffic that kept my speed below 70 km/h with few stops on the highway. (I know, both speed-demons and hypermilers are rolling their eyes right now.)

I’m also reluctant to add roof racks or use a cargo box, to avoid drag. And I’ve officially shelved dreams of towing a glamorous Airstream trailer. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get a family Christmas tree home this year but, hey Santa, efficiency rules!

Okay, I’m open to relaxing some of these restrictions, starting with the tree, if they prove too onerous.

The take-away here shouldn’t be that efficiency is some sort of killjoy or that EV ownership requires drivers to make significant sacrifices. Instead, it adds a layer of quirky enjoyment to driving an EV that I find particularly attractive.

These vehicles are cleverly designed to maximize the distance we can travel on a charge. Helping them along on this quest seems like a cool thing to do.

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