Next year, U.S. drivers (and, more often, deliverypeople) will get to test out Ford's (and Smith's) new all-electric compact delivery van, the Transit Connect BEV. Until that time, we can get a feel for what it's like to cruise in silent EV mode thanks to drivers in the UK, where the van is now available. Joseph Simpson, of Re*Move, was recently able to take the van out for a test drive and has shared his thoughts – and a video – on the drive with us. First impression: EVs are a ton of fun to drive and people will "get really hooked" on them once they've experience some time behind the wheel.
Simpson found the regenerative braking to be a bit harsh, but quickly learned to adjust his driving so that he could use the hard regen to avoid using the brake pedal almost entirely. For example, "Leaving a highway at 65mph, the van brought itself to a stop at the end of the off-ramp, without any intervention from the friction brakes." Check out the whole thing and the video after the jump. Thanks to Joseph for sharing!
Joe's viewpoint on driving the Ford Transit Connect BEV
"It's as if a giant elastic band has been attached to the front of the van, and is hauling you toward the horizon"
Ever driven a fully electric vehicle? If your answer's "no", you're not alone. Hardly anyone has. But look forward to the day you do, as people get really hooked – delivery drivers using Ford's test fleet of new electric trucks are reportedly unwilling to give them up.
So what's it like? Ford's battery powered Transit Connect van lands stateside in 2010 and pre-production versions are already rolling down the line of Ford's project partner – Smith Electric Vehicles, in North East England. A British team from think tank the Movement Design Bureau grabbed a ride for us in England – here's what they think of the pre-production version of the Transit Connect BEV, Ford's first proper electric vehicle:
Stepping in to Smith's battery electric-powered Transit Connect demonstrator feels just like stepping into Ford's gasoline-powered Transit Connect. There are two pedals and an automatic gearshift, but it's when you turn the key that things get different. Instead of the sound of a starter motor cranking an engine to life, there's a barely perceptible whine as the van's 12-volt system primes the traction batteries, followed by a slight 'popping' noise, which signals the vehicle is ready to go.
From there, just slot into drive, and you move away in eerie silence. The lack of sound is the thing that takes most getting used to at first. If you've ever sat in a car with its engine shut off, that's being pushed or towed, the first few yards you cover driving an EV will feel familiar. Your brain, used to the gentle rise of revs from an internal combustion engine, struggles to comprehend that you're moving without engine sound.
On the move
Out on the road, the Transit is a far cry from the electric milk floats that once roamed the streets of Britain in the hours around dawn. Smith Electric used to build these, and they were limited to 15 mph. The Transit, on the other hand, is happy at freeway speeds – accelerating briskly from rest and easily keeping on top of traffic. Instead of that rise and fall in acceleration rates (and engine noise) you're used to from an internal combustion engine, there's just a constant, linear accelerative force as you press the accelerator pedal – as if a giant elastic band has been attached to the front of the van, and is hauling you toward the horizon.
This lack of noise from the engine does mean you notice other sources of sound – such as the tyres, wind and interior of the vehicle more easily, but overall, the electric Transit is much quieter than its gasoline version. Riding in it felt to our back-seat passenger, "a little star trek" – the van's single gear ratio meaning you just don't feel the same sense of acceleration. At the wheel, it can come as a surprise to look down and find you're doing 60 miles per hour.
The other big difference between the electric and gasoline Transit is what happens when you lift off the gas, err, accelerator pedal. This pre-production demonstrator vehicle has an extremely strong regenerative braking set up, which feels not unlike that of the Tesla Roadster. Lifting the right foot off the pedal leads to instant deceleration, and with careful forward planning, it's possible to drive around barely calling on the brake pedal at all. Leaving a highway at 65mph, the van brought itself to a stop at the end of the off-ramp, without any intervention from the friction brakes.
The Ford Transit Connect BEV, on this evidence, will drive at least as well as its internal combustion counterpart, and in many ways will likely be better. No drivetrain shunt, engine noise, and gear changes really reduces driver load and fatigue. Smith Electric reports that of the drivers in UK fleets who've jumped from gasoline to one of its electric drive vehicles, not one now wants to switch back to an internal combustion engine. From a group of drivers who are notoriously hard to please, that's a pretty strong endorsement.