Daniel Golson is a freelance automotive journalist based in Los Angeles. While obsessed with every facet of the industry, his specialities are discussing design, new technology and the intersection of cars and culture. His personal garage is filled by a bright teal 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SL named after Meryl Streep's character in 'Death Becomes Her.' Read MoreRead More
One-Pedal Driving Is EV’s Killer App
Once you experience an electric car’s regenerative braking, it’s hard to go back.
Instant torque, quick acceleration, silent operation, and a smooth ride — these are hallmarks of the electric vehicle experience, all major improvements over how an internal combustion car performs. They're a big reason why car buyers find EVs so alluring.
But to me, the single best thing about driving an EV is one-pedal regenerative braking. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll never want to go back.
In a regular car, you slow down using friction brakes. Press the brake pedal and the brake pads clamp the rotor, decelerating the car and turning kinetic energy into wasted heat. But in an EV, instead of starting to coast, letting off the throttle results in the electric motors running in reverse, which slows the car and recaptures the kinetic energy back into the battery, increasing your range as you decelerate – that’s regenerative braking.
Most new EVs offer one-pedal driving, which is regen that’s strong enough to bring the car to a complete stop even from highway speeds. This means in the vast majority of situations, you never have to touch the brake pedal. All electric cars still have friction brakes, though – even the best regen braking isn’t sufficient for every braking situation, especially not emergency stops. Still, in addition to the efficiency benefits, electric cars require their brakes to be serviced and replaced a lot less frequently than a gas car’s, as the physical brake components just aren’t used as much.
Some companies, like Volvo and Polestar, only have one regenerative braking setting — you either have maximum regen with one-pedal driving, or you have no regen at all. But most EVs offer a few settings ranging from mild regen to full one-pedal driving as well as an off setting, usually toggled via paddle shifters. Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai EVs even offer an adaptive regen setting that adjusts the braking force according to the traffic ahead. But not every brand offers true one-pedal driving, with regen that is strong but annoyingly won’t bring the car to a complete stop.
It does take time to get used to one-pedal driving, as you have to completely rethink how you drive a car. Even the most diehard enthusiasts will struggle with modulating the throttle at first. Sometimes the regen braking is so strong you’ll come to a stop 100 feet away from the stoplight, or you’ll start decelerating more sharply than you planned. But once you nail it, the experience is fantastic. It becomes easy, even second nature, to smoothly transition from acceleration and coasting to deceleration just with the right pedal. Navigating through a city or sitting in a traffic jam is especially pleasant with one-pedal driving, and EVs will let you turn off creep, so when at a stop there’s no need to keep your foot on a pedal.
One-pedal driving is enjoyable when you’re being sporty, too, and it’s already being optimized for performance cars. Being able to carve through a canyon road while barely ever touching the brake pedal is a joy, with the driving experience feeling more fluid than in a normal car. For instance the Lucid Air’s max regen setting provides 0.3 g of deceleration, and the car’s chassis is engineered so it responds to weight transfer and other variables in the same way whether under regen or friction braking. Strong regen braking also has major benefits off-road, where smoothness and small inputs are key to navigating rough terrain.
The pinnacle of this technology is the Rimac Nevera hypercar, the spawn of a Croatian company that recently entered a joint venture with Bugatti. The Nevera is the quickest accelerating production car in the world and the fastest EV on the market – it’ll reach 60 mph in less than 1.9 seconds and hit a top speed of 258 mph. It also stops extremely quickly thanks to the most powerful regenerative braking of any car on the market, with its four electric motors giving it 300 kW of regen alone. A special electro-hydraulic brake booster distributes braking force between the regen and the massive carbon-ceramic friction brakes for optimal heat dissipation and deceleration, with the transitions going unnoticed by the driver even when racing around a track.
There is one major brand being a holdout: Porsche. The brand’s fantastic Taycan EV does without regenerative braking almost completely, at least when it comes to deceleration. Porsche says that its customers want their EVs to drive, well, like a Porsche, so jumping from a 911 to an EV feels familiar and easy. The Taycan does utilize up to 290 kW of regen when braking using the pedal and friction brakes, still turning that kinetic energy back into electricity to juice the battery instead of heat like an internal combustion car would. To Porsche’s credit the Taycan is a phenomenal EV to drive, and it really does feel like a Porsche. But I still wish for more powerful regen.
Many consumers skeptical of switching to an electric car just haven’t experienced driving one for themselves. Out of all the benefits that an EV provides, regenerative braking is the biggest reason EVs feel like the future.