The driving enthusiast’s dilemma with electric cars

Andrew Hedrick/Porsche

As I like to say, electric motors make cars better. Regular readers will notice that most of our auto coverage is for electrified cars, but the other type still accounts for over 95% of all new cars sold in the United States, so we have reason to drive a few- one from time to time. . And when we do, it’s often an exercise in frustration – even a performance car like a Porsche 911 Turbo can’t match the immediate torque of an electric motor doing its job.

And it’s good. Electric cars must be the future of personal transport if we are to avoid the worst ravages of climate change, but only alongside everyone who walks, cycles and uses public transport more. (We could also do a complete overhaul of our built environment to make it all safer, but I realize I’m veering dangerously into a post-scarcity utopia there, when it currently seems like we’re in the mirror universe.)

But the uncomfortable truth for electric driving enthusiasts is that while EVs make perfect sense to get from A to B – absent the occasional case like an emergency trombone delivery across the country – I’m not sure they are quite there again when it comes to that last bit of fun.

The BMW i4 M50 has more power than an M3 but is obviously much more efficient as it is electric.  It's also cheaper than the M3.
Enlarge / The BMW i4 M50 has more power than an M3 but is obviously much more efficient as it is electric. It’s also cheaper than the M3.

Jonathan Gitlin

For example, I recently spent a week with a BMW i4 M50, the more powerful and sportier version of the Bavarian brand’s electric four-door sedan. And immediately afterwards I spent a week with a BMW M3 Competition. They’re both four-door, all-wheel-drive BMWs, and both have giant nostrils and produce over 500 hp (373 kW). There’s no doubt which one I’d buy with my own money: the i4, which is better around town and more economical on long journeys, and it has a more modern infotainment system.

The M3 competition, on the other hand, is much more of a chore to experience. It has carbon fiber bucket seats that are hard to get in and out of, although they are incredibly supportive once you’re settled in. It’s thirsty and loud, and in the case of the car I was driving, it’s painted neon yellow. But it undeniably has more character than the i4 M50, and with a curb weight over 1,000 lb (454 kg) less, it has an agility that the more powerful but heavier electric BMW can’t match.

It’s imperfect, but it has a lot of character. Still, I would only buy one if I spent most of my weekends on the track.

The BMW M3 Competition is compromised in many ways compared to the i4.  But we must not hide the fact that it gains in commitment and pleasure from the driver.
Enlarge / The BMW M3 Competition is compromised in many ways compared to the i4. But we must not hide the fact that it gains in commitment and pleasure from the driver.

Jonathan Gitlin

Not that EVs can’t handle some on-track action. I’ve said publicly that I think the electric Porsche Taycan is better than a Porsche 911. But a Taycan GTS break-in day in Willow Springs was more informative than fun.

In fact, I think enthusiasts may find electric vehicles fun to drive, but they’re not where you might expect them to be. Sure, tons of power and torque are easy to come by with a powerful battery and motor, but even a three-second acceleration to 60 starts to feel normal before long. These powerful electric vehicles often tend to be a bit “point and squirt” – fast in a straight line, but you have to slow down in the turns. And that’s before I worry about the problem of inappropriate speeding.

The cheapest are the most fun?

Oddly enough, I’ve found that it’s the more prosaic electric vehicles that often offer the most rewards for driving enthusiasts. There’s nothing particularly sexy about Volkswagen’s ID.4 crossover. The interior is spartan in the purest tradition of the popular car, and the infotainment system is frustrating to use. It only has 201 hp (150 kW) to send to its rear wheels. But in eco mode, on a twisty back road, it’s actually a lot of fun because it’s all about conserving momentum. And if you think it’s not fun, just talk to any Miata driver.

Or look at the often maligned Chevrolet Bolt EV, which recently dropped in price to $26,595. Stick sporty tires on one, and it’ll outrun a Golf GTI and put a smile on your face as it spins around its short wheelbase.

That’s probably an unsatisfactory answer for a driving enthusiast considering going electric. I think we’ll get there as automakers perfect their electric vehicles over successive generations. But it’s pretty clear from most of the announced plans that for starters, OEMs are skating the puck, which means making electric vehicles for everyday use. Eventually, in-house tuning departments like BMW M will focus all of their attention on electric vehicles.

We just have to be patient.

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