Electric car winter driving guide

How does an electric car cope with winter weather? To find out, we drive an electric car on ice and snow to see how it performs, plus give some winter driving advice...

Nissan Ariya winter driving in snow

With their heavy batteries, regenerative braking systems and instant availability of power, electric cars bring many changes to the way we drive.

In winter, those changes are often accentuated, because electric cars and combustion-engined ones react differently when it's cold. So, what do you need to prepare for when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and how do electric cars cope on snow and ice?

To answer those questions, we’re testing a Nissan Ariya on a dedicated cold-weather circuit in the Pyrenees to see how it gets on. Along the way, we’ll advise you on how to drive, prepare and look after your electric car during the cold winter months.

Nissan Ariya winter driving in snow rear

What’s it like driving an electric car in winter conditions?

Electric cars are built differently to combustion-engined cars, and most models feature a single motor that drives the front wheels, or a single motor that drives the rear wheels. If an electric car has four-wheel drive, it probably has two electric motors – one mounted at the front to drive the front wheels, and one at the back to drive the rears. 

The Ariya in our cold weather circuit test has two motors, four-wheel drive and an 87kWh battery (you can also have a smaller 63kWh battery). As with most electric cars, the battery is beneath the floor to maximise interior space while lowering the car's centre of gravity. That helps to improve the weight distribution and therefore traction, which is helpful in slippery road conditions.

Nissan Ariya winter driving snow cornering

The Nissan four-wheel-drive system – called e-4orce – operates in a similar manner to other electric car set-ups, transferring power directly to the wheels via each motor. That means it's much quicker to respond than petrol or diesel cars, which have to transfer power from the engine through a prop shaft and a set of differentials.

In a combustion-engined car with a manual gearbox, you can use the gears to manage power delivery in slippery or harsh conditions. In an electric car it’s slightly different, because you only have one forward gear. In the case of the Ariya, we found that it automatically restricted the amount of power available to each wheel to limit wheelspin.

Nissan Ariya winter driving in snow interior

When accelerating on snow, you can feel the Ariya’s dual-motor system managing the power depending on how much the wheels are spinning. During cornering, the system uses the inside wheel brakes to help the car turn in more quickly, helping the driver stay in control.

In normal driving conditions, the regenerative braking system is working to recuperate charge under deceleration. However, if the system detects a slip on ice, snow or a wet surface, the hydraulic brakes override the 'regen' system to help control the slide.

Nissan Ariya charging in snow

Will range and charging times be affected during the winter?

Yes. As our real-world summer range test and winter range test show, when the temperature drops, so does an electric car's potential range. Batteries operate less efficiently in cold weather, and from our experience you can expect a real-world drop of around 10-15% in winter compared with summer.

Charging speeds will be slower during colder weather because the battery won’t be working at its optimum temperature to receive charge at the maximum speed.

Nissan Ariya front tracking winter

What are the best ways to maximise efficiency during winter weather?

Methods for improving the efficiency of an electric car are the same in winter as they are in summer. They include using an eco driving mode and limiting your use of the air-con. To find out more, read our guide to maximising electric car range.

Nissan Ariya winter driving tyres

How to prepare your electric car for the winter

As with any car, you can prepare your electric car for winter driving in a number of ways. For example you can fit winter tyres and check your windscreen wipers are in good condition. For more advice, see our winter driving guide.

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Read more: The best electric cars

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