If you’ve recently switched from a thermal car to an electric car, you may have noticed a small change in size that makes maneuvering difficult. It’s not just an impression, and we’ll explain why.
Buying a car is a smart balance between the benefits it can bring, but also the constraints. In urban areas, for example, with the density of the public transport network or the proliferation of cycle paths, a car, thermal or electric, is less and less justified for everyday use in most cases.
In terms of embarrassment, what comes back to the car is the price, but also the parking. In urban areas, surface parking is increasingly complicated, while underground parking is sometimes quite unsuitable for our modern cars. Just look at the state of the spiral ramp walls in the parking lots to see this.
Because ? Not because cars are having an increasingly difficult time understanding the size of their machines, but rather because those same machines are now inadequate in terms of size for this type of infrastructure built several decades ago. And for the sake of space and price per mtwo that already appeared at the time, infrastructures have been optimized for cars” vintage” .
You may have noticed, but cars are getting bigger, longer and wider. Even the segments sometimes get upset. It is difficult today to find a city car that is less than four meters long, while a current Volkswagen Polo is already larger than the first Golf. The most striking example, we put it in the image below. Look at the width difference between these two Porsche 911s. The one on the left is from 1964, the one on the right is from 2011.
And it won’t work, quite the opposite. With the arrival of electric cars, one might think that only the powertrain changes. But in reality, not at all, as engineers inevitably had to stretch bodies to accommodate, among other things, large batteries, but also the many technologies that are often mandatory now. Just look at the space in the cabin of a Porsche Taycan in relation to its length to realize that there is a natural downside to electric cars at this level.
It’s a fact, electric cars are generally wider than their thermal equivalents. For example, a BMW i4 is 1.85 meters wide (excluding mirror), compared to 1.81 meters for the BMW 3 Series. However, as far as length is concerned, it’s usually status quo.
See the example of one of the best-selling electric cars in the world (and the best-selling in Europe in 2021): the Tesla Model 3. In its segment, that is, premium sedans, is one of the smallest in length at 4.69 meters. For example, a Mercedes C-Class has an extra six centimeters, while an Audi A4 has an extra seven. But among these models, Model 3 may be the shortest, it is especially the widest with 1.85 meters without mirror (2.09 meters with), while a C-Class claims 1.82 meters without mirror (2.03 meters with) and an Audi A4 1.84 meters without mirror (2.02 meters with) .
And this is also the case of the segment above, just read the technical sheet of the new Nio ET5 to realize this, with a width excluding the mirror of 1.96 meters. It’s the same for the new Mercedes EQE, which claims 1.96 meters in width, 11 centimeters longer than a Mercedes E-Class (1.85 meters) and seven centimeters longer than an Audi A6 (1.89 meters).
Why are electric cars wider?
The use of electric motorization and a dedicated platform offers many advantages in terms of design, but there are also constraints. Among the advantages, engineers can now “push” the wheels to the four corners of the car, thus making it possible to reduce sway, increase the wheelbase and thus offer more space on board. On average, the wheelbase of an electric car compared to a model of the same thermal range is between 10 and 20 cm longer.
Not all electric cars are wider than their thermal counterparts, especially in the city car segment, where a Peugeot e-208 (1.75 meters wide) is not bulkier than the thermal model. This trend is quite reserved for the most sophisticated models.
With a longer wheelbase and wider bodywork, Electric cars are therefore more complicated, but these data also do not work in your favor when handling. And with sometimes more than 5 meters in length in your hands, maneuverability is really important. Manufacturers have developed interesting technical solutions to make their cars more manageable, we’ll come back to that below.
The fact that electric cars are wider is because of the batteries, as we said above, but not because the batteries are oversized for a car, it is mainly for the security that this type of element causes. Manufacturers must leave some sort of “shock absorber” space on either side in the event of a side impact, where the battery is closer to the end of a car.
To avoid damage to batteries in the event of a side collision, electric cars often use a frame with a wider side beam and a thicker sill. As a result, and this is also visible on many electric cars from the inside, these side beams often stand out a lot in the passenger compartment (more so in any case than in a thermal car). That’s why, on some models, like the Taycan, for example, we have the impression of being a little tight.
But it’s not all about the sides. In fact, always with the aim of improving safety on board, internal combustion cars are equipped with front and rear spars arranged at the same level as the side spars. In electric vehicles, since a large area in the center of the chassis is occupied by the battery, it is necessary to find another way of transmitting energy in the event of a frontal collision to the rear.
For example, with already thicker side rails, some electric vehicles “guide” collision energy from the front rails to the side rails. To make power conduction as efficient as possible, the car’s front frame rail should be as close as possible to the side frame rails. Below, on the left, the energy path after a collision for a thermal car, on the right for an electric car.
New technical solutions to compensate
This is for the technical part. But in terms of handling, on paper, an electric car might be less maneuverable than a thermal model, depending on the wheelbase. This is where the engineers come in again, with a technology already seen in several thermal cars, such as the great sports cars from Porsche (911 GT3 RS) or even the late Renault Sport and the Mégane RS, but also in limousines like the latest Mercedes EQS. .
This technology is rear wheel steering. At low speeds, they rotate in the opposite direction of the front wheels, while at higher speeds (on average above 60 km/h), they rotate in the same direction, but to a lesser extent, even as on the latest Mercedes EQE, the rear wheels can rotate up to 10° with the smallest rims!
In large cars, thanks to the steerable rear wheels, this makes it possible to decrease the steering angle by more than one meter. Still taking the example of our Mercedes EQE, without the rear steering wheels, Mercedes announces a turning radius of 12.5 meters, against 10.7 meters with. Not to mention the gain in agility in the most dynamic driving. This is also why, in a Porsche Taycan, for example, the car looks agile in corners and very practical despite its generous dimensions.
But sometimes electric cars allow, on the contrary, to increase their maneuverability compared to a thermal car. In fact, having the engine directly on the rear axle for rear-wheel drive cars can increase the turning radius of the front wheels. But this is not always the case, as most manufacturers also offer their cars with four-wheel drive and do not develop two different chassis.
After I have explained to you by A+B why an electric car was often wider (but not necessarily longer) than a heat car, in fact parking can be a little more problematic and even then heat cars have also increased a lot in recent years due to all the new standards in terms of security in particular.
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