How do you drift an electric car?
Now, we’ve answered lots of questions about EVs here at Move Electric, such as where to charge them, how to get the best out of their range and whether they present a fire risk. And we’ll be honest, how to get an electric car sideways is far from the more pressing consumer concern to address.
But cars shouldn’t be entirely about practicality: there’s always been an emotional aspect to them – and showing electric cars can be as fun as combustion engined versions can encourage more people to make the switch. That’s our excuse anyway, and we’re sticking to it.
Plus, we had access to an electric Kia EV6 GT, a petrol-powered Kia Stinger GT, a big empty space and a lot of traffic cones. Sounds like the perfect recipe for an utterly essential and wholly scientific experiment to find out if an electric car can make for the ultimate drift machine.
What do you need to go drifting in an EV?
The most important thing, obviously, is a car. Preferably one with plenty of power that can be sent to the rear wheels. Which the Kia EV6 GT has. The £62,645 machine is powered by two electric motors with a total output of 430kW of power and 546lb ft of torque.
Crucially, while it offers all-wheel-drive as default, the EV6 GT features a torque biasing differential, which means all of that power and torque can be sent to the front or – brilliantly for drifting – rear wheels. That plentiful power can overcome even help overcome the EV6 GT’s hefty 2200kg weight (in part due to a 77.4kWh battery), and gives the machine a 0-62mph time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 161mph.
Because this is a scientific experiment, we also need access to a control subject: in this case a Kia Stinger GT. That’s the firm’s £45,210 performance saloon, which features a 269kW 3.3-litre V6 that offers a top speed of 167mph and a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds. All of the power is sent to the rear axle.
A key reason that Kia wanted to invite comparisons is because the Stinger GT has just been taken off-sale in the UK, passing the performance flagship torch to the cleaner, greener and more powerful EV6 GT.
Aside from the cars, you also need somewhere to go drifting, in our case the Hockenheim race circuit in Germany. Well, a car park at Hockenheim anyway: a big empty car park is better than a track: there’s a lot more space if – okay, when – something goes wrong.
You’ll also need a lot of traffic cones, so that you can mark out circles to drift around. We’d suggest you have some spare, because the chance of whacking a cone or two are high. We’d also suggest something to keep the area you’re using soggy, such as a tractor with a bowser attached.
Finally, you also need someone to teach you how to go drifting. Kia helpfully laid on two hugely patient instructors for us, who were brilliant at clearly explaining what we needed to do, and also did a good job not laughing at us when we frequently messed up.
Why the EV6 GT has a drift mode
Most modern cars, including EVs, are too well-behaved to get sideways easily. That’s because of all the technology and driver assistance features built into them. That’s why the EV6 GT offers a range of drive modes that send progressively more of the power to the rear wheels, giving the slightly oversteering sporty handling you’d expect from a performance car.
But like many all-wheel-drive cars, the EV6 GT features torque vectoring, which basically monitors the power and grip levels of all four wheels. If it detects one wheel beginning to slip or lose control it can reduce the power that goes to that wheel and send more power to the others. The result is that the car maintains optimum grip, giving the driver maximum control.
That combines with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which further controls the power, grip levels and so on to ensure the machine rides relatively smoothly. Now, such features can’t entirely defy the laws of physics, but they can do a remarkable job to keep powerful cars such as the EV6 GT in line. Which is fine… unless you want to get out of line. Such as, you know, by going drifting.
That’s where drift modes on electric performance cars come in. They work in various ways, but the basics are the same: they involve turning off the various features like traction control and ESC designed to keep the car stable, and ensure the power delivery goes to the back of the car.
With all the power coming from the rear wheels that don’t turn, when you turn the front wheels and then boot the throttle, the result is that the rear of the car wants to go faster than the front. That will slide the back of the car.
But getting the back of a car sliding and drifting are not the same thing. To turn a slide into a drift you then have to control that slide through opposite lock – turning the wheels away from the direction the front of the car is turning, basically – and careful use of the throttle. If you do it right, you can keep the rear of the car sliding round for as long as you wish.
Sounds simple, right? Yeah, about that…
How easy is it to drift an electric car?
You’re not likely to drift an EV6 GT by accident. In fact, you’re not in any danger of engaging the EV6 GT’s Drift Mode by accident. Selecting it is a bit like engaging the cheat code of a video game. It’s not quite Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Light Right, B, A but it’s close.
First you need to make sure the EV6 GT is in park. Then you have to press the bright yellow GT button on the steering wheel and select GT mode. Then press and hold the traction control button on the dashboard for five seconds until the digital display shows both traction control and ESC have been turned fully off. And then hold both of the energy regen paddles behind the steering wheel for five seconds until Drift Mode is engaged.
Initially the result is a little underwhelming. There’s no artificial roar of fake engine noise, nor does the digital display doesn’t switch to some ultra-aggressive deep red ‘sport’ mode. Instead, the display switches to a screen that shows the power distribution, and the words ‘drift mode’ appear in bottom right corner. It’s all very understated.
Still, with drift mode sending all of the EV6’s considerable power to the rear axle, and no pesky traction control software to prevent the wheels from slipping, drifting should be easy.
Spoiler alert: drifting a car is actually not that easy.
Well, let’s clarify that. Getting an EV6 GT in Drift Mode sideways is easy. Getting the tail of an EV6 GT in Drift Mode to slide round, tyres squealing in protest, is easy. And if you’re careless with the accelerator, spinning an EV6 GT in Drift Mode is easy.
But drifting an EV6 GT? In the proper sense of getting one into a control slide, tail hanging out and opposite lock engaged, that you could hold for an extended period of time? That’s not so easy. And that’s nothing to do with the EV6, or with electric cars in general. It’s just that drifting really is a skill.
Right… so how do you drift an EV6 GT?
First, let’s define exactly what drifting is. The idea is to get the car into a controlled slide – emphasis on the controlled here – around a long hairpin turn marked out by cones.
The theory, as explained by our expert instructors, is relatively simple. Go into the corner slowly, turn gently into the bend, then briefly boot the throttle hard to get the back moving. Then lift off sharply, with perhaps a quick dab of the brakes to move the balance of the car back towards the front.
In theory the car is now sliding, so you’d best apply some opposite lock – turning the front wheels away from the curve. Then when you feel the point where the back end of the car is light and sliding but you’re still in control, use the throttle and steering to keep it just there. You’ll then glide gracefully round the bend, rear of the car at a lurid angle, and ready for Ken Block to phone up with an invite to star in his next Gymkhana video.
Okay, we’re still waiting for Ken Block to call, and that’s because understanding what you have to do and actually doing it are two different things. It’s hard to square your brain with how gentle you need to be on initial turn-in, and how hard and briefly you need to hit the throttle pedal to get the back sliding.
Most crucially, it’s really hard to get a feel for the golden moment when the car starts to slide but before the rear is so far gone that an incompetent-looking spin is inevitable. That’s when you need to feed in the opposite lock and get back on the power, balancing the car as it drifts round the circle.
Part of the challenge is where to look. As the car starts to slide your eyes are inevitably drawn to the outside of the bend - where you brain tells you the car is trying to go. But you need to keep your eyes fixed on the apex of the corner - where you want to be going.
Getting the EV6 GT sideways is easy, and there’s always a brief thrill when you do. But controlling it is the challenge. Just when you think you’re getting it, there goes the back and around you go. Still, one thing is clear: the car is not the problem. The EV6 GT could happily drift all day long. We just need to upgrade the talent behind the wheel.
What’s easier: drifting an EV or an ICE car?
This is the next stage of our science experiment. In theory, the Stinger GT should have the edge here: it’s rear-drive, lighter, has a Sport Plus mode that turns off traction control and ESC and you can turn it into manual mode to keep the torque high.
That said, the EV6 GT’s extra power is a huge help. It overcomes that weight, especially with Drift Mode effectively turning the car into rear-drive.
The differences in the two car mean the technique of how to drift each is slightly different. You need to go into the corner a bit faster in the Stinger GT (we’re talking 15mph vs 10mph here), because the engine just can’t generate the power as quickly as the EV6 GT.
That’s also why you need to be more aggressive on the throttle when you initiate the slide in the Stinger GT. It takes longer to get the power to the wheels, and with that bulky combustion engine up front the weight distribution is very different.
Our experience shows that it’s probably easier to get the Stinger GT a bit sideways and airy, but with a bit of practice it’s far easier to get the EV6 GT into something approaching a proper drift.
Our entirely scientific conclusions into drifting an EV
Look, we said this was basically a scientific experiment, so we need to draw some firm conclusions from it. And we’ve answered the question we set out to do: yes, you can drift an electric car.
Okay, that’s likely not a surprise. Kia’s boffins wouldn’t have released the EV6 GT with a Drift Mode if it couldn’t, after all. But what’s also clear is that an electric performance car offers some advantages over an ICE one when it comes to getting sideways.
The EV6 GT, of course, does rely on that Drift Mode and some clever hardware and software work to make it easier for the car to go sliding. But it doesn’t really feel artificial – and it still doesn’t make proper drifting easy. If we had some more time we’re sure we’d nail it. It just depends on how many more traffic cones we can risk damaging…