What turns an electric car into a great electric car?
Ask most people, and they will list features like a powerful electric motor, good range and comfortable seats.
But these things are set at the factory, long before you even step inside your car.
What about things you can do improve how your car handles and feels after it rolls off the dealer lot?
Tires, tires, tires
Often overlooked, the tires on your electric car not only help you achieve maximum range, but also help give your car its handling and performance characteristics.
Like most new cars, electric cars tend to ship from the factory with general all-round or energy-saving tires from brand-name tire companies.
2012 Nissan Leaf 4-door HB SL Wheel Cap
2012 Nissan Leaf 4-door HB SL Wheel CapEnlarge Photo
Designed to offer moderate to good performance, with a slight positive bias towards energy efficiency, these tires will perform adequately in most situations.
As CarAndDriver found out in July however, all-round energy-saving tires often trade grip and performance for energy efficiency, making them less than ideal for fast track-driving.
In an extensive test, the auto magazine took a stock 2012 Nissan Leaf to see what the effect of changing its stock eco-tires for more performance oriented ones would be.
The goal? To make the all-electric Nissan grip the road as much as a Porsche 911.
By replacing the stock Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 low-rolling-resistance tires with a set of barely-legal BFGoodRich G-Force R1 performance tires, CarAndDrive transformed the Leaf’s original 0.79g grip into a much sportier 0.96g.
As it noted however, those tires, while great for racing-line grip, would make driving in wet weather more than a little scary.
Grip, performance, or range
The better the tires grip, the more energy is used to move the car along.
In an electric car, that can drastically lower range.
Similarly, tires designed to be more energy efficient than your electric car’s stock tires may let you travel further on a charge, but at the sacrifice of grip and roadholding.
That might be great in the summer, but in winter weather you could find yourself struggling to keep your electric car under control.
If you regularly take your electric car to track days, or live somewhere with extremes of winter or summer weather, you may want to consider getting a second pair of tires.
By keeping a winter and summer set -- or by keeping a trackday and regular road set -- you’ll find you can get both good range for long-distance summer trips or general driving, great grip in the winter, or awesome track-day handling.
Or shop around
If you only need -- or want -- one set of tires for your electric car, you may be able to find a set that gives better efficiency or grip than the stock set.
But be warned: there’s no such thing as a perfect tire, so ask around other electric car owners to find out which tires are best for local weather conditions and roads.
Have you replaced your stock electric car tires? Which tires did you buy, and why?
Let us know in the Comments below.