Since the car doesn’t have “gears” you can’t really call the selector on the center console a “gear selector” and you can’t really call the selections “gears.”
But nonetheless this one is under heavy debate. Some say D gives you better range and some say L gives better results. The answer is none of the above. The facts are this: the absolute most efficient way to go down a level road is in N (neutral), but most of us wouldn’t and can’t drive (“hyper-mile”) our cars like this… most of the time. The point I’m making is that D and L are NOT the most efficient, and that’s a fact. Another fact, since L is NOT a gear, you can drive in L (it’s a mode that is programmed into the Volt drive computer) all day long!
It’s also a fact that if you aren’t experienced in driving in L, you’re most likely driving the LEAST efficient way possible. With training you can learn when and how to use L along with D and N and become more efficient at driving your Volt. Last fact: the most efficient way to drive is with the fewest throttle and brake inputs as possible. So with that, let’s discuss what each is good at, and why you have to use all three to be the most efficient, and why you should probably use at least two to be fairly efficient with very little extra effort. First, here’s a quick tip before we get started. If your car is a 2013 or newer, you’re going to have an option on the dash in the little notifications window to watch your energy flow between the motor, the internal combustion engine (acronym: ICE) and the battery. When accelerating, energy flows from battery (or ICE) to the drive motor. When slowing down, energy flows from the drive motor TO the battery. This display is very important, and will help you understand where and HOW MUCH energy you are using and recouping.
| Driving in “D”| – This is probably the “gear” you should drive most of the time, and definitely when you are on the interstates away from traffic lights/signs and intersections requiring you to stop and go and stop. However, if you are noticing that you are using the brake pedal often due to hills or big fluctuations in speed you might be better off in L mode instead.
| Driving in “L”| – The biggest thing to understand about “L mode” is that the throttle switches to regen at the first bit of travel (the first ~10% of pressure), so when you want to slow down, you need to lift only slightly but keep a smidge of pressure on the accel pedal to keep from slowing down too fast or too much. The more you lift, the faster you slow down. Efficiency experts dictate that you keep your speed near constant, so slow down as slow and as little as possible.
| Driving in “N“| – You won’t be using this “gear” very often, even though it is the most efficient of the three. But there is a way you can work it in every now and then, especially if you are oh so close to your goal, and just need to eek out another mile or two to complete your journey all on electric. All you need to do is watch out for places along your commute where there is a slight downhill stretch, or a slight slowing of the traffic ahead. You’re going to be best using this if you are able to “glide” for 5 seconds or more. If slope is slight, you’ll notice the car won’t lose much of any speed, and may gain speed if it’s steep enough. If you are speeding up (because of slope) and want to maintain your speed, don’t use the brake pedal (no regen in neutral), however, you get a slight regen in D, that works marvelous on noticeable grades where your speed might rapidly increase if you were to try and coast down the hill in N.
In the future, I’ll do a post on hyper-miling and using all the gears available to you to hypermile your car and attain 60 miles on one charge. To learn more about regen braking (also called “Magnetic Braking), click here for a BMW Blog Article exploring the regen braking of the Tesla Model S and the BMW i3.