First Impressions

The TORQ arrived over the weekend and now having completed two longer outings with it – Silicon Valley and San Francisco – I have some thoughts and impressions to share.

Some potentially non-obvious characteristics:

It is front wheel drive, and uses a mechanical limited slip differential (for comparison, both the Tesla Roadster and Model S are rear wheel drive but run open diffs).

Unlike the Teslas, which run more advanced (and expensive) AC motors, the TORQ has a DC motor. This means no regenerative braking, but on the plus side, the TORQ can support various sizes/configuration for both the motor and its battery pack. So like a life sized RC car, if you want a different performance envelope – the motor (in plain view and easily removable) can be swapped without much effort and maps to support those swaps are remotely uploadable and can be shared between owners. This is also true for the number of battery cells that the car carries.

Speaking of batteries, the TORQ uses custom large format lithium iron phosphate cells supplied by Fluxpower, as compared to the series of thousands of conventional 18650 lithium ion laptop-style batteries used by Tesla. There are pros and cons here too. The chemistry of the TORQ’s pack allows for faster charge times (similar to those offered by A123) and swapping in and out cells is much more straightforward than opening a Tesla pack (something that can only be done via factory service) but the sophisticated thermal management of Tesla is absent. Obviously, with an open-top car like the TORQ, this isn’t likely to be an issue, and in fairness, even our LEAF - a real mass production four seasons car – lacks any real thermal pack management.

At 2,200 pounds you’d think the TORQ would be small, like a TRex or similar. Scale is very deceptive in pictures. It is incredibly wide…literally as wide as a Hummer H1. The Tesla Roadster clocks in at 73.7 inches. With the 1″ wider rim/tire package I ordered for it (not yet mounted) this thing is like 87″ wide at the front track. It barely fits on the lift (which had to be customized to support the center rear wheel, BTW), with both front wheels center lines at the outer edge of each side runner of the lift, with about 3-4″ of tire hanging off into space. The TORQ required a special transporter (supplied by the manufacturer) just to deliver it since it’s wider than even exotic super cars. The turning radius is approximately that of the Queen Mary. With that, stability at speed is remarkable, and driving it feels like any other wide-track, four wheeled car.

Having said that, the sensation of speed and movement is unlike anything I’ve driven. Watching the wheels turn with the front fairings and the laterally mounted suspension compress and expand mid corner and over bumps is about as visceral as it gets – especially with not much by way of a windshield between you and the world around you. Much more like riding a motorcycle than driving a car.

Since it’s an EV, you don’t have the mind numbing drone of an engine inches from your head like some other track day specials and can really get down to business and focus on the job at hand – moving quickly stitching together apex after apex without the driver fatigue that comes with heat, noise, and fumes in an otherwise completely open cockpit.

However, driving it (at least without a helmet) means wind, sun, gravel, and bugs in the face – so I have found that ski goggles are the ideal solution.

There is no top, no heater, no AC, no wipers, nada – so definitely a summer time, fair weather car. Speaking of open, it’s also pretty much entirely open source and user accessible – one of the few (if not only?) EVs designed to be completely user adjustable. From the number of lithium ion batteries, to the suspension, to the cockpit configuration – everything is set up to be easily accessed and swapped out.

Should you have an “off” and wreck one, body panels swap easily on and off and everything from the heim jointed suspension pieces to the DC motor to electrical connectors are off-the-shelf standardized easily user accessible and swappable (unlike a Tesla, for comparison sake).

Most of the more important mechanical parts are VW sourced, with the idea being, you can get them anywhere in the world via the worlds most robust and affordable supply chain.

I’m not aware of a claimed driving range, but based on the 100 mile claimed range for our LEAF (which translates to about 70 miles real world) the TORQ seems to be clocking in at more than double that. I literally had twice as much charge left from both of my outings in the TORQ as compared to the same trips in the LEAF. Whereas the LEAF would be coasting home on electron fumes, the TORQ still had half of its capacity still left to go. I attribute this in large part to the significantly lighter weight of the TORQ and its corresponding far more impressive power to weight ration.

The amount of attention the TORQ has been getting is making it difficult to drive. With cars   zipping through traffic to catch it or braking and changing lanes erratically to pull alongside it, I haven’t seen this many iPhones and cameras pointed my way since driving around our Smart car back before those hit the streets.

People have literally been yelling props from the sidewalks – from children impressed to have spotted the “batmobilee” in the wild to adults of all ages. One inebriated twenty something year old woman yelling “how much pussy do you get with that thing!?! Serious question, how much pussy!?!?” Good thing I’m happily married.

I took the TORQ to my son’s preschool and let all the kids have a turn sitting in it and pretending to drive it. I suspect that the older kids that had taken to bullying our four year old will be looking at him in a whole new light now – since his dad is apparently Bruce Wayne – and no one messes with Batman’s kid.

There have been local industry celebrities too, all checking out the car. From the original Tesla co-founders, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, to the Toyota CALTY design team in town for a UI workshop, everyone has had a chance to drive, ride in, gawk at, and pore over the new “car.”

Anyone that knows me won’t be surprised to hear that next up, we begin with the mods – starting with a set of gorgeous black 17×8″ Volk TE-37s by Rays Engineering (courtesy of offcial U.S. distributor, Mackin Industries) wrapped in 235 series Toyo R8888s. This should make a noticeable performance and aesthetic improvement over the 17×7 inch multi-lug Enkeis wearing 205 series rubber.

Also, I suspect that the alignment was compromised in transport, so I hope to have a performance alignment done with the new wheel and tire combination. At the moment, the passenger front wheel is visibly cambered in (rather than out) with some strong toe-in to go along with it. The driver’s side looks fine, but both could be set far more aggressively for spirited driving.

As for price/cost, there is wide spread speculation that I used winnings from a recent lawsuit to pay $65,000 for this toy. In reality, no lawsuit winnings were used towards this acquisition and the particular example I have – with its maxed out battery pack, carbon fiber body panels, and assorted bells and whistles -comes in closer to $90,000 than $60,000.

For now, it’s time to get some more seat time and better familiarize myself with the new toy.

247525_10151893270862542_1121247392_n 949660_10151893130627542_856055045_o

smugshot_8002734smugshot_2663822smugshot_4284448smugshot_7292601 

…and so it begins…

For as long as I have owned cars, I have never left well enough alone. In fact, I can’t think of a single car that I’ve owned past or present that hasn’t been modified in some way. In some cases, the process takes immense amounts of time, money and effort (MR2BMWRabbit) and in others, even subtle changes have made a big difference (Smart, LEAF, Land Rover).

With the TORQ, I had already formed some initial impressions of what I liked about it, what I didn’t, and where there might be some room for improvement. Ultimately, whether I make major changes to a car or relatively minor ones has less to do with the relative quality of the starting platform and more on how I intend to enjoy it.

The MR2, for example, had arguably the strongest “bones” to work with, so one would assume the changes would be minor, but to the contrary, because I realized that there was potential for truly super car performance, the sweeping changes unfolded over a span of decades before I felt that the car had realized its true potential.

By way of background, prior to being hired at Tesla, Martin Eberhard (then CEO) challenged me to conceive of a limited edition, sport model of the Roadster. He knew of my background in the performance aftermarket and had read my Dummies book. He wanted a fresh pair of eyes on the Roadster, just prior to rolling it out, and wanted to see what someone with my unique tuner/enthusiast background would do with it. He was impressed with what I came up with, and hired me at least in part on that basis. Much of what I proposed way back in late 2006 ultimately found its way into what would become the Roadster Sport in 2010/2011.

In any event, reading through the recent blog comments on Autobloggreen and VWVortex has been enlightening. Rather than take offense at some of the negative comments regarding the TORQ’s lack of perceived practicality (even for its limited scope use as a weekend/track vehicle) and unconventional (challenging?) aesthetics – some of which, frankly I shared – I took these as an opportunity to see whether changes could help.

What I came up with was a concept for a “Touring Pack” that increased the utility of the TORQ in providing additional storage (critical for transporting overnight bags, helmets, other gear) to the track, helped balance some of its front/rear proportions, and at the same time, improved the usual mechanical elements (more grip, lighter/stronger wheels, etc.) I also added some basic comfort and convenience items like a debris/splash guard over the rear tire, a removable steering wheel that could be stowed in the lockable storage boxes (a nice benefit for ingress/egress as well as a way to aid in theft protection for a very “open” car), seat heaters (there is no conventional heater on board), different seats and other trim items, and a sundry of other tweaks.

Since the TORQ is conceived as an open-platform – one that, unlike a Tesla Roadster, users are encouraged to personalize and adapt for their own use – I thought I would share these working concepts as my first impressions of what a touring pack version of the TORQ might entail. Obviously, once the TORQ arrives here and I’ve had some seat time with it, I’ll likely find new and different elements of the driving experience and usability to focus on.

More to come…

Welcoming the TORQ EV Roadster

Gallery

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Back in early 2007 when I wrote my original “Driving Dynamics” blogs for Tesla Motors, I was trying to describe the experience of driving an electric car to the world at a time when the concepts of “high performance” and … Continue reading