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 “electric car” were as diametrically opposed as are “NASCAR” and “right turn.” Still, I persevered and described concepts like the abundant “area under the curve” and what this meant from a seat-of-the-pants power delivery standpoint, as well as “polar moment of inertia” and how the Roadster’s optimized weight distribution allowed for such nimble handling, despite a curb weight that was considerably greater than a comparable Lotus Elise.
Those blogs live on today, for anyone interested in a snapshot of EV performance back in early ’07:
Fast forward five years and a lot has changed in the world. Thanks, in large part to Tesla, “high -performance” and “electric car” are no longer incongruous. In fact, it is no longer the domain of a lone corporate blogger from within the company to tell this story. These days, it is enough to ask a Tesla driver at the local grocery store parking lot or parking garage (look near the charging stations) about what it’s like to drive a Roadster or Model S, and get a first hand owner’s account if not an offer for a ride or drive to experience it for yourself.
In the span of time since I penned those blogs, things have changed for me too. For starters, I no longer work for Tesla Motors, running my own marketing consultancy instead. I am now married with two small children. I drive my kids around in a LEAF (the Model S was not available when we were in market and would have been too expensive at the time). We live in an eco-friendly house on the coast equipped with ample solar panels to take care of both home consumption and “fuel” our car (back in the Tesla days we rented a pretty run down house in Menlo Park where I occasionally slept when I wasn’t putting in all nighters at work). I commuted on a bicycle.
One thing hasn’t changed for me, though: I never became a Tesla Roadster owner. The car I gushed about and evangelized back then remained out of reach to me personally – both financially, and as a practical ownership proposition. Today, it is no longer being made, as Roadster sales ceased in 2012.
So, the modified MR2 turbo I had been building up since college remained my track toy and filled the void left by the LEAF of having a “fun” car for spirited weekend drives on the ample twisty, turny roads we have here or the occasional weekend autocross or track day.
I made concessions towards being green-minded by converting the MR2 to E85 and water injection (oh, who am I kidding – everyone knows by now that at 100+ octane, E85 is just government subsidized race gas available at gas stations instead of big steel barrels).
But the modified MR2 had its shortcomings: it was loud. So loud, that not only would I wake my own kids when I fired it up for morning outings, I would have neighbors knocking on my door from a block away complaining. I ended up buying a lot of beer for other people’s refrigerators and making a lot of apologies.
It was also temperamental. With sophisticated standalone computer systems and big boost turbo chargers (I have been through half a dozen configurations of the latter) something was always on the ragged edge of mechanical failure. On a good day, it might be a $0.50 vacuum line. On a bad day, it might be thousands of dollars of compressor damage or a head gasket from stretched head studs. Then there was emissions testing and all the rest of it.
Over time, the MR2 became more of a trophy than an actual toy, and shined in the garage taunting me to drive it, but rarely ever getting driven.
And so I drove the LEAF. And promised myself to enjoy driving again… someday.
All the while, like every other red blooded male in my 18-40 demographic, I religiously watched UK shows like Fifth Gear and Top Gear and drooled over the prospect of owning something like a feather-weight Ariel Atom, Lotus Super Seven, Caterham, or KTM X-Bow and driving it to and from the track or local car guy hang outs like they did on the show. But, unlike in the U.K., those visceral, stripped down “track day specials” aren’t street legal here and would require investing in a truck, trailer, parking for said truck and trailer, spares, etc. – in short a lifestyle commitment I wasn’t able or willing to make, especially if I couldn’t even enjoy the beautiful coastal roads ride outside my front door for a quick ½ hour blast in the mornings when traffic was light and before the kids were up.
So the dream remained just that – a fantasy, unfulfilled.
Through a series of happy circumstances, I came to know first Steve Fambro, and then his Aptera co-founder Chris Anthony. Before long, I got word of Chris’ latest project – the TORQ EV: a three wheeled “vehicle” (car would be a bit of a misnomer here) that looked very much like an X-Bow or Atom, but had only one rear wheel and an electric drive system.
I was intrigued. I knew the potential for bullet proof reliability and unparalleled performance from a lithium battery pack powered machine. I also knew it could sneak out of the garage at the crack of dawn and return again without waking the kids or neighbors. And like our LEAF, it too could be powered by the sun. But three wheels?
As it turns out, it is the three wheels that allows the TORQ to be street legal where the Atom, X-Bow, and others couldn’t be. Slotting somewhere between a motorcycle and a car, the unusual configuration – at least in California – would afford the opportunity to legally drive on public roads, and yet, without all the federal regulations, still provide for a “vehicle” (not car!) that was 3-4 passengers lighter than a the bonded aluminum chassis, carbon fiber bodied Tesla Roadster. It also featured a base price at nearly half the cost of the Roadster, with 0-60 acceleration numbers within a fraction of a second of the Tesla’s. Unlike the Tesla, which allowed for next to no end-user adjustability, this was essentially an open and accessible platform that I could tweak and tune to my heart’s content. From suspension settings, to seats, to brake bias, to the actual power pack itself, everything could be tailored to me. Unlike the Tesla, it even came with a mechanical limited slip differential (the Roadster ran an open diff).
But, seriously, three wheels?
As it turns out, three wheels (and front wheel drive!) didn’t kill the handling. A short test drive quickly confirmed as much. But I’ll save the handling and driving experience for a follow-up blog. I promise lots of details on that to follow. For now, I’m just happy to once again be an enthusiast driver – and in an EV, no less.