Silence. It’s one of the life’s great luxuries, and increasingly a rarity in this life.
Think about it – when was the last time you had a moment to bathe in complete and utter quiet?
Here at Supercars.net, we’ve traditionally specialized in the sonorous howl of a highly-strung V6, the rapturous crackle of a V8 as it splits the sky, the thunderous roar of a V12 at full chat, and the associated tire screeching that comes along with it.
In the last few years, there’s been a shift in attitudes in the industry. Three of the major supercar manufacturers have produced hybrid hypercars, most of which can run completely silently around town (making it even less likely that mere mortals like you and I will ever catch a glimpse of one while they’re at it!), while many other brands currently have at least a hybrid, if not a fully electric supercar in the works.
Is this change of direction indicative of a broader trajectory in the supercar industry? And what does this mean for those of us with a predilection for pace?
One manufacturer that’s quietly snuck up on the established premium car elite in recent years is Tesla. The brainchild of billionaire, rocket man and one-time McLaren F1 owner (and crasher) Elon Musk. One Tesla’s selling points is silence, but they haven’t compromised on speed.
Since 2012, Tesla has been producing their mold-breaking Model S. At first glance, the Model S seems like a sedately sleek and nondescript sports saloon. But it has a hidden party trick up its sleeve. This luxury saloon, which tips the scales at a more than a bit over two tons, will launch up to 7 riders from 0-60mph in just 2.7 seconds.
Silent is the new loud
How does it do this you may ask? A combination of advanced tech and sheer brute force: the rear wheels apply one electric motor’s 496bhp to the tarmac, while the fronts take 255bhp from another – coming together for all-wheel drive and the equivalent of 751bhp and 713lb.ft of torque. Tesla packages all this electronic wizardry up and hides it behind a badge marked “Ludicrous Mode”.
Ludicrous Mode can be triggered using the Model S’s gargantuan infotainment screen. It essentially configures the car’s electric brain to forget about trying to save battery charge and dump the maximum amount of energy available in its batteries. through all four wheels. All for the singular purpose of making people gurgle with a strange mix of delight and fear.
Until recently, my only experience with Ludicrous Mode until had been as a passenger, and on busy public roads.
A few weeks ago, while at an event profiling the latest in green tech for cars, I was handed the key fob to a Tesla Model S and told I could go out and press its magic fun button on a (mostly) deserted track near an airfield. While the track didn’t allow me to power the Tesla up to its 155mph VMAX, it did allow me to give the Tesla its full electric beans from a standstill.
The sensation as the Model S sits back on its haunches and catapults you towards the horizon is mesmerizing, and utterly addictive. Over and over, I found myself darting round the small track in someone else’s Tesla just to line up on the main straight and hit the hyperdrive switch.
Catching up on yourself
With speed, the next corner suddenly appears quite quickly, and much sooner than you were expecting. Thankfully, the way the Tesla composes itself during “spirited” driving is excellent.
The only thing that hinted at this car’s great heft was the way its steering weighted up in the bends. The Model S uses a fly-by-wire electronic system, in fitting with the simple and clean approach to mechanicals that makes this machine such a break from the norm. Tesla has managed to retain some feel in this system, impressively, and the wheel returns an impression of confidence that you’d expect from an all-wheel-drive setup. It’s not the sharpest setup, but again I find myself contextualizing this with the car’s weight.
2,200kg makes a difference over the bumps. The Model S also has electronically adjustable suspension, allowing the ride height to be set depending on road conditions. Over rutted surfaces or cobbles, the car simply irons out the kinks, further contributing to the sense of otherworldly peace in the cabin.
It makes sense that countries like the Netherlands have adopted the Model S as a high-end taxi. With the charge distance around the 300-mile mark (if the driver resists the temptation to terrify passengers with Ludicrous mode – aggressive starts bring cut the range down to around 120 miles), the Model S can go as far as many traditionally propelled luxury cars do on a single tank, though without the associated emissions and fuel costs.
Front Seat Backseat Driver
We can’t talk about the Tesla Model S without mentioning the Autopilot function. Car cameras read the markings on the road and by combining data from these with input from radar-guided cruise control, the car takes control from the driver. We’re seeing systems like this pop up all over the auto industry – Volkswagen’s new Golf previewed VAG’s take on semi-autonomous driving – but Tesla was one of the first to apply it to production vehicles.
More traditional drivers can opt to take over the helm and drive in what may soon be considered the ‘old fashioned’ manner, but the system’s always there to take care of those long motorway schleps, leaving you rested and ready to enjoy the odd stretch of winding road.
The Young Challenger vs. The Supercar Establishment
Is it a viable alternative to a supercar? Yes and in a lot of ways it’s better. There are not many ways to from 0-60 any faster at this price point, short of buying a bike. And with the Tesla, there’s room for all your friends, plus luggage. Ludicrous Mode manages to return the shock and awe factor that the Model S loses with the absence of sound.
Of course, purists who yearn for the dirty, raw, mechanical noise of a traditional supercar will turn up their noses and opt instead for something twice the price that still runs on dead dinosaurs. But those of us in search of an exciting driving experience can rest assured that the future of performance motoring looks safe for now in the hands of companies like Tesla.