Steve Swift, director of vehicle engineering at Polestar, believes this battle for the most brutal acceleration is a quirk of the first stage of widespread EV adoption. It won’t necessarily last: “If you can accelerate as fast as you can do an emergency stop, at what point does that become disorientating?”
Swift says most owners will do it once, just to prove they can. But he says it’s a gimmick, and ultimately a car should be “rewarding for anybody to sit behind the wheel”.
Rolls-Royce has just launched an EV, the Spectre coupe, and could have easily cranked up its huge dual motors to join the sub-3 second club. But does a Rolls-Royce owner really want to smack the back of his or her bonce against the headrests every time they leave the line? No, says Mihiar Ayoubi, the Syrian-born director of engineering at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
He tells us there is timing built into us, and how that is handled contributes enormously to comfort. “The human body has its own time delay. Before I talk about acceleration, for instance, I talk about ride comfort. So you have your wheels, you have suspension, you have stiffness in the car, you have this stiffness of your seat and then you have your body. All of these are springs, and they need to match to each other.
“In talking about acceleration … we thought always our V12 was a masterpiece of delivering instant torque, which it was. But unfortunately, or fortunately, electric drive is faster. So we understand now how to deliver a natural feeling of acceleration, not being rocketed like a rollercoaster or sitting in a [jet] fighter.
“We managed to identify the right delay which is appropriate to cancel the mass of the car. I don’t know if you play golf … the best striking moment is when you don’t feel any resistance from your club, you don’t feel the mass of the ball.
“This is the moment where the forces of your body are in co-ordination with the club in your hand and the timing is perfect. So we calculate in each speed, the mass and inertia of this car, and try to compensate for it.”
Rolls-Royce is trying to achieve something it calls “waftability” when travelling at, or accelerating from, any speed. It decided a 0-100 km/h time of 4.5 seconds was the right one for the Spectre. That’s only three-tenths faster than the company’s conventionally powered Ghost sedan, but still hugely fast in historic terms. By comparison, the Lamborghini Miura, the fastest car in the world in 1966, took 6.7 seconds to reach 100 km/h.
In motorsport, everything is about the clock: lap times, acceleration times, average speeds and highest speeds measured in kilometres per hour.
It often comes down to the tiniest increments. At this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton beat Max Verstappen to pole position by just 0.003 seconds. Aside from anything else, it’s an extraordinary measure of precision that two teams – Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull – can interpret a rulebook and build two cars with scarcely a component in common, for two competitors with differing driving styles, and complete a 4.381-kilometre lap with such a small gap between them.
In qualifying at Italy’s iconic Monza circuit in 2020, Lewis Hamilton completed a 5.79 km lap at an average speed of 264.36 km/h. But Monza is not where the top F1 speed has been recorded. The highest reading ever was 378 km/h in practice for the 2016 European Grand Prix, at Baku, Azerbaijan. The driver was Valtteri Bottas in a Williams-Mercedes.
For sheer madness, consider that in June this year Brad Binder went nearly as quickly on two wheels, with no protective bodywork around him. The South African KTM rider hit 366.1 km/h in the MotoGP sprint race at the Mugello circuit in Italy. He described the feat as “quite crazy”, but that still seems like an understatement.
It was motorsport that introduced incredibly precise timing to the automotive world. Now it has been transferred to road cars. Aside from the clocks that feature on luxury and sports car dashboards, such as Porsche’s famous centrally mounted Sport Chrono clock and timer, many have sophisticated in-built telemetry that allows owners to precisely monitor every facet of their driving.
Consider the Ferrari F8 mentioned above. The onboard systems will record braking, gear changes, longitudinal acceleration, lateral acceleration and nail your lap times (or journey) to one-thousandth of a second. You can also divide a lap into sectors to perfect each corner, and analyse all the information on the car’s screen or via iPad app.
Yet there’s also the other extreme, known as taking your time. Some of the most enjoyable drives are those with the lowest average speed, perhaps even with no destination in mind – and all the time in the world.
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