behind the wheel of the DS E-TENSE Performance prototype

Photos: DS Automóveis

In one corner of this huge aircraft hangar, the prototype and its technical semi-trailer look very small. A dozen engineers are busy around the car, which is about to replace the front bumper. “We had opted for a completely closed grid, but the successive accelerations already carried out generate so much heat that it causes problems to cool the battery “, says Thomas Chevaucher, director of DS Performance.

“We are going to replace it with an openwork version, which should help us. We’re just at the beginning of developing our prototype, so we discover certain things as situations arise. » It’s true that with 815 hp of electrical power and 800 Nm of starting torque, there’s enough to generate a little heat…

Play pilot with a pro

Since it’s about doing full-force accelerations, but in a straight line, there’s no need to really know how to drive. However, it is necessary to equip “like the real ones”, first to get in the mood, but also to respect safety rules. Fireproof suit, driving boots, balaclava and racing gloves are available for us. Headphones placed in the ear cavity will allow us to keep in touch with the engineers when the helmet is on.

In the car, our co-driver is Alex Bengué. The rally driver with a long track record participates in the development of the DS E-TENSE Performance, as does James Rossiter, reserve driver for DS Techeetah (the DS Automobiles team in Formula E) or Jean-Eric Vergne, two-time series champion. Alex’s presence on board is both comforting and necessary, in particular to familiarize himself with the many buttons and paddles on the steering wheel. It’s exactly the same one used in Formula E, and its multi-purpose character is impressive.

On our side, we will only need two buttons, two buttons (radio and neutral) and three of the five paddles. Unfortunately, you will not see the indications displayed on your central screen because some, and in particular battery operating temperatures, are classified as confidential by the manufacturer.

“100% of the mechanical parts of this prototype come from racing cars” says Thomas Chevaucher. You have a Formula E engine (250 kW) at the front, another one (350 kW) at the rear, the dampers also come from our single-seaters, the suspensions are designed by our race engineers and the steering comes from the WTCC World Championship. It’s even more straightforward than that of a Formula E! »

Sensitive souls abstain

The first few meters traveled allow you to immediately distinguish the difference between a standard electric car. The machine vibrates, all “mechanical” noises perspire in the passenger compartment. The brake pedal is so strong you think it’s not working. In fact, you have to press very hard, even though in the vast majority of cases the brakes are useless. With a power of 600 kW in acceleration and regeneration, the engine brake is theoretically very powerful.

During our test, we were asked to test two modes. The first, R2, does not release full power from start-up and offers relative operational flexibility. But the slightest pressure on the accelerator translates into a leap forward. Progressivity is a matter of dosage, but the maximum torque at the start generates great dynamism.

By being more generous with the right pedal, we see that power is high and available over time. Upon reaching the end of the track, we are asked to turn around and line up with the center marker. Let’s not take off, but not far

Stopped car, we activate the R1 mode by turning a small dial, we activate the “launch control” by means of a left paddle. You have to hold it towards you, fully accelerate and then release.

0 to 100 km/h in 2 seconds

And then… For those who know the beginning of Space Mountain, at Disneyland, tell yourself that next door is a joke. DS indicates that your prototype is able to pass from 0 to 100 km/h in two seconds… From a physical point of view, especially in the first 100 meters, it is quite difficult. The traction force acts on the neck and chest. And it lasts… Beyond a certain speed, the front tends to weave. We will be asked to avoid steering wheel movements that are too sudden to correct the trajectory. Time to take our minds and the speedometer already reads over 160 km/h… Above, throttle power remains high, but becomes more “usual”.

The noise and racing atmosphere add to the sensations, and while a high-end radio (Focal) is present, it’s absolutely useless. We will remain “full steam”, up to about 220 km/h, when Alex will make a sign to lift his foot to go back to the other side. during the 4º in operation, we discovered the pallet that allows to amplify the force of the engine brake thanks to the regeneration. Launched at around 130 km/h, we tested the device. The longer you keep the paddle pulled, the more powerful the braking. This exceptional engine brake, which also allows you to recharge the battery, is a serious line of work to promote autonomy and save physical brakes. And this is also one of the reasons for this prototype.

From the track to the road?

After such a demonstration, the question is whether such a concept could one day give rise to a high-performance production car.

It’s quite possible, Carlos Tavares told us the day before, as part of the Monaco E-Prix. DS Automobiles is the only premium French brand, it was born in 2014 and it took us thirty years to build it. As time goes by, we will continue to push the brand upwards, with more and more sophistication and art de vivre. So wouldn’t it be shocking to see one day a vehicle of this type comes to our rangeespecially since electrification makes it completely acceptable from an environmental point of view. There remains the question of weight and sound, which are two topics we are actively working on. The weight of the batteries will take about fifteen years to reduce, but noise is a subject for which I have been presented with some very interesting things. »

According to Thomas Chevaucher, if the DS E-TENSE Performance prototype will have a normal lifespan as a concept car, and in particular with regard to the styling elements that we will find in upcoming production models, its use will be much longer from a technical point of view. “We are only at the beginning of our development plan, and there is enormous potential”, concludes the engineer. It is a kind of tool that we can work on for several years. »

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Carlos Tavares drove it on the Monaco circuit

The day before our test, the president of Stellantis completed a few laps of the circuit aboard this prototype, on the sidelines of the Monaco E-Prix, 6º round of the Formula E world championship. A moment he particularly enjoyed. “The track is special, with slow and fast sections, but above all tracks that surround it”, said the captain of the industry. It’s exciting, especially as the car is breathtaking both on acceleration and on restarts, coming out of corners.. The ascent of Sainte Dévote, which leads to a “left” (a turn in… Editor’s note) and which closes before continuing into a tight “right”, is a special moment. We’re well supported, with a decreasing speed, we’re a little on the brakes… It’s a very selective place. It was far off limits, but it was a moment of intense pleasure, as was the exit from the tunnel and the braking that followed. »

a submerged battery

Designed by Stellantis and Saft (a subsidiary of Total Energies), the prototype battery has a capacity of just 25 kWh. “The idea is to work on regeneration to increase autonomy and limit weight”, says Thomas Chevaucher. The cells used here are immersed in a dielectric fluid. They heat up less than a conventional battery, and can discharge and recharge up to six times faster when the car is in motion. It will certainly take a few years for this technology to reach the market, but it represents a very interesting line of work. Our goal with this prototype is to get below 10 kWh/100 km in combined consumption. »

which indicates that this battery would offer 250 km of autonomy, but above all it would recharge in less than 10 minutes on a 350 kW terminal, whose power it also accepts.

Please note that the battery still weighs 250 kg with a structure that is an integral part of the frame, from which it can be detached by sliding down.

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