Electric cars are offering car designers a whole new palette to paint upon, as they don’t require the same access to air that combustion engines do. In a recent comparison test by Car & Driver, the Tesla Model S was proven to have the lowest drag coefficient, beating out four aerodynamic competitors.
Car & Driver was able to wrangle five vehicles with some of the best aerodynamics on the market, which included two of the usual suspects, the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf. Another obvious contender was the Chevy Volt, though the new Mercedes CLA “Baby Benz” entered the race as a bit of a dark horse. Then there’s the literal elephant in the room, the biggest and heaviest car there by a wide margin, the Tesla Model S.
Amazingly, the Model S had the lowest front drag area of the whole group, which is a combination of the drag coefficient and frontal area exposed to aerodynamic drag. More drag means more power to push through the wind at higher speeds, and having a low drag coefficient has become key in achieving outstanding levels of fuel economy. The egg-shaped Toyota Prius sets the bar for production cars with a 0.26 drag coefficient, but the Model S edged it out with a 0.24 rating. The Tesla matched the Toyota with 6.2 feet of drag area as well, a remarkable feat for such a large car. The next closest contender was the Chevy Volt, with 6.7 feet of drag area and a drag coefficient of 0.28.
How’d they do it? The biggest advantage the Tesla has over the competition is an air ride suspension that lowers it about 8/10th of an inch during highway speeds, reducing the drag area. by coming closer to the ground. The Model S also has a smooth underbelly, because it lacks an engine bay or exhaust system in a traditional sense. It still requires air cooling, but the Model S has active grille shutters that open and close in accordance with need. The front fascia was also designed to deflect air away from the wheel wells, a traditional source of drag on many cars.
Turns out electric cars like the Tesla can do just about everything better than conventional vehicles, including wind tunnel tests, and with aerodynamics being so key to efficiency these days, EVs are clearly the way to go if you want to build the slipperiest car on the road.