The most important thing that readers should understand is that photographs and even videos tend to make the vehicle look smaller than it really is. The car’s odd shape and small frontal area are great for achieving maximum efficiency, but it also plays a trick on our brains. In person, the Aptera is really not that small. I’d say that the interior room and storage is comparable to a second-generation Mazda RX-7, but with a longer cargo area. I know most readers have probably never driven an RX-7 of any generation, so another way of putting this would be to say that it’s comparable to a mid-sized 2-seater car, but not cramped like a mid-engine vehicle. In other words, there’s comfortable room for two adults and plenty of groceries.
Plenty of Room in an Aptera
Aptera was very smart to divide its development cycle into four phases (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) because the Alpha car exposed one very serious problem: headroom. When I sat in it, I realized that an unusual amount of my view was taken up by the ceiling and the A-pillar. It was still enough of a view to drive (the door provides excellent visibility), but it just wasn’t comfortable and maybe a little unsafe for a person over about 5’6″ to really get a good view and space.
The staff was able to show me approximately how much higher the roof was going to be and how much the A-pillar is going to be moved out from center on the Beta vehicle, and I can see that it would make for a world of improvement, especially for taller people. Based on the changes they showed me, I think it’s going to be much better and provide a great view.
We also got to see the vehicle’s camping prototype tent. While it wasn’t a complete design, it did have plenty of room and could actually be quite usable for camping. When you add the availability of heat and AC, it would make for a very comfortable sleep.
The Alpha vehicles had an unusually good amount of fitment and finish for prototype vehicles. The interior looked very complete, and the controls were all normal. Some parts were borrowed from Tesla vehicles, as we’ve seen before in photos, which drives speculation that the company is going to partner with Tesla for some things. Other parts seemed to be original, but weren’t rough looking like many prototypes.
Riding In The Aptera
As you can see in the photos, Sol (the white one) had one of its fenders removed and couldn’t go on the street. Without a fender, it’s too easy to send a little pebble or other small piece of road debris flying, potentially breaking things or hurting people. Aptera is responsible, and doesn’t drive a car on public roads unless it has a fender installed. They took us, one at a time, around Aptera’s parking lot in Sol to show off the acceleration and braking capability. As an earlier prototype, it had less power than Luna, but still had plenty of power, even though only the front two wheels are powered (all-wheel drive will be available).
The “push you into the seat” and “frightens some passengers” power levels were definitely there. Like any EV, the torque was instant and strong. Regenerative braking was likewise powerful and capable. Combined with the brakes built into the Elaphe hub motor assemblies, the Aptera has plenty of stopping power.
All of this takeoff and stopping power had my younger daughter telling Daniel (the test driver), “I want to go fast!” and had my wife frightened to even go for a ride.
When we started riding in Luna, we got to see even more power, and because it had fenders installed, I took a ride on the road.
The first thing I noticed is that Apteras (especially Luna) aren’t quiet like most EVs. With the hub motors exposed and open to the air instead of buried inside the car and soundproofed, you can really hear them. I didn’t get a recording this time, but it sounded a lot like the Saleen GTX (a modified Tesla Model S), but with a much lower pitch at low speeds. As long as you avoid chirping the tires (Apteras are quite capable of doing that), a low, guttural, but high tech sound emits from the hub motors for all to hear.
I was told that the sound is a combination of the hub motor assembly itself as well as the tuning of the inverters that feed them. This means that the sound can be different based on how it’s optimized. As I told the test driver, I really hope that if Aptera does quiet the sound down on production vehicles, that it offers a version without soundproofing and/or allows you to change the settings to allow for more motor sound at low speeds. It also might be possible to customize sounds a bit through inverter tuning, which could make for a very interesting customization option.
For those worried that this could be an annoyance at freeway speeds, once the vehicle made it to cruising speeds, it really didn’t sound loud at all. Part of this could be because the hub motors are a ways off of the vehicle’s body, but the fact that a cruising vehicle uses less power than an accelerating one is probably the bigger factor. In other words, Apteras aren’t going to go around creating noise pollution the way that a loud ICE vehicle does, but can still give an interesting experience driving that isn’t sterile or lifeless (a common complaint ICE enthusiasts have about EVs).
All of this driving in parking lots is cool, but readers are probably wondering what the vehicle is like driving on actual roads. I could briefly describe it here, in this article, but it wouldn’t really do it justice to try to cram it in at the end like this. In Part 3, I’m going to cover what the vehicle is like on actual streets and also explain some of the drawbacks that come with riding in an experimental vehicle.
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Featured image and all images by Jennifer Sensiba.
This article is part of a series. You can find Part 1 here.