Exclusive First Test: The Drako GTE Electric Car Is a Driving Enthusiast’s Dream
Yes, the limited-edition EV costs $1.25 million. But so much about the Drako GTE makes so much sense.
SANTA BARBARA, California—Successful Silicon Valley software entrepreneurs, lifelong automotive enthusiasts, and electric-car startups Dean Drako and Shiv Sikand do not want to be Elon Musk. At least not when it comes to their own EV creation, the Drako Motors GTE.
"Tesla controls the EV narrative today, and its narrative is different than ours," Sikand says. "It only sells one kind of car, a little commuter car; it can be driven cross-country with superchargers and range, but at the end of the day it's a commuter car. That's one narrative. The narrative we're interested in is, [we're building] a better-driving car."
Drako GTE: The Brief History
You'll recall the Drako GTE burst into collective car-guy consciousness during Monterey Car Week 2019, making its first public appearance during the annual The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering event that precedes the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. It received an overwhelmingly positive reception from attendees and media, with its Fisker Karma roots reworked stylistically to a delicious degree by ex-Pininfarina design director Lowie Vermeersch. San Jose, California-based Drako Motors reworked the rest of the car into something unrecognizable, even though you can't see it from the outside: The GTE is powered by an innovative battery, with four electric motors (one driving each wheel), and proprietary Drako DriveOS software promising a driving experience few people have ever experienced.
As we noted almost 10 months ago when Automobile became the first media outlet to ride along in the 1,200-horsepower GTE development mule—the same car that appeared at The Quail and the same car we're driving today—Drako, Sikand, and their other partner, Finnish engineer and professor Sami Ruotsalainen, explained that the package yields "unprecedented yaw control, handling precision, and vehicle stability." We agreed, too, after taking some laps around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca—except we were limited to riding in the passenger seat as Automobile contributor and accomplished pro racer Andy Pilgrim drove the car. (By coincidence and independent of his association with this publication, Drako Motors hired Pilgrim to do some of the GTE's development-driving and setup work.)
Drako GTE: Dollars and Sense
You can learn and feel a lot about a car's performance by riding shotgun, but you need to drive it yourself to understand it. And in the Drako GTE's case, understanding it is essential, given its limited run of 25 examples and its staggering $1.25-million price.
"Wait, what?" you say. "More than a million? But I can buy a Tesla or a brand-new Porsche Taycan or a quite promising Polestar 2 for about a 10th or less of that price if I want to help save the planet by driving a performance-oriented electric car."
This is where understanding a broader context really matters, if you can keep an open mind and if you can process the Drako GTE as more than just another eccentric millionaire's (or in this case, millionaires') narcissistic, vaporware flight of fancy. It is ambitious, and Drako's business model combined with the cost of independently developing such a vehicle makes the car a non-starter as a value proposition for ordinary-minded customers. But in the big picture, it was never intended to be about monetary transactional value.
Put aside, even, the automotive exclusivity a Drako GTE buyer will enjoy within his or her gated community, where comparing offshore-bank statements and investment portfolios isn't always enough to win the latest round of rich-guy one-upmanship. The Drako GTE and the people behind it are not about saving the planet or providing the longest electric-car range possible so you can drive coast-to-coast with zero anxiety. They are car and driving lovers, not EV dweebs, who have used their business success to own and drive a long line of top-level automobiles. As if to make the point, Sikand arrived for this test in his Ferrari 550 Maranello, and Drako owns a Ferrari 288 GTO and other more conventional supercars. They are, by their own account, consumed with advancing the automobile as a performance-driver's tool by way of what is perhaps potentially the single biggest technological shift, in terms of vehicle dynamics, since Karl Benz created the first gasoline-powered "production" car in 1885.
"If we could use nuclear power, we would," says Sikand, who turns 53 this month and who has taken on the role of Drako Motors front man. "Battery-electric power is just what is available to us today [to make a car work like this]."
In other words, the GTE isn't an EV for the usual reasons why companies build them and people buy them. If the Drako team could power it by sorcery and magic, it would do so just as soon as it would rely on harnessing electricity to get the job done.
Drako GTE: A Real Driver's Car
The Drako GTE's magic—and it does have magic—is obvious the moment we steer it into a corner for the first time during our exclusive, first-ever media test drive. Long, low, and wide, the GTE's form speaks of its dynamic potential, even before you learn of its 1,200-horsepower output or four-motor drive system
Though you almost need an engineering degree to properly understand how it all works, you only need your hands, feet, and ass to know from behind the wheel that this Drako is something special. Despite its size and mass—5,300 pounds(!)—the GTE slithers through corners, pointing eagerly toward apexes before digging in and pushing off with its outer wheels, maximizing acceleration even while continuing to rotate.
With Sikand egging us on, we roll into turns we'd normally brake for, letting the system apply the negative torque necessary to negotiate the radius, and we are hugely impressed. Sikand, now practically giggling because he senses we see this project is not entirely bat-shit insane and inane, insists repeatedly there's nothing to worry about. We take him at his word and accelerate earlier at corner exits. And earlier. And then almost before we've even reached our apex, right up until the feedback coming to the senses can no longer quell the self-preservation instinct that says pushing the accelerator a split-second sooner will result in disaster.
Except, we realize quickly, we are still nowhere near the car's limits; we've simply reached our personal confidence threshold. An hour behind the wheel of the Drako GTE electric car makes one thing clear: Driving a four-motor car properly requires re-learning some skills and acquiring new ones. No, not because you have to work around the car, but because it gives you a whole new toolset, if not a whole new perspective on automotive physics.
This is a different kind of driving in terms of the car's feedback and its limits, even more so in the context of its size and weight. The GTE feels like it pivots on its center axis, as if it rotates around a post that never changes position. We keep waiting for the nose or the rear to give up or snap suddenly, as happens with many cars, but it never comes. The Drako is of course not immune to those laws of physics, but it obeys them in a different way than most everything else.
When one or more tire does exceed its maximum-grip value, the others (and the motors driving them) recover the ship quickly. This doesn't mean the GTE feels like it drives itself; it just means you have to spend time learning its limits and how it will respond to your inputs and demands. At that point, we can plainly see, you'll be able to figure out how to exploit all of it to the benefit of your driving enjoyment. Mentally, it's not unlike getting out of a typical car that relies on mechanical grip to get around corners, and then jumping straight into a car with an abundance of aerodynamic downforce: You have to believe the technology truly will keep the car stuck to the road at your newly and significantly heightened speeds. It takes a while for your brain to get there, but there's a big payoff when it does.
The amount of steering angle required to conquer curves is another of the car's significantly notable characteristics. The GTE and its true torque-vectoring properties put an end to busy, overly quick hands, as the chassis simply bends its way into, through, and out of corners with a reassuring, perplexed shoulder shrug as if to say, "You know, making a car turn and hold the road at high speed really isn't particularly difficult, what's the big deal?" We quickly start to dream of a drive system and software like this in a much smaller, true sports car.
Drako GTE: More About How It Works
Four motors, one controlling each wheel through individual 5.56:1 reduction gearboxes, make the Drako GTE's magic possible—but the software controlling them casts the real spell. DriveOS, Drako's name for its vehicle-management system, breaks the mold of conventional automotive-software platforms by being monolithic.
A typical car is controlled by a network of distributed systems, each responsible for its own slice of the vehicle's function—the transmission, the engine, the body (locks, windows, etc. )—and each with its own network of computers, sensors, and controllers. But with DriveOS, everything from the infotainment to the drivetrain runs on one system, and it's all controlled through a low-latency computer. This has big benefits for security, especially as we integrate our digital lives ever deeper into our real-world lives, but also for physical control, with a potential response time measured in the hundreds of nanoseconds rather than in milliseconds—an improvement of five times or more compared to other cars. And though not all of the Drako GTE's parts are able to take advantage of the low latency, the torque-vectoring control system does.
Thankfully, it doesn't take a computer engineer to understand the advantages to a vehicle's dynamics when you no longer rely on a single power source being split four ways (as in a combustion-powered all-wheel-drive car, for example), and you instead have a supply of individual power directly to each wheel. Instead of a trio of differentials front, center, and rear diverting and splitting power, or some combination of real and "virtual" brake-based differentials, there's simply a direct, gear-reduced connection between each motor and its wheel.
In addition to being considerably simpler from a mechanical perspective, it's also much, much quicker to respond. Not only is there less inertia in the Drako GTE's notably compact gearboxes in comparison to a traditional transmission and all-wheel-drive system, but because the motors are electric, and because there are four of them, the GTE can do something no car with fewer than four motors can do, whether it is combustion- or electrically-powered: apply negative torque individually to any single wheel.
Drako GTE: The Torque-Vectoring Formula
What about brake-based torque vectoring you say—isn't that negative torque applied on a single wheel? It is, but only in the sense that the brake can restrain a tire's forward rotation. With direct-drive control, however, any individual wheel can actually be spun backward against the rotation of the others. While such uses are limited to very low-grip scenarios or the extremes of "stability-control" management—and the GTE has been tested at these extremes, demonstrating phenomenal control on a frozen lake in Finland)—the ability to control the positive or negative torque sent to each wheel directly at the motor also greatly improves the speed at which each wheel can react.
Put another way, the time needed to pressurize (or depressurize) a hydraulic system like those found in conventional cars—and to wait for a brake caliper to actuate and initiate (and then cease) its torque-vectoring function—is eliminated. Additionally, with the DriveOS computer system calculating and communicating each wheel's torque 1,000 times each second based on slip, yaw, steering angle, throttle and brake application, and other factors, there's a seamlessness to the GTE's dynamics that's completely transparent to the driver. This is the case even as it gives this rocket-quick super-EV its otherworldly feel.
In fact, the torque vectoring system is so seamless, there's only one real drive mode, Sikand says, though the center-console manettino switches allow you to play around a bit with the program. Really, though, there is no need to tell the system you're driving in a relaxed manner and want relaxed responses; it already noticed. Likewise, there is no need for a button combo to get frisky, as the GTE is ready and waiting for you to simply go at all times.
The computer system's speed and control of four individual motors are clear stars, but so, too, is what we've seen of the vehicle-dynamics computations that Drako Motors, with Pilgrim's help, has created from the wealth of data and decision-making built into the car. It all makes logical sense and takes some of the mind-bending mystery out of it when you sort through all of it on paper, but to quote Arthur C. Clarke's third law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Drako GTE: About the Battery, Etc.
Usually by this point in an electric-car drive report, you'd have been abused with thrilling statistics about the car's range, battery-pack size, and perhaps even miles per kilowatt-hour. If you still haven't soaked in the bigger brushstrokes, those stats are mostly beside the point with the Drako GTE. For the record, though, its impressive 90-kWh battery pack provides enough range to do a typical 15-20-minute on-the-limit track session while remaining within its sweet-spot charge window of 30-90 percent. And with 150-kW fast charging, it can be back at the top of that window in as little as 20 minutes, which is plenty quick for any track day or high-performance drivers' school. The battery pack itself is pretty standard in terms of cell type and chemistry, but Drako Motors engineered a unique method for liquid cooling its multi-part battery pack to help ensure industry-leading performance and safety while remaining compact.
Drako GTE: A Sun-Sized Flare of Optimism
While the production Drako GTE remains in final development, and though there are a few (mostly cosmetic) rough edges found on the GTE development mule, this is a special car. Not just because of its gorgeous Vermeersch-penned bodywork, or because of its monster power output, or even because of its phenomenal four-motor dynamics. No, it's because this is the first electric car we've driven that really feels entirely like a new kind of vehicle. The Tesla Model S, the Porsche Taycan, the Polestar 2—they're all great in their own ways, but they are all plainly the same sort of thing we've known for the last century, just powered by electricity rather than gasoline.
In fact, the Drako GTE is so fundamentally different, it might be the first truly new car of any kind we've ever driven, period. So, for the moment forget about the price, about the fact its scarcity means you'll probably never see one driving on the road, about the technical ins and out, and about whether or not there are 25 wealthy early adopters who get it enough to handover such an astronomical amount of cash. Drako Motors is coy when asked how many confirmed orders and deposits it has locked down, but Sikand says he is confident the first car will be delivered to an actual person in Q1 of 2021, and that the GTE will sell out.
Regardless of whether all or some or none of that happens, and of whatever the future holds for the company, only one thing really matters. The Drako GTE project and its engineering approach gives the most important of gifts to automotive and driving enthusiasts who fear a coming, soulless, all-electric world of commodity cars: hope. You most definitely don't need an advanced engineering degree to understand that.
Drako vs. Other EVs, in a Nutshell
- Drako: The GTE needs batteries because it needs four electric motors. If it could run on nuclear fusion, it would.
- Others: Other EVs need batteries focused on range and efficiency as much as output because they're (mostly) appliances first, fun cars second.
- Drako: Four wheels, four motors. Complete control at a level you've never experienced.
- Others: Well, you see, it's too expensive to build a four-motor electric car when you can do everything with just one or two.
- Drako: To change the way you think about driving dynamics and what's possible in a performance car, let alone in an electric car.
- Others: To change the way you commute to reduce emissions and human harm to the environment, while maybe having a bit of fun.
|2020 Drako GTE Specifications|
|ON SALE||Now; deliveries planned to begin in 2021|
|POWERTRAIN||Four permanent-magnet hybrid synchronous motors (225 kW each), 1,200 horsepower combined|
|TRANSMISSION||Four direct-drive gearboxes, 5.56:1 reduction ratio|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, four-motor, AWD coupe|
|RANGE||250 miles (est)|
|L x W x H||201.0 x 81.3 x 51.4 in|
|WEIGHT||5,300 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||2.9 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||206 mph (est)|