WE TEND TO LOOK AT THE SUM OF all parts when we give verdicts on cars. The unsung heroes however ate the parts that make the whole, and for technological giant ZF, it is increasingly becoming a matter of pride to showcase their advancements that make car companies look good. Little did I know that ZF made these for Porsche. Just a week later, I was presented with the same car, the only difference being the change in location from Lavasa to the Pachfurth driving camp in Austria. There is ZF’s presence in most things automotive but what if it all came together as a single product? Say hello to what used to be a Volkswagen Touran. It’s now called the Zero Vision vehicle and besides the design and chassis, you will find little resemblance between the two. For starters, it has automated driving that works at speeds under 130kmph but a few engineers anonymously mentioned that it works at speeds as high as 200kmph. A few rough edges need to be polished as it won’t handle sharp turns and requites human intervention there but the level to which it takes autonomous driving is simply mind-blowing. The car won’t let you drive in the opposite direction and if you ignore the warning signals, it will completely take control and brake.
When autonomous driving is activated and it senses an obstacle, the four-wheeled steering will help it crab crawl away from the obstacle. Oh yes! it can turn all four wheels in the same direction at the same time autonomously. Speaking of the rear axle, it’s called mSTARS for modular semi-trailing arm rear suspension and comes with an integrated electric drive system driving the rear wheels. The prototype makes 150kW of power, which is about 201bhp. And since it’s electric, acceleration is quick off the line. “The solution is suitable for hybrid, fuel-cell and battery-powered vehicles, as well as in combination with conventional all-wheel modules or our AKC active rear axle steering,” said Dr Holger Klein, head of ZF’s Car Chassis Technology Division. ZF has been making rear steering axles for a while with the 911, the Panamera and also has a steeper steering angle in the F150 rear-steer prototype but the Zero emissions vehicle takes this to the next level with the integration of the powertrain and autonomous driving.
Radars, cameras, brakes, active body control, airbags, chassis components, seat belt tensioners, steering systems, electronic components, it’s practically a whole new car by ZF. The company invested two billion euros in research and development in 2016 and the investment shows in the advances it has made to develop so many features that will see the light of day in production cars sometime soon. Many exhibits already implemented give us an idea of how real all the future tech is.
Back to the Panamera, it has ZF’s active kinematics control, the reason why the massive 5-metre-plus Porsche Panamera e-hybrid handles like a dream. The rear axle, like in the Porsche 911 can steer and that makes the Panamera a lot more agile than before. In tight spots at low speeds, the turning radius reduces as the rear wheels turn ever so slightly in the opposite direction to the front wheels, making it a lot more manoeuvrable. On the slalom course ZF had planned for us, the reduced steering input while navigating through the cones showcased the car’s low-speed agility.
At high speeds, they turn in the same direction virtually increasing the wheelbase and increasing stability. While we didn’t experience that in Austria, just weeks ago, I drove the Panamera Turbo on our favourite winding road – Lavasa, and the car simply blew my mind. It should be a four-door sedan and act like it, but it’s a very comfortable sportscar. Coming to the comfort, the ZF components that help are many. For starters, it’s the new eight-speed PDK gearbox ZF makes exclusively for Porsche. It’s quicker than you can think yet the shifts don’t have the unnecessary violence other cars that go this fast have. There is smoothness with every shift that keeps you in rhythm and you are always in the right gear. Adding to the smoothness is the ride that also turns out to be ZF components. The shock absorber, continuous damping control and active roll stabilisation ensure the Panamera always stays in control. ZF also supplies chassis components, electronic components, airbags, seatbelt safety systems and crash sensors.
Another major ZF component in the Panamera that makes it drive better is the steering. Usually cars this size ate engineered to understeer, requiring a lot more input in steering when you tackle a winding road and the accuracy is almost always found lacking. The flipside is more weight added to the steering to feel like a driver’s car. With the Panamera, the balance is just right. It isn’t unnecessarily heavy and very precise, and because the rear axles steer too, the driving experience is taken to a whole new level. I could count at least 12 major components/ systems on the Panamera and of these the gearbox, suspension and steering are parts one can actively experience. Porsche is at the centre of the VW group’s engineering prowess and all new technologies on the chassis, suspension, electronics and gearbox front will be implemented on new Porsches. That ZF seems to be a chosen partner for one of the finest car brands in the world speaks of the German supplier’s advancements in the automotive field.