The nose of the white, bone-stock Tesla Model 3 Performance arrives at the traffic-cone gate at 40 miles per hour. My foot slams the wide pedal relentlessly to the floor. The seatbelt grabs at my chest while the ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) leaps into action, furiously pumping the pistons within the red brake calipers in an effort to prevent skidding.
Vibrations from the opening and closing of the system’s valves travel through the brake pedal and steering wheel and the system makes a thrumming sound as the speedometer plunges toward zero. The deceleration is violent as I twist the wheel to simulate an emergency avoidance lane-changing maneuver on the wet pavement.
As the final bit of forward motion is eliminated and my body plops back into the seat, I’m amazed at just how well the car handled the experiment. The stopping distance was much shorter than I’d expected and the Model 3 Performance stayed completely steerable the entire time, allowing me to avoid the wall of cones set up just after the gate. I’m at the Michelin Laurens Proving Grounds as a guest of Brembo, the biggest name in performance brakes, to experience its new Sensify system. This part of the experience was the appetizer to the main course.
Sensify – a portmanteau of “sense” and “simplify'' – is billed as a four-wheel independent braking system that adds a “digital brain and sensors” to its traditional braking components. This allows each wheel to be controlled independently and, with the help of predictive software and artificial intelligence (AI), keeps them from locking up. The company says Sensify offers a number of advantages over traditional systems, including customizable pedal response, increased stability and control, improved regenerative braking, and reduced emissions.
To demonstrate the improvements under real-world conditions, the Brembo team first provided seat time in an unadulterated Tesla Model 3 Performance and had me perform emergency braking under a variety of situations and speeds: straight line braking on both wet and dry pavement at up to 75 mph; corner braking in the wet and dry at up to 70 mph; braking with obstacle avoidance in the wet and dry at up to 50 mph. The car managed every scenario very well.
After experiencing all the different braking scenarios, I was invited to slide behind the wheel of a different Tesla Model 3 Performance. This one was wearing the same Michelin Pilot Sport All Season tires as the original car, but it had the Brembo Sensify system installed.
The front wheels were both adorned with Brembo-branded red calipers as one might typically see. However, somewhere under the hood, each wheel has its own hydraulic actuator taking commands from the “brake control unit”, which allow them to be controlled independently. Typically, these would share the same hydraulic lines and work in unison.
On the rear of the car, Brembo had installed a set of electromechanical brakes. Though these are not necessary for the Sensify system, they are touted as being superior to hydraulic brakes in many applications and we should expect to see them appear in commercial products soon. Certainly, we can imagine they would be easier to install in a car during its manufacture, as well as integrate into an initial design – it’s easier to route wires and brake lines.
Back on the track in the Sensify car, I edge the speed up to forty mph as I approach the first braking point: deceleration while cornering on dry pavement. As I reach the cones my foot attacks the brake pedal, mashing it to the floor as quickly as possible and holding it down. The car slams to a stop and I try to measure the performance against what I’d previously experienced.
The car, again, stayed stable and completely controllable, but it was difficult to tell whether it had actually stopped in a shorter distance. A little mystified, I started making my way to the next braking station: a straight line braking situation performed on dry pavement followed by a straight line braking in the wet. Getting the speed up to 70 mph, my foot again plunges floorward and the car, tracking totally straight, speeds to a complete halt.
Again, the stopping distance doesn’t seem particularly shorter, but a huge difference begins to dawn on me: the drama is gone. Remember that first braking experience with the shuddering vibrations and the sound of the ABS system’s valves opening and closing? That isn’t happening with the Sensify car.
It really all comes together for me on one of the final stop scenarios: braking with obstacle avoidance in the wet. I approach the mark at forty mph and slam on the brakes. As I lurch forward, the car is slowing quickly, but not enough to avoid the wall of orange cones lined up in my lane. I cut the wheel to the right and then left. The front end sneaks around the obstacle and I find myself stopped with zero injured cones.
Gallery: Brembo Sensify Demonstration Event
Again, the brakes performed brilliantly, but I also noticed that during the crucial decelerating moment that the absence of the noise and vibration experienced with ABS lightened the sensory load my brain had to process, allowing me to more fully concentrate and perform the avoidance maneuver.
While that may seem like a small improvement, it really is a leap forward. In a panic stop, there’s likely to be a number of things happening inside and outside the vehicle that can lead to sensory overload, limiting the ability to react properly. Take away some of those sensory inputs and there’s a greater chance a person will better handle an emergency situation.
Though it’s billed as powertrain agnostic – it can be used in combustion cars in addition to electric vehicles – Brembo does see Sensify as an EV-friendly technology, and its system includes things like its Enesys Spring, which keeps pads from contacting the rotor, reducing friction and increasing range.
Brembo says Sensify is now ready for original equipment manufacturers to put into vehicles. Saying it is in talks with automakers, it predicts Sensify will be in some vehicles in 2024. While it wouldn’t say which automaker would be the first, the fact that it used Tesla sedans for the demonstration may not have been a coincidence.