Believe the HYPE

Ryan Borroff
Hybrid cars just got sexy. Ryan Borroff takes a look at the new crop of hypercars using electric motors to reach speeds of over 200mph.

Unless you’re up to date with your exotic motors, it may have escaped your notice that we have just entered a brave new world of the supercar. But it’s not golden: it’s green.

At the Geneva Motor Show last month – long established as the show for supercar introductions – three of the world’s most accomplished sportscar manufacturers declared their intent to change the supercar landscape forever. Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche each introduced a hybrid hypercar – a type of sportscar so advanced that the name “super” is no longer enough. Though each is quite different in how its hybrid technology is applied, the message is clear: green cars just got sexy.

Hybrids haven’t been exciting before now, but Ferrari’s LaFerrari, Porsche’s 918 Spyder and McLaren’s P1 are as far removed from a conventional hybrid as you can get. Such is the level of technology, they are not just futuristic – they’re virtually space age.

Take the McLaren P1. Who would have thought that the modern day successor to the iconic McLaren F1 – the fastest production road car ever made – would be a hybrid? With a carbon fibre exterior and predominantly carbon fibre interior the P1 is constructed like an F1 car. It can reach 62mph from a standstill in less than three seconds, and is capable of accelerating from 0-125mph in less than seven seconds, calling upon all of the electric motor’s power to augment that of the petrol engine. The P1 hybrid accelerates a staggering 23 per cent faster than its legendary McLaren F1 forebear (though its top speed of 217mph is electronically limited, presumably to preserve the legacy of the 240mph F1).

Thanks to its plug-in hybrid system, it’s CO2 emissions of 200g/km drop to zero when in electric-only mode. So if you did decide to commute in to work, as long as you didn’t go over 30mph, which should be no problem in London traffic, then you should manage the electric-only range of ten miles or so, pollution free. If the battery does run out of juice the engine will automatically start to maintain drive and charge the battery. This adds the fascinating prospect of being able to escape London silently and emission free before (ahem) hoofing it up the M11 and onwards to the country pile before plugging it in at home to recharge the battery.

The P1 is legal for road and track use but as only 375 of them will be built – prices starting at £866,000 – don’t expect to see many of them on the road.

At Geneva Ferrari announced that a similarly exclusive number of hybrid hypercars would be built at Maranello. Just 499 examples of the hybrid LaFerrari – a successor to the legendary Enzo – will be made. Unlike the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder, the LaFerrari doesn’t have a fully electric mode. But what it does have is a hybrid system that makes use of two motors. One provides ancillary power, the other produces an extra 161bhp of power to the rear wheels, already serviced exceptionally well by the 789bhp supplied by the mid-mounted 6.3-litre V12 engine. Thus a total of 950bhp is enough to power this Italian eco stallion from 0-62mph in less than three seconds and on to a top speed north of 220mph. Progress is further enhanced by active aerodynamics. Diffusers deploy at the front and rear and an active rear spoiler increases downforce at the back. The LaFerrari’s chassis is hand-build from four different types of carbon-fibre using the same methods as a Formula 1 car, so the seats and battery compartment are integrated into the chassis to improve rigidity and reduce weight. The car weighs a paltry 1,300kgs (total dry weight) so performance will be insane. And the Italians may yet win out in the overall speed stakes – this is car that uses its hybrid system like a turbo charger rather than as a method of reducing CO2 emissions – so it’s the least green here. Ferrari is yet to announce pricing.

In the German corner, Porsche’s 918 Spyder combines a V8 engine with two electric motors, one providing 114bhp to the front wheels and one providing 127bhp to the rear wheels; all together producing a total output of 784hp. Porsche claims its 918 Spyder will accelerate from 0-62mph in less than three seconds and hit a top speed of 201mph. This may mean the Porsche lacks the top speed of its rivals, but it is the champion in the eco stakes. It claims fuel consumption in the region of 94mpg and says its hybrid should be able to run in purely electric mode at speeds of up to 93mph for up to 15 miles. Emissions figures are similarly impressive with a tiny 70g/km of CO2.

Like the McLaren and Ferrari hybrids, the 918 Spyder is built from carbon fibre. The standard car will cost £682,000, though a lighter weight version with a special Weissach package makes use of some even lighter components, removes the stereo and air conditioning and knocks off 35kgs. It will also remove a further £58,000 from your wallet.

So how green are these hypercars? That depends on your perspective. Compared to a traditional supercar, the answer is very. Compared to a Smart car: not very. But one thing is certain: these technologies will filter down to the design of more modest cars in the years to come. At the very least, these hybrid hypercars will have been test beds for the cars of the future, meaning their legacy could be greener than you imagine.