Sentient Speed: The Dawning of Supercars With a Conscience

The Porsche 918, the McLaren P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari are still all about superlatives — fastest, best handling, most exotic. But they also repurpose the latest technology to maximize the “dear lord” factor.

Excess is the soul of the supercar. More than private helicopter with an owner’s face plastered on the fuselage or a solid gold watch with a diamond-encrusted bezel, the supercar best exemplifies worldly overabundance: the price tag, the horsepower, the styling, the speed, and the sheer disdain for all associated with moderation. What’s more, none of them seem to give a damn about fuel economy or the spotted owl. Bugatti Veyron, Lamborghini Aventador, Koenigsegg Agera One:1, Aston Martin One 77, Hennessey Venom GT: all egregious violators of the tenet “less is more”.

But the thinking behind the new generation of supercars is different — and also the same. The Porsche 918, the McLaren P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari all buck the longstanding trend of pure consumption and showcase environmental technology while continuing their pursuit of absolute performance and stratospheric costs. It’s still all about superlatives — the fastest, best handling, most exotic. But they also repurpose the latest technology to maximize the “dear lord” factor. The next generation of supercars is redefining excess, not stamping it out.

All three cars utilize high-tech electric motors to add power to already potent engines. The P1 supplements its 727 hp and 521 lb-ft 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 with an electric motor that develops 177 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. Grand total? 904 hp and 713 lb-ft. The Porsche 918 has a total of 887 hp and 940 lb-ft of torque using a 4.6-liter V8 and a 157-hp electric motor for the rear wheels and a 125 hp electric motor for the front. The 950 hp, 661 lb-ft LaFerrari has both a 789 hp V12 and a 161 hp electric motor.

Hybrids, Perfected


It can be argued that each of these cars uses hybrid technology to simply appear environmental, with the real goal being making an already fast car faster. The P1 can use either the electric motor or the gas motor alone or a combination of the two; on electricity alone, it can reach speeds of up to 99 mph and has a 6.5 mile range, which means it can do more than just limp home when it runs out of gas completely. The 918 is a little bit different: it can either run in pure electric mode or combine the power of both engines in three different hybrid modes, depending on the desired degree of performance and fuel efficiency. In pure electric mode, it has an 18-mile range and a maximum speed of 93 mph. The LaFerrari has no pure electric mode, but rather operates the electric motor solely to supplement the gas engine for maximum power output.

For all three cars, the eco-mindful results are reduced emissions and improved fuel economy compared to gas-only use. Each supercar has the ability to charge its battery either via plug-in charging or from the extraneous torque of the gas engine when it isn’t being utilized. The LaFerrari and the 918 can also charge the battery via regenerative braking. The side benefit? When both electric and gas engines combine, acceleration and torque are virtually instantaneous while the roar of the powerful petrol engine can still be heard by the worshiping faithful.

Though no one will accuse any of these high-performers of being truly economical or environmental (there’s no attorney in the world talented enough to make that case), their manufacturers are certainly justifying the existence of the supercar in the 21st century using environmental technology. The modern supercar is launching a two-pronged attack on the status quo: satisfying our ever-increasing needs for speed and exotic design while masterfully putting hybrid technology to work inside vehicles that simply don’t need it.

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