Now that the human race has finally woken up to the fact that we’re spoiling our planet and the future of our children by stubbornly relying on fossil fuels to propel our “personal transport systems,” the subject of alternative power sources has arrived high on the agenda. Hydrogen, compressed air, bio-diesel and, of course, pure electric power have all been tried with greater or lesser success — and, in all likelihood, it will be the latter that comes through as the cleanest, most efficient, most economical and most practical way of running the cars of the future.
But the day when all-electric cars are able to carry a family on a full-scale road trip without the occupants living in fear of flat batteries before journey’s end is still a way off — although Elon Musk’s pioneering. California-based electric car brand Tesla is well advanced in solving the conundrum of “range.”
Right now, however, there’s really only one way to go if you want performance, economy, low emissions and unlimited distance capability — and that’s the hybrid route. Cars that combine “optimized” petrol or diesel engines with the assistance of one or more electric motors are moving on apace, especially in the luxury sector, where experience gained through work on systems such as Formula One’s KERS (kinetic energy recovery) is being put to practical use in some truly exciting vehicles.
Here, Navigator selects five of the best…
Launched at the 2013 Geneva motor show, McLaren’s P1 is limited to an edition of 375 cars. It features a 727-horsepower, 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine matched with a KERS electric motor, producing a further 176 horsepower — sufficient to provide a top speed of 239 mph, which, on customer versions, is electronically limited to 217 mph. The specially developed electric motor (which McLaren calls IPAS, Instant Power Assist System) helps the P1 to accelerate from standstill to 180 mph in less than 17 seconds and enables it to travel for up to 20 km at slow speeds in emission-free, full-electric mode. McLaren’s new flagship costs around $1.5 million.
Mercedes has chosen its uber-luxury S-class body style to launch its first plug-in hybrid, which starts at around $135,000 and combines a three-liter, V6 petrol engine with an 85-kilowatt electric motor to provide a combined power output of 442 horsepower and a top speed of 155 mph. The car is capable of traveling more than 100 miles on a gallon of fuel and up to 20 miles in emission-free, pure-electric mode. And, to entice potential buyers fearful of hybrid technology, Mercedes has introduced a six-year, 60,000-mile warranty on the system, which automatically selects the optimum combination of petrol/electric power to suit the prevailing driving conditions. There is even a so-called “haptic” accelerator pedal, which signals when the driver should lift off the gas — all for less than $150,000.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The arrival of the Outlander PHEV has provided Mitsubishi with an unprecedented sales boost worldwide. Said to be the most efficient hybrid SUV on the market, it was the first plug-in in its class and is capable of travelling up to 37 miles in all-electric mode — making it extremely practical for short, stop-start journeys. In long distance driving, it returns around 44 mpg, with a potential 130 mpg possible with thoughtful use of the hybrid system. Initial production problems have prevented the car’s arrival in the U.S, but sales are due to begin early 2015; the PHEV is priced around $45,000 and it’s worth the wait.
Ferrari La Ferrari
Ferrari’s take on the hybrid supercar is La Ferrari or, its official project number, the F150. It combines a 6.3-liter, V12 engine, producing almost 780 horsepower, with a KERS unit comprising two electric motors — one at the front and one at the rear — to provide an additional 160 horsepower for use in short bursts. The F150 is capable of hitting 60 mph from zero in less than three seconds and runs up to 220 mph, necessitating a set of aero brakes to back up the huge, conventional ones. Despite its ‘hybrid’ nature, however, La Ferrari is no planet-friendly supercar — it won’t run on electricity alone, and you’ll struggle to better 15 mpg. But that hasn’t prevented all 499 from being pre-sold at $1.7 million each.
Porsche 918 Spyder
Porsche’s beautifully built hybrid follows its already successful Cayenne SUV, which is now available in both petrol/electric and plug-in hybrid forms — the latter having an all-electric range of up to 22 miles. The 918 Spyder, however, is an out-and-out sports car combining a 608-horsepower, 4.6-liter, V8 engine with twin electric motors, which add the equivalent of a further 279 horsepower. A “plug-in” (meaning the batteries are fully recharged from the mains, but recover some energy from the petrol engine and brakes while driving) Spyder can be driven for up to 12 miles using electric power only. But more impressive is the huge amount of extra torque and grip, which the electric motors contribute to the powertrain, helping it to a top speed of 214 mph. It costs around $1 million.