McLaren P1: The Fastest Road Car Comes With a Plug
The electrification of the automobile is a process that will take several decades. It may never be complete, but there are important steps. The McLaren P1 is assuredly one of those steps.
Its name stands for "position one". From McLaren, a manufacturer with a long history of championship-winning race cars, that means a lot. Position One with a plug! It's hugely different however from any other plug-in the world has seen. Range on battery power alone is a very modest six miles. No first position here. The P1 can accelerate from 0 to 300 kph (186 mph) in less than 17 seconds and its top speed is electronically limited at a cool 217 miles per hour. (God knows how fast it would be with the limiter removed.) Its real superiority is in the way it delivers its explosive performance. Position one means being the fastest on a track, and the electric power helps this McLaren achieve that level of performance.
With electric mode so limited, its the hybrid mode that is used most of the time. Hybrid drivers know how these cars work. The engine stops when they take their right foot off the accelerator, and slowing down sends energy to the battery. The McLaren P1 doesn't work like this. It doesn't have any regen at all. Braking power comes from conventional friction brakes, if you may call carbon ceramic brakes conventional. EV fans will argue that regenerative braking would bring extra stopping power, but the McLaren doesn't need any help here. The car will stop at close to 2g, or a value unheard of on a car built for the street. Besides, McLaren says that regenerative braking spoils the braking experience. It doesn't feel natural, and there might be hiccups when associating it with the normal braking system. In a car built for super high performance like this one, it's essential that braking feel and modulation remain constant whatever the circumstances.
So how about shutting off the ICE when driving at low speeds? There again, the McLaren is unlike any other hybrid. Its gas engine never shuts off. It's nice in a Prius to see the little ICE turning itself on and off in city driving. It's so smooth. But the McLaren has a 737 horsepower twin-turbocharged V8 and it is NOT smooth. It's so brutal, in fact, that its coming to life could shock the driver at times. To make the car fully predictable, this V8 runs at all times.
Some people would worry about the fuel consumption then, but on a car that costs more than a million, fuel economy is not on the priority list. But what's the use of the electric motor then? It has three goals. The first one is smooth gear changes. Even with a very fast dual clutch transmission, changing gears is always abrupt and that's where an electric motor is helpful, thanks to its ability to immediately deliver torque. The electric power then can add its power to the ICE, and the McLaren offers that with a Boost button on its steering wheel. Hybrid mode means both engine and motor power the car, but at full throttle, pressing the Boost button will add some extra power from the motor.
Finally, the McLaren has an electric mode, and it might be fun to drive silently in a car like this, knowing that at one touch of a button, hybrid mode will turn it into the fastest car in town. Also quite surprisingly, when in E-mode, the car will stay in that mode even when the battery is discharged. The engine will start automatically to recharge it, but it stops when the charge is complete, and the car returns to silent mode. That's not very green—an available external charger would be better—but it's certainly amazing.
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