The automotive industry has passed through many phases since its early beginnings, and each phase allowed the collective development and improvement of certain features, which correlated with the work that had been done prior, resulted in all-round better and more advanced cars.
For instance, in the early 2000s, in Europe, everybody was talking about safety, after some Volvos and Renaults proved that strengthening beams, crumple zones and airbags placed at key points meant you didn’t necessarily have to shake hands with the Grim Reaper in any crash above 40 mph (64 km/h).
That could be called the ‘safety revolution’, which lead to all cars being safe enough to give their driver peace of mind, even if said car is a minute one that 20 years ago would have spelled certain death. Nowadays, it’s just as safe as any other, albeit with the disadvantage of mass (and inertia) when faced with an SUV-sized obstacle. So, now that safety is a prime concern for all manufacturers (because it has become a key selling point that buyers are looking for) they need something else to focus their power on, and so, the new buzzword is efficiency.
In this case, though, the strategies that can be applied are far more varied, and range from modernized interpretations of traditional approaches, like Mazda’s SKYACTIV, to creating complex multi-engined hybrid cars that run on both gasoline (or diesel) and electricity at the same time (or independently). Both power plants work in tandem to offer a smooth, seamless drive that is supposed to be more efficient than the conventional alternative.
There are many who still dispute the actual usefulness of hybrids, and they question their actual green credentials, citing many reasons, some more plausible than others. But we’re not here to do that, and in fact, we think there is a place in the industry for hybrids, and that’s thanks to the instant nature of electric motors’ power delivery characteristics – there’s no lag, no fuss; when you put your foot down, all-electric acceleration is smooth, seamless and usually very impressive.
That’s why even distinctly not sporty hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, still feel beefy in the mid-range, and during quick acceleration runs – it’s down to the electric torque that offers far better response than either a turbocharger or supercharger to each prod of the pedal. Toyota/Subaru, for instance, are well aware of this it seems, and it may have been one of the reasons why they have been holding back the launch of a hotter version of the GT86 / BRZ – a hybrid model that reports indicate is already in its advanced stages of development.
This matter of performance hybrids is tricky to currently get right, and it’s based more on personal opinion than actual experience, but that’s not to say the opinion itself is ill-informed or not balanced. Besides, we don’t have to wait for the hybrid Toyobaru twins to make their appearance to get an impression of what a purpose-built performance hybrid is like and whether or not it would work, because the first ones are already here.
Some are plausible concepts, while others are close to/already in production – a handful have already been driven, in fact, and so far we’ve been hearing a lot of praise and appreciation. We’ve made a list of all the competent/promising performance hybrids we could think of, and we encourage you to scroll through it and ask yourself if you think such models make sense, or they’re just a heavy way of complying with emissions regulations, whose performance characteristics (especially handling/braking) are hampered by the extra weight of those lithium ions.
By Andrei Nedelea
The BMW i8 is one of the first of a slightly more affordable kind of top performance hybrid – still generally expensive for 0-100 km/h (0-62mph) in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph), though. What saves it is that it’s purpose-built, mid-engined, all-wheel-driven, and has a carbon chassis and weird concept-style rear lights that surely must have some sort of aerodynamic relevance – they’re also quite nice to just look at too…
Second on our list is another BMW, the ActiveHybrid3, which has a combined power output of 335 hp, most of which comes from a force-fed six-cylinder motor. Moreover, it’s based on a regular 3-Series, which is by no means a bad thing, plus it hits sixty in five seconds, yet delivers 33 mpg on the highway – an impressive blend of talents. It sprints to 100 km/h in a respectable 4.8 seconds, and it too tops out at 250 km/h.
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
This is my personal pick from the current crop of performance (plug-in) hybrids. The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. It combines the power from a 316 V6 petrol engine with that of a 94 hp electric motor for 410 total horsepower and 0-62 mph acceleration in 5.5 seconds. This, along with a claimed European fuel consumption figure of 75.8 mpg US (3.1 l/100km) – with the electric motor, so its mpge- and top speed of 168 mph make this one of the fastest and most usable hybrids out there.
Infiniti Q50 Hybrid
The all-new Infiniti Q50 was announced from the onset with a performance hybrid powertrain that mates a 3.5-liter V6 to an electric motor. It has 354 hp, and as this comparative review against the Lexus IS shows, it’s quite a handler and drifter in the right hands. Oh, and we didn’t feature the hybrid version of the IS on its own, because of its 220 hp output and benchmark sprint time of 7.8 seconds. The Infiniti can still cut it, though, reaching 100 km/h far quicker, in 5.3 seconds.
Mercedes-Benz S500 Plug-In Hybrid
Mercedes-Benz has been making hybrid versions of their S-Class for a few years now, but along with the all-new and much sleeker model they showed off a new hybrid also, and for the first time it’s a plug-in. Its 107 hp electric motor is more than adequate to push it around for up to 19 miles or 30 km, but when you need extra range or performance, the turbocharged V6 engine under the bonnet wakes up and adds 328 more ponies, sending the luxury Merc past the industry standard sprint speed in 5.5 seconds – it’s got every right to be here, on the list, I say.
Honda CR-Z Mugen
Now this is more like it. A simple, front-wheel drive car, with a manual gearbox that promises to be both fun and a hybrid at the same time – a weird combination that only really seems to make sense in Mugen guise. We are, of course, referring to the Honda CR-Z, the quirky two-seater from Japan that never really knew what it was: a warm hatch, a trendy coupe or an economy-biased model. Thankfully, the tuning job done by Mugen pushes the power up to 174 hp via a supercharger, making it far more enticing – yes, it’s not that much, but it’s still far more than the 122 hp the first model had in stock form.
The Big Three: Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder
We chose to do these three together, the 950HP (963PS) Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren’s 903HP (916PS) P1 and Porsche’s 874HP (887PS) 918 Spyder, which recently set a new Nürburgring record for series production cars with global road homologation, because they’re really inseparable in pretty much any conversation on the subject of hybrid performance cars.
I won’t go into details about them, because we’ve done so before, but in case you don’t know why these three are so relevant to the topic at hand, you’d better start clicking links and getting up to speed. They all fit the bill better than any of the others we featured here, but since few will have a chance to drive, let alone own one, we decided to focus on the more attainable ones out there.
Concepts, Upcoming Models and (an attempt at a) Conclusion
The models mentioned above are not the only ones, though, and we may have missed a few. So, in order to cover the matter as thoroughly as possible, I decided to mention upcoming models and concepts that we think fit, and also encourage you to add any more models that you think fit the chosen theme – you can even upload photos in the comments section, and we strongly hope that you do.
The Acura/Honda NSX is the first to come to mind. For some, it’s even more interesting a supercar proposition than the aforementioned ‘Big Three,’ even if it won’t be able to match them in terms of outright performance. Then, there’s a plethora of sporty hybrid concepts that show promise, the most recent of which are the Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE Concept, or the Toyota Yaris Hybrid-R , the latter being a mental 420 hp concept based on the popular Japanese supermini – both were shown in Frankfurt.
We did this lengthy piece just so you could give us a more accurate answer on one simple question: do you think these models really have a future, or are they just marketing gimmicks designed to boost image, actually be less green, yet turn over more green for the manufacturers?