The history of the hybrid supercar
Electrification is in full flow in the supercar industry and here's how it all started
When you’re asked to name a hybrid car, it’s hard to look past the Toyota Prius, isn’t it? Conservative, economic and slightly dull, the Toyota Prius is one of the most popular hybrid cars on the road. And it’s usually the Uber that’ll take you home at the end of the night, too.
However, not all hybrid cars are as conservative or efficient as the Toyota Prius. For the last five years, manufacturers like BMW, McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari have been using hybrid technology to make some of the fastest cars on the road – and even F1 and the WEC uses it.
The BMW i8
In some ways, the hybrid supercar began with the BMW i8 concept. First revealed in 2011 at the Frankfurt motor show, the BMW i8 was a marketing tool designed to show hybrid technology could produce fast, exciting cars. The i3 was the practical city-focused EV, and the i8 showed just how much performance electrification could provide. Fast forward to 2017, and the i8 is still one of the most futuristic cars on the road – and not just because it looks like something from BladeRunner.
Since then, Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren have all taken the hybrid formula and pushed it to even greater things, with each marque releasing its very own hybrid hypercar.
The Ferrari FXX K Evo is as hardcore as the current Holy Trinity gets.
The LaFerrari combined a mid-rear mounted 6.3-litre V12 to a KERS unit. The result? 950bhp and an overall torque figure of 664lb ft (900Nm). That power also propelled the LaFerrari to 60mph in 2.4 seconds, and to a claimed top speed of 217mph.
In the same year, McLaren released the bonkers P1 – another car that used hybrid power to produce ridiculous speed. The engineers at Woking started off with a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine that already produced 727bhp, and combined that with an electric motor for a total of 903bhp and 723lb ft (980Nm) of torque.
Not to be outdone, Porsche unveiled the 918 Spyder. Featuring a 4.6-litre V8 engine based on the powerplant in the RS Spyder Le Mans racing car, the Porsche features not one, but two electric motors. The overall package produces 887bhp and hits 210mph, but can still drive under electric power, if only for around 12 miles.
The BMW i8 is the only hybrid supercar I’ve driven so far, but it really is unlike anything else. Finally put into production in 2014, BMW’s hybrid pioneer uses a 228bhp, 1.5-litre petrol engine (just like something you’d find in a Mini) but combines it with a 129bhp electric motor. Both of those elements are fairly standard on their own but put them together and you have one of the most futuristic, advanced cars on the road.
Every time you put your foot on the throttle, the i8 balances the amount of power between the electric motor on its front axle and its petrol-powered rear wheels. Every time you brake or coast, the i8’s hybrid powertrain captures usually wasted energy and diverts it back into its battery.
Of course, much of the technology for these hybrid cars comes from racing. Porsche’s highly successful 919 Hybrid has used a hybrid powertrain to win Le Mans several times. And Toyota – while not making any hybrid supercars just yet – uses a similar system in its LMP1 Le Mans racer.
In contrast, technology for McLaren and Ferrari’s supercars comes directly from F1. Since 2014, the world’s most advanced motorsport has been using hybrid engines, and it’s helped the technology develop at an incredible rate. Although the rules dictate today’s Formula One cars are restricted to a 1.6-litre turbocharged V6, F1 engines use Energy Recovery Systems to produce around 900bhp altogether.
The Project One
The McLaren, LaFerrari and Porsche were made around four years ago now, but there’s another, even more extreme hybrid supercar to come.
For the last 4 years, Mercedes has dominated Formula One, using its hybrid engines to power to four straight championships. And at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, the German marque unveiled an incredible spin-off from its Formula One technology.
Called the Project One, Mercedes new hypercar could be seen as an answer to the LaFerrari, the McLaren P1 and the Porsche – but it’s much more than that. Mercedes is calling the Project One a street legal F1 car, and the specs seem to agree.
The Project One features an electric motor for each front wheel, while the rear axle is powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol V6 with an 11,000rpm redline. Because this is a road legal F1 car, the Project One’s turbo is helped by a further 80kW motor to eliminate lag, while another 160kW motor helps to drive the rear wheels. All those motors mean the Project One should be able to reach 217mph, hit 124mph from a standstill in just 6.5 seconds, and produce in excess of 1,000hp
Offering a whole new dimension of performance, hybrid supercars can give you all the benefits of petrol, turbocharging and electric propulsion with none of the downsides. Costing a cool £2.5 million and with all 275 units already accounted for, the Project One is proof that the era of hybrid supercars is just beginning.