In Season 1, Episode 1 of the Grand Tour, Jeremey Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May race “The Holy Trinity” of cars around the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal. The trinity of amazing cars in the show were the McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 Spyder, and the Ferrari LaFerrari. At first glance, these cars seem to be equal examples of the pinnacle of technology from three different world-premiere car manufacturers. However, other than the fact that they are all the top of the line from their respective manufacturers and are all high-performance hybrids, they are nowhere near equals.
So what makes these cars so special? Primarily it is the way these cars use their electric motors to enhance the performance of their petrol engines. While each of the cars applies electric energy to their wheels in somewhat different ways, the primary purpose is to use the electric motors to bridge the gaps between gear changes and improve the torque when the petrol motor is at lower revolutions. Hence the term, high-performance hybrid.
Electric motors can provide their maximum torque at zero rpm, where as a petrol engine typically does not reach maximum torque until it has thousands of revolutions per minute, somewhere near the top of the motors rev limit. The computerized coordination between electric and petrol motors is where the magic happens, making these three cars performance monsters!
Importantly for our discussion, Porsche has taken this high-performance hybrid concept and applied at least two additional generational steps past the LaFerrari and McLaren P1, which has given the Porsche 918 Spyder its unfair advantage.
Imagine a future where instead of boxers slugging it out in the ring, the fighters climb into automated suits of armor which utilize a combination of human muscle and electrically assisted mechanization to fight battles worthy of Anime movies. However in this battle, while the Brits and Italians brought boxers who only use their fists, the Germans brought a mixed martial artist throwing fists and feet with equal ferocity. It’s not a fair fight and Ferrari knows it, which is why Ferrari rarely lets anyone compare the LaFerrari against the Porsche 918.
What are the two unfair advantages the Porsche 918 Spyder has over the McLaren P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari? The Porsche 918 has all-wheel drive and active four-wheel steering.
Subaru has been touting the advantages of symmetrical all-wheel drive for years… since 1972 to be exact. In fact, Subaru developed the technology. The advantages of all-wheel drive are obvious, applying power to all four wheels doubles the contact area between the road and the tires, meaning you can apply more power to the road without spinning the wheels. The disadvantage is that all wheel drive cars are notoriously tricky to get going off the line, generally resulting in slower 0-60 mph times that two-wheel drive cars.