No Fear: Porsche Builds a Case for Plug-Ins

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March 7, 2024

At Porsche, change is in the air—minus the smell of gasoline, internal combustion engine (ICE) emissions, or the telltale roar of a flat-six engine. But the electric revolution has put some enthusiasts on the defensive. They worry that electric vehicles (EVs), for all their straight-line heroics, will never deliver the spirit and sensation of their piston-pumping forebears. Porsche engineers are the first to acknowledge their lifelong membership in the internal combustion engine club. Yet they insist that fun will be an integral part of Porsche’s electrified future. And they’re only scratching the surface of its possibilities.

“With our laboratory of e-Performance, we have just started to step into our new playground,” said Bjorn Forster, head of technical performance for the 718 Cayman GT4 e-Performance. That Cayman development model will eventually debut in consumer-ready form, most likely looking like the Mission R concept unveiled in 2021. The proofs are taking shape in Stuttgart, from every executive suite, studio, or simulator at the 76-year-old automaker. The Taycan raised the performance bar for EVs, yet it also showed there’s still work to be done.

The 2025 Macan Electric SUV will roll into American driveways in the second half of this year, including a Macan Turbo with up to 630 horsepower (via an over-boost function) and a claimed 3.1-second 0-60 mph time that’s quicker than any 911 shy of capital-T Turbo models. A forthcoming 718 EV will find its every dynamic move ruthlessly weighed—literally, in the case of vehicle mass—against today’s svelte Boxsters, Caymans, and 911s.

Porsche is also figuring out how to persuade its most discerning, deep-pocketed customers, the kind who shell out $270,000 for a 911 GT3 Cup racer or mortgage-worthy sums for supercars like the 918 Spyder. The company is floating the possibilities with a pair of tantalizing concept cars: The globe-trotting GT4 e-Performance takes an “Anything you can do, I can do better” approach to gasoline-swilling customer racers like the GT4 Clubsport or GT3 Cup.

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The fantastical Mission X stands on the brawny shoulders of the 918 Spyder Hybrid and Carrera GT, but with performance targets seemingly designed to end the gas-versus-electric debate once and for all. Those include becoming the fastest road-legal car to ever circle the Nürburg­ring Nordschleife.

The key to that goal is to generate more downforce than a 992 GT3 RS, the current production car king. Oh, and an insane power-to-weight ratio of one metric horsepower per kilogram. Paper-napkin math, scribbled with a quivering hand, suggests at least 1,700 horsepower to match a 1,700-kilo electric assasin, or 3,740 pounds. The 918 Spyder topped 3,600 pounds, so coming in anywhere near that mass in all-electric form would be an achievement.

Through two stirring decades that bookend the Carrera GT of 2003, the 918 Spyder of 2013, and now Mission X, “We’re telling the story of the transformation of supercars from combustion engines to electricity,” says Michael Behr, technical manager for Mission X.

The (Electrified) Elephant

in the Room

For now, at least, that transformation requires compromises, including striking the right balance between cost, weight, performance, and driving range. To make EVs more agile and engaging, countering the deadening weight of lithium-ion batteries remains a challenge.

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Five years ago, Porsche set a goal to bring the GT4 e-Performance in at 3,300 pounds, about 300 more than a Cayman GT4 Clubsport or 911 GT2 RS Clubsport. The resulting racer is closer to 3,500 pounds. Engineers might have reached the original goal via a carbon-fiber structure. But that kind of racer might be too rich for even Porsche customers. For its part, the Mission X adopts a robust 900-volt architecture that could reduce the thickness and weight of copper wiring and connections. Alternatively, it could deliver more power and faster charging at the same wiring weight.

Behr said faster charging and a wide-ranging infrastructure will be key to future performance, allowing smaller, lighter, and less costly batteries onboard. He makes an analogy with motorcycles, which might cover barely 100 miles at a heart-pounding pace. But many riders don’t care because a quick fueling stop is always one exit away.

“If you can also refill your car in five minutes, range is no longer an issue,” notes Behr.

Behr said computer simulations show the Mission X could crack the ’Ring record with rear-drive alone. But should this prototype ever emerge from Weissach in production form, Behr said, it would be all-wheel drive to boost both driving range and accessible performance via the magic of regenerative braking and a driven front axle.

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“You could do one or two ’Ring laps more as a customer,” Behr said, while regenerative braking could allow engineers to spec smaller mechanical rotors and calipers, saving more weight.

The Well-Adjusted Porsche

Forster calls the GT4 e-Performance the first electric Porsche “that can switch without compromise between driving time and maximum power,” delivering lap after thrilling lap while ensuring no components reach thermal overload. The GT4 Clubsport-based prototype can run an entire Cup race at the sweet spot of 603 horsepower. Track-day one-uppers could crank that to nearly 1,100 horses and run for 18 minutes or dial down to about 400 horses for more than 45 minutes of lapping.

Several automakers are experimenting with ways to make performance EVs behave more like familiar ICE cars, including synthetic engine sounds that are clearly a work in progress. Hyundai has outfitted its 641-horsepower Ioniq 5 N with a paddle-shift gearbox that simulates the stepped gears of a conventional transmission. The GT4 e-Performance runs a one-speed transmission with durable straight-cut, racing-style gears. But it also has tricks up its sleeve that wouldn’t be possible in any ICE machine.

The latest was only recently added, in time for testing at the Porsche Ice Experience center in Finland, north of the Arctic Circle: A system that automatically deactivates the front motor under braking while overdriving the rear motor. That allows the car to drift in rally-champion style without slowing down like a conventional car. A set of paddle shifters adjusts power bias front-to-rear, with no need for a weighty center differential.

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Automakers add that electric motors, due to their physical natures in magnetism, are opening new horizons in perception and performance controls. Digitized systems can detect magnetic fields and torque and adjust at microsecond speed, exponentially quicker than controls over ICE engines. For the first time in its history, Porsche can minutely monitor a driver’s every input and adjust handling in ways that Forster said makes today’s torque vectoring seem primitive. The GT4 e-Performance has ten handling settings to take advantage of this sensitivity.

Akin to Porsche’s race-winning Formula E cars, the GT4 e-Performance also puts its electrified front axle to work, multi-tasking for stamina and handling prowess. Forster says adding all-wheel drive actually makes the car “lighter.” Come again? Well, in track situations, with their virtually ceaseless braking demands, Porsche discovered the regenerative front axle captures so much energy—one kilowatt-hour per minute—that the car can carry 550 fewer pounds of battery and still vie for the checkered flag.

“Why would you put on another powertrain to make a car lighter?” Forster asked. “But that was the big learning we had in the beginning of development.”

In ideal conditions, that’s 50 kWh of energy captured over a 25-minute battle, nearly equaling the 60 kWh of usable power in the dual onboard packs. Together, they provide the 110 kWh required to run a Cup race.

This overachieving GT4, Forster notes, already matches the cornering speeds and lap times of a 992-generation Cup racer, proving that engineers are on the right track to driving pleasure: If seat-of-pants sensations are a key, G-forces and lap times are one way to measure it. As for energy efficiency and pollution, it’s game over: The electric GT4 carries the equivalent of a 2.4-gallon tank of fuel.

“Our regular gasoline race car could run for three minutes” before it runs dry, Forster says. In other words, the electric racer is nearly ten times as energy-efficient. Engineers add that, once costs come down and scale goes up, all this technology can inform Porsche street cars, which themselves will be the basis for customer racers like today’s GT3s and GT4s.

Fans had best get used to it: Porsche is targeting more than half its models to be EVs or hybrids by 2025, and at least 80 percent of production to be full EVs by 2030. Until then, the FUD—fear, uncertainty, and doubt—that continues to swirl around electric cars may be largely misplaced. A quick lap of the Internet will reveal that some of the most vocal EV skeptics have never actually driven one.

“If you build your opinion from social media, you might be worried and say we should stop this now,” Forster says. “But no one who has experienced a GT4 e-Performance or Taycan would say, ‘I’m afraid of electrification.’”

Also from Issue 308

  • 992 C4S Altitude Record Car
  • Magenta 1974 911 Carrera
  • TechArt 992 GTstreet R Flyweight
  • 356A Speedster Racer
  • Market Update: 1965-1973 911
  • Porsche PHEV/EV Charging
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