The McLaren P1 is a stunner. Here’s how Frank Stephenson, McLaren design director, describes it:
“I wanted it to look like a purposeful racer with that low body, long rear deck and open-mesh rear styling to put the mechanicals on view and help cooling. Plus there’s the most aggressive rear diffuser ever seen on a road car…I wanted to take out as much visual weight as possible, to have a car that was really lean; a car with absolutely no fat between the mechanicals and the skin.”
The design-with-a-purpose extends to the inside. You get analog buttons and big knobs, and a digital readout, instead of gauges. The seats manually adjust. Performance and simplicity are emphasized over frills, despite the $1 million-plus price tag.
The P1 goes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds. That raw power has rivals, but it’s the smooth and easy delivery of the thrust through a twin-turbo V8, and electric motor, that puts the P1 in an exclusive category. It’s often described as seamless and inexhaustible. The steering is tuned to perfection, so the driver doesn’t have to think, even as the brute force of the P1’s powerplant is unleashed.
The 177-horsepower electric motor is not utilized for any earth-saving function. Its purpose is to offset even the slightest sensation of lag from the 3.8-liter V-8's two turbos. Similarly, the regenerative braking system is not there for reclaiming energy, as much as it’s used to preserve a natural brake feel. Also, a new type of ceramic carbon is used in the brake discs that can absorb 50 per cent more energy than conventional ceramic rotors. McLaren also employs Brake Steer, its own technology banned from Formula 1 for providing too much of an advantage.
Then there’s the “boost” button on the steering wheel, which is hardly natural. It’s more supernatural. The function is officially known as the Instant Power Assist System (IPAS). It unleashes a wallop of power from the electric motor, upping the gas engine’s 727 ponies to more than 900 horsepower. The IPAS was derived from the KERS system used in Formula 1.
In addition to e-mode, normal, sport and track modes, there’s one special mode left called “race.” Select it to drop the body by two inches, and raise the rear wing to a foot above the chassis. As Car and Driver puts it, “Slammed to the ground, the P1 looks like some sort of sinister, radioactive outcropping that’s just burned its way up through the Earth’s crust.” In race mode, McLaren says the P1 makes 1,323 pounds of down-force at 161 mph.
By virtue of a clutch between the motor’s gearbox and the engine, the P1 can drive under electric power alone. Working solo, the electric motor can power the P1 beyond 100 miles per hour. The EPA pegs the all-electric range from the 4.7 kilowatt-hour battery pack at 19 miles. The environmental agency rates the efficiency, after the battery is discharged, at 17 miles per gallon.
As mentioned above, the 177-horsepower motor is not there to enable EV driving, as much as it’s used for smooth power delivery of the V8 gas engine throughout the drive cycle.
The nominal price of the McLaren P1 is $1.15 million, but with customizations, the average sales price climbs to about $1.6 million.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
The McLaren falls into the same exclusive two-car category of plug-in hybrid supercars with the Porsche 918 Spyder. Sports car fans usually put the outrageous LaFerrari in this group, but Ferrari's hypercar is not a plug-in and cannot move on electricity alone. Compared to the P1, the 918 Spyder is slightly heavier and has less overall power (although more torque). Its four-wheel drive system has greater reliance on electronic controls. The LaFerrari is more expensive at around $1.35M, buying more horsepower through the combination of its 789-hp 6.3-liter V-12 and 161-horsepower electric motor.
Sorry, the McLaren P1 is sold out. All 375 copies were spoken for by late 2013. The first P1 delivery in the U.S. occurred in May 2014. A track-only version of the P1, dubbed the P1 GTR, goes into production in 2015. Only 35 units will be produced, and made available only to owners of the P1.