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Hybrids at full charge
Ferrari and McLaren hypercars revealed, By Andrew Frankel

Full details — almost — of how McLaren’s P1 and Ferrari’s awkwardly titled LaFerrari will square up to each other finally reached the public domain at the Geneva Motor Show.

The two companies deployed wildly differing launch strategies, with McLaren drip-feeding information to the press over a period of months, revealing a ‘concept’ car that turned out to be all but indistinguishable from the real thing and issuing such a complete technical specification that by the time Geneva came around they didn’t even bother to put a cover on the thing. It was just there on the stand for all to see. By contrast Ferrari provided almost no details at all until the first day of the show, allowing it to dominate proceedings on press day.

Then again, that strategy had provided McLaren with an open field in which to make all the early running and earn countless magazine covers and column inches before the show. Which worked best? I think each company did what suited them: Ferrari knew all its cars were sold — chairman Luca di Montezemolo told me, “usually companies come to shows to sell cars; we brought our car as a tribute to the public” — so could afford to give up the long play in favour of the big bang. McLaren, 20 years on from its last hypercar, needed time to introduce the world to the F1’s replacement.

Despite their apparent similarities on paper (over 900bhp, 218mph top speeds, identical 0-100 and 0-200kph times), the two hybrid hypercars are actually quite different in concept. The McLaren appears to be the cleverer of the two: it will run on electric power alone and its batteries can be charged from the mains, no provision being offered for either facility by Ferrari. Additionally the McLaren has a driver-deployable DRS system and a KERS-mimicking ‘push to pass’ button; the Ferrari has neither. On the other hand, Ferrari’s position is that the driver should not have to select these systems, but that they should be fully integrated into the functions of the car. As one spokesman put it to me, “when you want to go flat out, you shouldn’t have to push a button as well as the accelerator. These facilities exist in F1 only because of the regulations. On the road there are no such regulations.”

Ultimately it seems likely that the Ferrari will be the quicker of the two, at least in a straight line. It appears to have a little more power and a little less weight and its claimed 0-300kph time of under 15sec is 2sec quicker than McLaren claims for the same measure.

Then again, as a McLaren employee put it to me somewhat archly, “they already knew our figures when they announced theirs…”

Radical shift for 911 GT3

Porsche has unveiled the GT3 version of the new 991-series 911. For die-hard traditional fans of the brand, there is no more important car.

But it seems Porsche has had a total rethink of GT3 philosophy, throwing out the basic principles common to every car to wear the badge in the 14 years since the sub-brand was invented. The old motor sport engine used in all GT3s (as well as the 1998 Le Manswinning GT1) has gone. The power steering is now electric rather than hydraulic. The GT3’s hitherto exclusively manual transmission is now gone, leaving only paddle-shift. All standard GT3s until now have used the narrower of the two bodies Porsche always designs for the 911; now it will use the wider one. And the GT3 that always rejoiced in the purest, simplest forms of mechanical engineering now features electronically controlled rear-wheel steering.

Predictably this has led to all sorts of prognostications of disaster from the cognoscenti who make the mistake of judging a car in which they have yet to sit, let alone drive. Sitting here at this computer I cannot see how Porsche can have made such fundamental and radical changes to the GT3 and yet retained its character; not when the car on which it is based, the 991, is itself so different in construction method and wheelbase to all GT3s of the past. But not even I would go so far as to state that in so modifying the formula Porsche has spoiled it. Not without driving it.

Nevertheless I put all my concerns to Andreas Preuninger, the man responsible for the way all road cars from the Motorsport department behave. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I felt exactly the same concerns. All I can tell you is the moment you drive it will be the moment those concerns disappear.” He says you will not be able to distinguish the new steering from the old, that the paddle shift is so good and involving (it even incorporates a function that mimics the old clutch kick method of destabilising the back end on entry to a corner) that you won’t miss the manual, and that the four-wheel steer makes it feel like a short-wheelbase car once more. Sadly no-one will be allowed into the car before the summer, so we’ll have to wait a while to find out for sure.

Wraith fails to earn spurs

As predicted last month Rolls and Bentley showed their Wraith and Flying Spur models at Geneva. I was interested by how the names of both models are abbreviated — the Rolls isn’t even The Wraith let alone the Silver Wraith, but just plain old Wraith, while Bentley has dropped the redundant ‘Continental’ appendage to the Flying Spur. Visually I’d say Bentley has done the better work, but only because the old Flying Spur had such a formal, dreary shape. By contrast Rolls was always going to struggle to match the proportions and detailing of the immaculately styled Ghost upon which the Wraith is based. To me its fastback shape has lost a lot of elegance in exchange for little or no additional purpose.

Lamborghini’s £3m excess

Faced with Ferrari and McLaren’s near million-pound motors, Lamborghini could not be expected to let its rivals steal all the limelight. Its problem is that it doesn’t have a hybrid hypercar with near 1000 horsepower to pull out of its hat. But just because it couldn’t have the most powerful car didn’t mean there weren’t superlatives to be claimed.

This was the job of the Lamborghini Veneno. You can argue whether it beat Ferrari to the strangest name of the show, but what can’t be denied is that it is the more exclusive (just three will be built) and expensive — at £3m it makes the LaFerrari look positively cheap. Lamborghini also claims the Aventadorbased car has a higher top speed at 221mph rather than 218mph, though as the Ferrari has over 200bhp extra, this may say more about the downforce of the LaFerrari than any lack of pace.

As for the looks you can see for yourself. To me the Aventador is the best-looking Lamborghini since the Miura, while the Veneno looks like an overblown 21st-century cartoon that doesn’t know where the line between purposeful aggression and childish caricature lies. Still, they’ve sold all three, so what do I know?

On its way – the 200mpg car

Among the supercars decking the halls at Geneva sat a car with a top speed of less than 100mph but which was perhaps the most important car of the show.

What distinguishes the Volkswagen XL1 from all those unrealistic environmental concept cars is that, despite its Buzz Lightyear appearance, VW is putting it into production, albeit in a run of just 250 cars for an as-yet unspecified but clearly very high price. It is, for want of a better word, real.

With carbon-fibre monocoque and a two-cylinder diesel hybrid motor of just 68bhp, the XL1 will still accelerate to 62mph in a respectable 12.7sec. Yet it is so aerodynamic (its drag coefficient is a record-busting 0.189) and light (less than 800kg) that to maintain that 62mph requires just 8bhp. Volkswagen quotes 313mpg and while that’s unrealistic in real-world driving, those who’ve driven it say something close to 200mpg is not.

It’s true that this technology will not become widespread for several years yet. But just as the clearest indication yet as to what’s possible, the XL1 was one of the most exciting cars of the show.

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