The Hybrids are Coming.……and I not excited

The age of the supercar with either just a natural or blown aspiration engine is coming to an end very shortly.  All the major manufacturers are indicating that the next generation of models will be hybrids with Ferrari first out of the gate with the SF90 Stradale.  McLaren is slated to follow up early next year with a twin turbo V6 powering the next generation Sports Series cars.  Rumors have it that Porsche will be introducing a 911 hybrid in 2022 and I’m sure Lamborghini and Aston Martin will not be that far behind.   I’m not excited about this evolution at all and I tend to be an early adopter of new technology.  Maybe I’m getting old and crotchety but nothing I’ve read or seen in any of the reviews and reports indicates that hybridization will improve the driving experience.

The current rush to hybridization is being driven by tightening emission controls, not because it’s an avenue to make a superior, more engaging driver’s supercar.  The solution seems to be small engines with fewer cylinders combined with a couple of electric motors.  This is what worries me.  While the technology may be able to deliver improved performance numbers vs. the last generation of supercars, it’s not what I am personally looking for.  The vast majority of my driving is on public roads, and whether it’s a 3.0 sec 0-60 time or a 2.8 sec doesn’t make much of a difference to me.  What I’m looking for is a car that comes alive at speeds that aren’t going too land you in jail.  A big part of that coming alive comes from how the car accelerates, the steering feel, how it turns in, the engine noise, and the overall handling.  In fact, it’s some of what are now considered flaws that provide some of the most memorable and enjoyable driving sensations.  An F40 would not be an F40 without the turbo lag and when those turbos spool up you certainly know your alive.  A hybrid supercar carrying a few hundred extra lbs of batteries just isn’t going to turn in or handle as nicely as another which weight significantly less.  The noise a V6 makes is never going to be on par with a V8 or V12.  Line up a Ferrari F40, a F50, and a Jaguar XJ220.  Two sound terrific and one sounds like a bag of rusty old tools.

While there have been huge technology driven improvements in braking and stability controls over the last decades, I’m not at all a fan of the move to the “by wire” systems used for steering, braking, or accelerating. Even the best of them, lack the same feeling as the hydraulic or mechanical systems.  I want to feel like I am driving the car, not give inputs to a computer which will then decide what to do with them.  The controls need to feel like they are directly connected to the part of the car you are giving the instruction to.  Every time I have driven a car with a “drive by wire” steering system, I’ve walked away feeling the entire experience was very remote.  In fact, probably the least exciting car I have ever driven was a Tesla.  After 5 minutes I had no interest in driving it any further and if it had autopilot (that was safe and worked), I would have been happy to turn it on and go check emails.  I found it that uninvolving. 

 

I have driven a few hybrids over the years including a McLaren P1, the LaFerrari, and a BMW i8.  The first two are not really relevant to this discussion as the electric motors are purely for extra performance and in the case of the P1, designed to fill in the turbo lag gaps in the acceleration curve so it feels like the car is normally aspirated.  It did that brilliantly and to this day, the P1 has the most memorable mind-altering brutal acceleration of any car I have driven.  The BMW i8 on the other hand was designed with emissions in mind and it left me completely flat (BMW i8 report).   The 3-cylinder engine sounded anemic, acceleration was just average, the car was overweight, and it showed in the handling.  To make matter worse, it was a car I actually wanted to like as I thought it was the best design I had seen from BMW this century.   If you could option the i8 with the V10 from the E60 M5, larger front wheels, and bigger brakes then you might have had a great car.  Smaller engines, more weight, and a narrow front track is never going to be the formula for improving the herd.

The experience with the i8 has stuck with me and so when Ferrari first launched the SF90, as soon as I found out it was a hybrid, I did even bother to read any of the press reports.  This is the first time since the launch of the F355 over 25 years ago that I haven’t been at least interested to see what the new new thing was all about.  When I did finally get around to reading the reviews of the SF90 (mainly as research for this article), none of my concerns were alleviated.   The SF90 comes with both electric power steering and brake by wire on which there were several comments indicating it is a system you need to get used to.  The other comment that stuck out was the braking wasn’t as good as in prior Ferraris due to the added weight.  While the SF90 does at least come with a twin turbo V8, it carries an extra 400 lbs. for the hybrid system.  My aparthy is not just limited to Ferrari thought, I haven’t been following the developments on McLaren’s new super series either as it being both a V6 and hybrid have me much more concerned than excited.  What I am excited about is the our incoming SCG 004S (The SCG 004S).  I find it hard not to be excited about a car with a large V8 dropped into a carbon fiber tub with a 6-speed manual gear box and a central driving position. 

All this having been said, I don’t have a philosophical objection to hybrids any more than I do to turbo vs. normally aspirated engines. What doesn’t appeal at all about the hybrids is the added weight and increased digitalization.  The further you’re removing the driver from a direct connection to the engine, brakes, and wheels the less of an engaging, involving, experience it is going to be to hustle that car down an empty country road on a sunny weekend afternoon.  It will be interesting to see if any of the major supercar manufacturers can make the transition to hybrids while preserving those critical elements that make these cars great to drive.

 

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11 Thoughts on The Hybrids are Coming.……and I not excited
    Christopher Carroll
    25 Oct 2020
    10:38pm

    Supercars are great at one thing. Being beyond the reach of pretty much everyone on the planet. Maybe an article about something relevant in the real world.

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    Phillip Jeffery
    25 Oct 2020
    9:44am

    Really interesting article; I totally share your opinions. I’m not in the same market segment (though I would love to be!) as the vehicles you mentioned, but your concerns also apply further down the price scale. Until last year I worked in the Automotive industry, and I was becoming increasingly disillusioned by both future legislation AND consumer preferences.

    Legislation is forcing manufacturers to use greater levels of tech to clean up tailpipe emissions, which is increasing complexity and weight. This is a vicious circle, as to remain competitive manufacturers are having to play the numbers game for which the solution is to add more tech and therefore weight. This is why we’re seeing ‘boxes with more ratio’s, more driver aids and more hybrid tech, which is further diluting the driving experience.

    From a consumer perspective it’s arguably even worse: it seems that automation and connectivity come far higher up the priority list than the driving experience. There are undoubtedly some old school customers like ourselves, but a large percentage of the current generation seems to have differing priorities when it comes to cars. I worry that in the next 10-20 years, cars will become white goods; with performance cars being the exception. The soul is slowing being programmed out of cars. If only we could Control + Alt + Delete the situation…

    I’m hanging on as long as I can, which is why I’ve recently purchased a BMW 130i: straight 6, N/A, manual, RWD. It’s not perfect, but I bloody love it.

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    Simon B.
    25 Oct 2020
    1:16pm

    It truly does seem that for a driving enthusiast there isn’t much to look forward to. Normal cars
    that 99% of people use for their daily drivers will go hybrid and then electric. And that’s fine. EVs
    have many real advantages – they are cheaper to run, cheaper to service, less polluting, quieter,
    more refined… Once the charging infrastructure is there (which might take a minute) they really
    should be the superior form of transport. As far as cars aimed at fun and driving pleasure go,
    though, the future looks bleak.

    EVs are the death of the enthusiast car as far as I am concerned and that has to do with the weight
    and the motors. Less weight = more fun, it really is that simple. EVs are obscenely heavy and with
    constant demands for more range are only gonna get heavier. And even if in the future the battery
    technology advances to the point of EVs being lighter than ICE cars, then there is still the issue of
    electric motors being completely devoid of character. One anonymous electric motor is pretty much
    exactly the same as another anonymous electric motor. Same torque delivery, same sound, same
    everything. Compared to the breadth and the richness of the experiences you can get from a wide
    palette of ICE engines… well, there really is no comparing the two.

    If EVs are the polar opposite of what you would imagine your perfect fun car to be, then hybrids are
    the half-way point. Heavier than pure ICE cars and with increasingly uniform and boring engine
    choices. Even today, half the industry is using a “4L TT V8” as their performance engine of choice,
    be it Ferrari, Mclaren, Mercedes, Audi, BMW or any number of other brands. But even this might soon
    come to be regarded as an era of extravagant opulence with many switching to a “3L TT V6”. You
    mention Mclaren, but Ferrari have the same plans, Aston Martin are working on a new V6, Maserati just
    unveiled the V6 MC20 and others will no doubt follow suit shortly.

    What is also becoming more and more apparent to me is that the number of people who actually care
    about driving is much smaller than I had thought, even among those who were interested enough in cars
    to buy an enthusiast offering in the form of a sportscar/supercar. As tight as emission regulations
    are, there are still NA sportscars that pass those (and will for some time to come yet). Yet the
    majority of manufactures have moved on and are moving to turbo, hybrids and electric (as well as to
    electric brakes and steering, etc), which shows to me that there simply isn’t big enough financial
    incentive coming from the customers. We really are the niche.

    Will the future hybrid/EV cars be great to drive? The technology improves all the time and some of
    them probably will. But the thing is, no matter how well you can make a car handle, it would always
    handle better if it weighed less. And you’ll forever be missing a characterful engine. So my hopes
    for offerings from mainstream manufacturers isn’t very high. What might very well happen is that our
    needs will be served by a handful of boutique manufacturers, like GMA or SCG. If we are lucky. If
    not, then the ICE era might have just been a happy accident where what’s best from the utilitarian
    perspective also happens to match what the human brain craves.

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    Yves
    25 Oct 2020
    2:51pm

    Sounds like new and “improved” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, even in supercars.
    Great layout of the web pages now, very smooth to scroll through while reading a post.

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    Chris Lepingwell
    26 Oct 2020
    3:17pm

    Perhaps the next generation of performance cars will be hydrogen fuel cell powered. It’s still going to be electric motors, but you won’t have hundreds of kilos of battery, just the fuel cell and a tank of hydrogen. We might even end up with lighter cars than IC!

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    Before ICE Goes – One Last Wish karenable
    16 Jan 2021
    2:06pm

    […] in October 2020 I wrote an article on the coming of the Hybrids (The Hybrids Are Coming & I’m Not Excited) where I outlined a few concerns with the coming transition.  I do expect the transition to be […]

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