Brazil, it is said, is “the country of the future.” But given its messed-up economy and corrupt politics, cynics say “it always will be.” As someone who got disastrously involved with its supposed brilliant future 55 years ago, I’m inclined to think the cynics may be right even though the country now makes some of the world’s best airplanes, which it couldn’t do in 1961. During my six decades in the automobile business, people have constantly said something similar about electric cars: “They’re the future and always will be.”
I’m not so sure about that, though. Electric cars are no longer fantasy and far from gutless wonders. The Tesla Model S is the best sedan I’ve ever driven, and it has gotten much better since my stint with Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen three years ago, thanks to the addition of all-wheel drive, Ludicrous mode acceleration, and various self-driving accoutrements. Others have been as impressed with the Tesla as I have, and it shows in the worldwide effort to make Tesla-like cars. None to date has been as impressive as Porsche’s latest concept car, the Mission E. Any way you look at it, it’s a clear, specific challenge to Tesla. It’s not a commuter-car tiddler such as Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, BMW’s i3, or a standard steel box made heavier by hundreds of pounds of batteries like the Ford/VW/Japan Inc. models. One of the best designers now practicing shaped the Porsche Mission E, and an extraordinarily capable team of top-level technicians engineered it.
We all know company patriarch Ferdinand Porsche built a workable gasoline-electric hybrid in the 19th century and that Porsche just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a distant descendant of that car, but hybrids are at best a temporary step on the way to a pure-electric future. The sticking point is better batteries — or perhaps the use of hydrogen to produce juice onboard, as a number of manufacturers have explored. Our Georg Kacher says all Porsches are likely to be hybridized in the next few years, but I think the Mission E represents a statement of intent the automotive world should take very seriously indeed.
What impresses me the most about what Michael Mauer’s team did: Its creation of an all-new form that perfectly expresses the essence of Erwin Komenda’s 80-year-old design philosophy as filtered through the hands of Ferdinand’s grandson, “Butzi” Porsche, as well as Anatole Lapine, Harm Lagaay, and Mauer. All contributed to the evolution of the evergreen 911, but none more so than Mauer, who has now given us a credible four-door sedan that is unmistakably Porsche yet totally free of the VW-headlamps look that defined the 356 series and carried over into 911s. This solution, with four LED units floating in scoops that encompass the entire front of the fenders, brilliantly manages to evoke the past while being resolutely different from it. When and if this car hits the market with the Tesla, the electric car may, finally, really be here.
With this magnificent sports sedan, we’re a long way from the Henney Kilowatt, folks.
1. Completely different from any past Porsche headlamps, these LED clusters floating in a scoop still convey a sense of identity, perhaps from the opening leaning forward, as most Porsches have done.
2. Crisp longitudinal surface break lines are a new element in the Porsche surface vocabulary.
3. Ribs raising the central part of the hood panel add both visual interest and panel stiffness.
4. Their lines pick up again on the roof, with the central part depressed rather than raised.
5. The side glass profile, rendered in three panes to accommodate two doors per side, still manages to evoke the Komenda 911 profile and Porsche marque identity as well as BMW’s Hofmeister kink does.
6. Tapering inward in plan, the top allows a broad rear shoulder and a strong sense of sportiness.
7. The body side surfaces between the front and rear wheelhouses are complex, including inlets, outlets, a hard horizontal line just below the wheel centers, and a nice lower fairing for the rear wheels.
8. After generations of soft leading-edge forms, it is a surprise to see blade-edge scoops leading the way on the fenders, but the soft form of the horizontal bumper strike face flows into the scoops and completes the form you expect to see on a Porsche.
9. Sharp diagonal splitters direct air into the brakes, and their upper edges align visually with the hood ribs.
10. Don’t forget: Electrical elements generate a lot of heat. This simple two-bar grille in the lower opening is therefore highly functional.
11. This Formula 1 “base plate” carries around to the body sides. Presumably the entire underbody is flat, and all elements are enclosed and protected against road debris.
12. This rear wing apparently allows air to flow beneath it at all times, but it may also articulate. There are cutlines at the end of the straight portion extending beyond the base of the backlight …
13. … which itself is highly reminiscent of the 911. Of course.
14. The same is true for the side glass DLO profile, very 356/911, but elongated.
15. Notice how the tops of the front fenders flatten slightly between longitudinal surface break lines.
16. The big air outlet at the front of the door cut controls body side surfaces, indented deeply in front, fading to zero by the rear wheel opening.
17. A nice transverse hard line separates the concave surface above and rounded convex surface below.
18. The license plate area in the negative space below the lip around the rear cutout is a solution that should work for all countries.
19. We can assume the diffuser under the tail really works. It’s a Porsche, after all.
20. This protruding lip and the concave area under the wing keep the rear from looking like a 928, which was unfortunately rather bloblike.
21. The ends of the concavity repeat the effect of the front fenders, but inversed.
22. You can just see the leading edge of the wing and the surface below, which wraps well around the body sides.
23. This may be a sedan, but it really has the look and feel of a sports car. The lighter color band below the IP and continuing on the tunnel top is very pleasant.
24. The steering wheel is definitely sports car-like, but there are no shift paddles.
25. The boomerang-shaped instrument panel is organized so the wheel blocks nothing. Good.
26. This little electrical toggle is a long way from a sturdy shift lever attached to mechanical linkages. Of course, there’s nothing to shift in a pure EV.