The track is still moist in spots, the marbles on both sides of the racing line shout “caution,” and the maintenance squad has begun to steam clean the roadside drainage system. Tension is in the air as we approach today’s subject. Only three people have driven this car so far without a watchdog in the passenger seat. I’ll be number four.
Over the last 24 months, Porsche’s hand-built, electric-powered sport sedan—the metallic white Mission E that’s charged fully and ready to roll—has clocked less than 200 miles, most of them until today on the Portimão circuit in Portugal. To drive it, you need permission from the board of directors and a highly specialized crew trained to deal with the bytes and possible bugs that could befall the one-off, high-voltage prima donna.
This is no stripped-down test mule. It has electric doors, windows, and seats. Its cockpit features five animated round instruments and a center stack tiled with one big touchscreen. The classy, glossy all-black electronic altar (not functional at the time of our encounter) is seamless, curved, and conveniently arranged, and it will be intuitive to use, according to Porsche. Today its functions are restricted to the push-button parking brake and the tiny three-step R-N-D gear-selector toggle. The ambience is clearly more iPad than rotary-dial telephone, but designers also applied classic luxury touches including supple leather with matching wood and metal accents.
The Mission E aspires to blend speed and effortlessness, a real-life range of 300 miles, and the ability to recharge to 80 percent in 20 minutes or less.
Despite the car’s low H-point and sloping roofline, the position of its two comfortable rear seats is surprisingly relaxed thanks to the so-called foot garage, a deep recess in the floorpan that splits the battery tray. “The production version is in essence a C-segment sedan with an almost D-size interior,” explains project leader Stefan Weckbach. “Visually, the car combines 911 overtones with fresh proportions and very good space utilization even though the Mission E is notably more compact than the Panamera.”
The Mission E also has a lap timer. “Why not?” says project engineer Michael Behr. “This car is smog-free but is also a hoot to drive thanks to the low center of gravity, the dedicated air suspension, and the precise steering. Make no mistake: This is a proper Porsche through and through.”
Speaking of proper Porsches, the all-new 911 GT2 RS production No. 0001 we’re also getting a chance to play with at the brand’s Weissach test facility is a brand-defining car. One look at its massive, single-decker rear wing, flared carbon-fiber sills, and protruding horizontal front spoiler is all it takes to understand that this is definitely not your neighbor’s 911. Its black and red color scheme and its three huge nasal air intakes are bound to guarantee more overtaking prestige than a pair of cop cars with lights flashing. All those louvers, ducts, splitters, aprons, skirts, and air blades scattered like a rash across its muscular body are designed to befriend the wind and placate the heat.
Inside this particular GT2 RS is a driver-focused environment. The ultimate 911 has no rear seats, which are swapped out for a standard titanium rollcage. The manual seat adjustment doesn’t even extend to the backrest, but the fragile-looking, thinly padded single-piece bucket feels tailor-made in the way it holds the torso and supports the thighs. There’s no radio or air-conditioning, no navigation or Sport Chrono bubble on the dashboard. All of that is more than OK with us. (Most options can be added if you so desire.)
It’s a car that can practically be operated with your eyes closed for anyone who’s driven a modern 911. The shift paddles made of carbon fiber instead of cold metal are part of the Weissach pack, fitting given the day’s location. They’re tucked behind the fully adjustable Alcantara-swathed steering wheel, which sports a much thicker rim and enough clearance for the longest legs. The two red stripes on the polished PDK transmission shifter gate were used before on the 911 R, and there’s a silver Weissach plaque affixed to the glove-box door. The dashboard layout might be ancient, but everything is still exactly where it should be.
Phenomenal midrange punch and explosive full-throttle acceleration in fourth and fifth gear.
While the man with a laptop runs final tests on the ECU of the Mission E, can I please go play with the GT2 RS? Yes, I’m going to take it easy—at least until the tires reach their working temperature.
The red belt snaps into a buckle that sticks out like a small plastic tongue. The dashboard is pure 911 with a twist: When you start the engine, a GT2 RS pictogram shows up briefly in the display to the right of the rev counter. Treading lightly for three laps provides a welcome opportunity to reacquaint myself with the Weissach track, built in 1972. Even the long variant is a short circuit with 13 corners, but because of the great variety of crests, climbs, descents, radii, and surfaces, the roller-coaster drive invariably advances pulse rates.
I know all the numbers, and I’ve been in this car before. And yet flooring the accelerator for the first time in the most powerful 911 ever—managing its mighty forward thrust as the engine plays its delightful flat sextet through its titanium exhaust—is a challenge that requires the complete attention of all your senses. This is a car that couldn’t care less about mere progress, testing the midrange waters, cornering at 70 percent, or braking way before the experience gets interesting. It begs to be whipped—hard.
The nature of Weissach’s miniature Nordschleife layout makes it easy to warm up the massive ultra-high-performance tires. Early on, the front end likes to understeer when entering the circuit’s two tightest kinks, and the ABS feels compelled to step in early. Since it takes braver men than me to deactivate PSM, the rear end contributes only the odd exit wriggle during the temperature-building process. As near-maximum grip manifests itself, the handling balance becomes so sweet and subtle it gives you the chills.
I’m braking later and later now, moving ever closer to the apexes. The secret of superfast progress in the GT2 RS is to let the torque do its job, unwind lock early, keep the revs high, and trust PSM to sort things out on exit even if the second turbo hammer comes down with a bang. It’s also essential to keep a firm grip on the wheel through every transverse ridge, painted curb, and expansion joint. My biggest double dare of the day was to keep the hoof firmly planted from the exit of Weissach’s last bend to the point of no return prior to the first right-hander. Wide-eyed, I briefly saw 169 mph before stomping on the brakes. Next thing I remember was a flag, three stern-looking faces, and an unhappy cleaner who had to start all over again.
While the GT2 RS displays its brilliance lap after lap, the Mission E concept shows flashes of promise. Porsche just started road-testing the first two Panamera-based prototypes, and although the chassis of this rolling exhibition piece will bear little resemblance to the finished product, all essential functions are already working to rule. The steering is sharp, the suspension inspires confidence, the tires stick, the brakes are more than merely competent, and the solitary electric motor kicks butt up to 75 mph. From what we can tell so far, Porsche’s first all-electric vehicle will not compromise driving pleasure. The production plan is to make this car a more committed and rewarding drive than a top-spec Tesla Model S while exhibiting unconditional repeatability at the same time—meaning the batteries and the motors must not heat up excessively. The cell chemistry and single, highly complex cooling circuit must cope with recurrent full discharge cycles. And hourlong, high-speed autobahn driving sessions must not dramatically shrink the range.
According to those in the know, Porsche is definitely considering three Mission E models tentatively rated at 300 kW/402 hp, 400 kW/536 hp, and 500 kW/670 hp with badging that will mirror current lineup offerings. All-wheel drive will initially be standard equipment, but Porsche might later offer an entry-level rear-drive version. The front-wheel-drive module reportedly delivers 160 kW/215 hp at 16,000 rpm with a constant peak torque of 221 lb-ft. At full boost, Porsche can briefly claim some 325 lb-ft. There are two different specifications in the works for the rear-drive unit. While the base motor is rated at 240 kW/322 hp and 251 lb-ft, the performance version is good for 320 kW/429 hp and 406 lb-ft, sources say. The two-speed transmission is being developed to allow for full-throttle upshifts, and an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential will be an option.
There’s nothing theoretical about the GT2 RS, which like the GT3 features rear-wheel steering, plus Porsche’s PASM active damper system (the Sport setting is too firm for all but perfect roads) and carbon-ceramic brakes. Its combination of power, torque, and amazingly impressive handling make it the most effective track car in Porsche’s lineup, including the other models that carry the GT designation. It’s a stark representation of everything Porsche knows about producing quick lap times, short of moving the engine in front of the rear axle as Porsche Motorsport has done with the latest top-dog 911 RSR race car.
Expect the Mission E to be priced between the Cayenne and Panamera and in the neighborhood of the least expensive Tesla Model S—in the $75,000 to $80,000 range.
Lap times aside, it is understandable that plenty of folks will focus their attention and excitement on the twin-turbo powerhouse that growls, roars, shrieks, and yells beneath a carbon-fiber lid. Despite the phenomenal midrange punch and explosive full-throttle acceleration in fourth and fifth gear, the real hell-breaks-lose effect concentrates on the final 1,200 rpm compressed between 6,000 rpm and the rev limiter. There is simply no letup from the flat-six as it beams the car toward 180, 190, 200 mph.
The Mission E, on the other hand, will never be a Vmax hero, although it won’t be a slouch, either, with 0-60-mph times in the mid-3-second range for the quickest model with a 155 mph top speed. This car aspires to blend speed and effortlessness, comfort and charisma, minimum noise and maximum response, a real-life range in the neighborhood of 300 miles, and the ability to recharge the batteries to at least 80 percent capacity in 20 minutes or less. The battery’s energy cells can be charged with an 800-volt capacity (a first for a production automaker) or 400-volt setup. Synchronous motors with permanent magnets will enable superior continuous performance and repeatability while weighing less with more compact dimensions.
Expect the Mission E to be priced between the Cayenne and Panamera and in the neighborhood of the least expensive Tesla Model S, so figure in the $75,000 to $80,000 range to start. While Porsche’s original goal was to build around 20,000 of the high-end EVs per year, the unusually euphoric marketing department recently suggested 10,000 more units be added to the tally. The $294,250 GT2 RS is a different story. No matter how many times we ask, Porsche won’t reveal precisely how many examples it will build of the low-volume model. Unlike the 911 R, which the company capped at 991 units, there is no set number, in part a response to the resale insanity that engulfed the R not long after Porsche delivered those cars. But demand, it says, will exceed supply.
There is much more to come soon from the Weissach think tank, such as the proposed fully electric 929-style coupe derived from the same DNA, and the all-electric Macan replacement. Also arriving, of course, are the GT3 RS and a Speedster as the last 991 derivatives before the all-new 992-series 911 arrives late next year—complete with a hybrid power pack, which will be added as soon as the market is ready for it. Will the market be ready for the Mission E in late 2019? Porsche is about to find out.