Ah, the Porsche Mission R. But what is its mission exactly?
To boldly go… no, sorry, to quietly hint at a possible electric future for Porsche’s racing programme and – allegedly – preview the next Cayman. And a bunch of other stuff, but that’s probably enough for the time being.
So it’s a concept car?
It is, and sometimes that means the car will be here in six months. This won’t be. Instead Porsche says it imagines how EV racing could look six years hence. All we can do is speculate, but in order to help with that Porsche let me drive it.
Aren’t concept cars rubbish to drive?
Often they don’t even drive, they’re just models. But this is Porsche and Porsche likes to engineer as well as design. So this is a fully working prototype rather than a clunking concept. But before I tell you what it’s like to drive, let’s dwell on the design. Because it looks terrific and although we don’t yet know how the next-gen Cayman (due in about four years) will be powered, we can say that the stylistic devices of this one more closely resemble a Taycan than a 911. So maybe electric. Hybrid at the very least.
But I’m more interested in what the Mission R says about Porsche’s attitude to motorsport. We know it doesn’t shirk from electric, as it competes in Formula E. Urgh, Formula E, motorsport made beige. If I was Porsche I’d want to make sure my electric motorsport program looked beyond that too. This does.
Photography: Mark Riccioni
Doesn’t Porsche claim the Mission R is as fast as a 911 Supercup car?
Which was interesting not merely for what it says about this car’s considerable track performance, but what a Supercup car does – it’s a Porsche race series that follows the Formula 1 calendar. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that a one make electric race championship is just the support act F1 needs to show it has an answer to Formula E and is looking forward rather than back. And then what a launchpad into F1 that would be for Porsche.
Enough speculation, tell me about the car!
The electric motors that power it – one on each axle – are taken from the Taycan Turbo S, but here run not on 800 volt architecture, but 900. Nothing new for Porsche, as it’s the same as the 919 Hybrid. And yes, the Mission R was engineered and developed by the same team that did that. They know what they’re about. More voltage means more power: 429bhp for the front axle, 644 for the rear, 1,073 in total.
More interesting than the way it goes is the way it stops. It’s fitted with conventional carbon disc brakes, but when I drove it 60 per cent of the front braking and all of the rear braking was done by regeneration. It has the ability to recharge the battery under braking at 800kW. Yes, 800kW of regen. That’s incredible – the fastest charge it can accept via a cable is 350kW. Moreover it means pretty much every watt that goes out of the car under acceleration, is reinserted as you slow. OK, it’s not a perpetual motion machine, but it’s a very useful way to extend your range. A range that would allow the Mission R to run flat out for 30-40 minutes – the same race duration as the Supercup typically lasts.
How big is the battery?
About 80kWh. But what’s more interesting is where it is. Look how low the Mission R is, under 1.2 metres tall. Thinking that makes it a bit of a squeeze to sling a skateboard of batteries underneath? Correct. Instead it’s a 250kg chest behind the seats. Its location is essential, Porsche says, not only for the outward anti-SUV aesthetics, but to lower the driver as much as possible and improve the dynamics. Centralising the heaviest mass allows the Mission R to rotate better into corners.
So how does it drive?
There’s a section at Porsche’s Los Angeles Experience Centre where you come firing up a hill over a blind crest, then plunge down through a quick right into a long, cambered-in left then a further right-left flick-flack. The steering wheel never stops moving yet the Mission R charges through it without apparent effort. No sense of the mass working against it, not least because the negative effects of 1,500kg are already offset by a suitably chunky set of slicks – those are from the 911 RSR.
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There’s enough power to unhook them, though. It’s bumpy around here, able to lift wheels into the air and remind you that this car hasn’t done that much development work. It skips over the worst sections, there’s a grumble of understeer as the front tyres reach their limits, but you feel secure because what the suspension lacks in full race car sophistication it at least makes up for in reaction time. There’s not a huge amount of mid-corner steering feel, but massive turn-in grip gives you confidence to push hard, knowing you can always call on huge braking power if you need it.
Is the regen braking effective?
The pedal itself is a little mushy by racing standards, but what’s best is that Porsche seems to have nailed the handover between electric regen and mechanical disc. If there’s a transition from one to the other, I can’t spot it. No issues with the throttle either. Of course there’s no lag or delay with electric, but there’s a lot of power to distribute and it could all be rather sudden and hectic. Instead it’s intuitive and accurate, easy to vary and adjust your line through corners.
Does it feel fast?
It’s not quite as ballistic as the VW ID.R. That was absolutely unhinged – we timed it to 100mph in 3.7secs. However, like that Pikes Peak tearaway the Mission R is able to spin all four slicks off the line when cold. Porsche says 0-62mph is dealt with in 2.5 secs.
Anything else funky and futuristic?
Here’s a neat, but entirely logical one for you. At the moment FIA regulations insist production-based racing cars use an additional steel rollcage inside the car’s existing structure. That limits interior space and access, adds significant weight and hardly seems cutting edge. So the Mission R does away with it, instead featuring a carbon fibre exoskeleton strong enough to fulfil the brief. Glass panels fill the gaps in the latticework above your head, letting in light. It’s bright and airy inside, complementing the futuristic design.
The seat uses 3D printed pads placed on a one piece moulding that runs from the headrest all the way down underneath you. The material it’s made from you also find on the doors. It looks kind of like carbon fibre. Similar layered construction, but the fibres are natural, so too the glue it’s impregnated with. Not quite as strong as carbon, but ethically sensitive.
Quite the rear wing.
Yes, but it has a soft side. Hydraulic actuators give the giant rear wing a low drag mode, a la DRS. Because it’s a concept Porsche hasn’t made that work yet, nor the more interesting elements at the front of the car. The intention is that the aero flaps ahead of each front wheel should open and close, either stalling air, or allowing it to flow onto the front wheel. The engineers believe this would aid yaw performance on turn in.
Are you getting some idea of how many ideas the Mission R incorporates? Concept cars are often accused of being nothing more than show ponies, designed to carry the ego of the designer rather than the future philosophy of the company. This is different.
It contains so much direct clever thinking as well as so many indirect hints of possible directions.
What happens next for the Mission R?
You get to race it. Porsche says that next year it’ll feature in a virtual racing game. And that’s likely to be the last we see of the Mission R. Behind the scenes I’m sure Porsche will develop it further, but as far as media coverage goes, it’s served its purpose. Sure, it’ll get wheeled out at various shows for the next couple of years, but ultimately it’ll retire to a quiet corner of the Porsche museum, then be demoted to a storage warehouse. Sad though that is, what really matters is that the thinking it contains bears fruit. Time will tell.
Specs: Twin e-motors, 1spd auto, 4WD, 1073bhp, **lb ft @ **rpm, 0-62mph in 2.5sec, 187mph max, NAmpg, NAg/km CO2, 1500kg