Mission impossible? The Porsche Mission R

If any car can make a petrolhead fall for EV power, it's the Porsche Mission R. By Andrew Frankel
First Published: 17 May, 2022
Author: Andrew Frankel

I don’t want to resort to sprawling generalisations, but concept car drives suck. Concept cars are meant to look pretty; they are not designed to drive well. I remember going to drive the concept that became the Dodge Viper GTS and being told that because the tyres were made from a substance-related to Plasticine, I was limited to 20mph. In a straight line…

“So I fired up its eight-litre V10 engine and drove it a speed that would be considered derisory by any decent sprinter. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d not travelled to the US to drive it.”

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This article is brought to you by The Intercooler, a groundbreaking digital car magazine with which we are proud to be partnering. Watch our Fund Your Passion podcast with Andrew Frankel and Dan Prosser here. 

But I’m clearly a slow learner because 20 something years later, here I am back in the States once more, strapping myself into another concept car with another inconveniently official speed limit. And at least with the Viper I wasn’t minutely briefed on how to get out the car in an emergency. And if you think it’s just a question of opening the door and legging it, you do not yet have the measure of the Porsche Mission R.

In official Porsche speak, the Mission R is ‘its vision of what customer motorsports will look like in the future.’ In unofficial Andrew Frankel speak, it’s also likely to provide quite a good window into what we might expect from an all-electric Porsche sports car, like a Cayman or maybe even – whisper it and don’t hold your breath – 911.

But I’m clearly a slow learner because 20 something years later, here I am back in the States once more, strapping myself into another concept car with another inconveniently official speed limit. And at least with the Viper I wasn’t minutely briefed on how to get out the car in an emergency. And if you think it’s just a question of opening the door and legging it, you do not yet have the measure of the Porsche Mission R.

In official Porsche speak, the Mission R is ‘its vision of what customer motorsports will look like in the future.’ In unofficial Andrew Frankel speak, it’s also likely to provide quite a good window into what we might expect from an all-electric Porsche sports car, like a Cayman or maybe even – whisper it and don’t hold your breath – 911.

And it is very electric. Some 900 volts run through its armoured core, which could have some seriously prejudicial consequences for anyone on board if it gets loose. So I’m tutored in what is known as a ‘KERS jump’, a method of exiting a car without touching the ground and said car at the same time. You basically have to manoeuvre yourself into a position where you’re effectively outside the car but still on it, then leap clear. Or stumble and… I don’t know because I didn’t want to ask, but I expect it would make onlookers wish they could cover their eyes, ears and noses all at the same time.

So, no longer exactly a chiselled whippet if ever I were one and the door aperture of the Mission R not being particularly generous, I elected to trust Porsche to build a concept car capable of incarcerating its electrons in all eventualities. Which it did.

And there are quite a few in there. Enough to transmit near enough 1100bhp through all four wheels, via front and rear electric motors fed by an 80kWh battery back located exactly where you’d find the engine in the Cayman it most closely physically resembles. That, however, is ‘qualifying’ mode and today we are restricted to the 670bhp allowable in ‘race’ mode. And a top speed of 62mph. Okay, that’s three times faster than I got to drive the Viper, but this is a car that will get from rest to that limiter in less than 2.5 seconds.

So I put my problem to a Porsche PR man standing nearby. Happily his name is Marc Lieb, among whose more recent accomplishments was to win Le Mans for Porsche in 2016. He is sympathetic to the situation but stresses that I cannot write that I drove the car at more than 62mph. So I won’t. And if you don’t mind, I leave it to you to join the dots from there…

I do a couple of laps of the tight and technical track at Porsche’s Los Angeles Experience centre in the passenger seat with Lars Kern driving. Like Marc, Lars is quiet, understated and astonishingly rapid. If his name is unfamiliar to you, almost every time a Porsche road car sets an ever more preposterous lap time around the Nürburgring, it has Lars at its wheel. It is here I learn of its electrifying acceleration (pun not entirely intended) and stone cold Michelin slicks. ‘You need to go fast, keep the heat in them,’ he advises.

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So he departs and leaves me to strap myself behind the fiendishly complex RSR steering wheel, of whose multitudinous controls we need today to be troubled by just one. The one that makes it go. And that’s it: a car of unimaginable technical complexity and literally all you need to operate it is one switch, two pedals and a steering wheel. 

For a concept car, it is absurdly, some might say suspiciously well developed. Were there a series for electric racers and were it not valued at 8m, it would not be far off ready to race as it is. With no gears to worry about and no torque curve to manage – because it’s all there all the time – valuable brain space is freed to concentrate on keeping your lines smooth, spotting your braking points and keeping this unique prototype (for that is what I now realise it is) out of the concrete barriers that line the track. 

It corners flat and fast, pulling up to 2g and has so much traction there is no corner exit where you can’t just use everything the car can muster. If it has a flaw, it’s that it has a tendency to push wide of the apex as you apply the power but, as Lars points out, there’s no reason you couldn’t change the front to rear torque split on the move from the cockpit as easily as you might adjust the brake balance. 

But is it still fun, with only the soulless noise of the electric motors for company and not even any paddles to play with. Surprisingly so. But it’s a different sort of fun, one where the powertrain becomes merely and enabler for its chassis, where you focus on perfecting your lines and savouring the car’s handling. It’s a more cerebral kind of fun than, say, a 911 Cup car whose lap times it is said to be able to match, but there’s little wrong with that. 

Yes, I’d rather have a 4-litre flat-six at 9000rpm behind me, but you can rail at the impending demise of the internal combustion engine as much as you like – as Canute found on the English shoreline, you’re not going to stop it happening. And the Mission R, the first electric racing car I’ve driven, was genuine fun even at the limited speeds possible on the LA track and with only race power under my boot. At somewhere allowing fuller expression with all 1100bhp, somewhere you might get close to its 192mph top speed, I imagine it would be something else again. 

No, it wasn’t enough to turn me into an EV evangelist, preaching with all the zeal of the enlightened and reformed, but it did make me look long and hard at the future of racing and what I saw was nothing like as dull as I had imagined. Done right, it could be great. 

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This article is brought to you by The Intercooler, a groundbreaking digital car magazine with which we are proud to be partnering. Watch our Fund Your Passion podcast with Andrew Frankel and Dan Prosser here.