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The McLaren P1: That’s a hybrid?

217mph with an electric motor. Wow

The New Review road test normally carries with it the assumption that the author (me) has driven the car, and that the drive took place on a road. This time I have to make an exception. Only two media figures have driven this week’s subject car: Jeremy Clarkson, because he’s very famous, and Jay Leno, because he is also very famous and has bought one.

I, however, have just been hurled around a test track very rapidly in one, by the man who knows the car best. And so intimate is this car in the way it responds to its driver’s inputs that the passenger can live the feeling vicariously to an almost unprecedented degree. So let me share with you what it is probably like to drive McLaren’s new P1, a hybrid supercar with 916bhp, a 2.8-second 0-62mph time, a 217mph top speed and a rather frugal-sounding 194g/km of CO2 production.

The other people due to be flung around the test track today are a few of the 375 who between them have pledged to buy the entire production run, at £866,000 per car.

You might have seen pictures of the P1 – low, sleek, built on a lightweight carbon-fibre structure and clad in carbon-fibre panels with many aerodynamically optimal gaps and slashes between them. As in a modern Formula One car, with which the P1 shares quite a lot, to be aerodynamically efficient is no longer to possess a simple beauty – not when downforce is as important as aero-slipperiness. The promotional pictures are of a yellow P1 seemingly with black blood seeping from open wounds, and it’s a bit discomfiting. Our test cars, however, are black all over. And they look menacingly magnificent.

Chris Goodwin, the P1’s chief development engineer, is keeper of my destiny for the next part of my life. He starts off in regular road mode, letting the seven-speed, double-clutch transmission shift automatically and the semi-active suspension move with surprising suppleness. Despite the 3.7-litre V8 engine’s pair of large turbochargers, which take a while to spool up to speed, the accelerator’s response is instant. That’s because the electric motor, which can briefly power the P1 on its own for zero-emissions urban driving, joins in to compensate for the lag.

Then my driver switches to the P1’s other extreme, race mode with manual gearshifts (there are other stages in between). Now he’s flicking up and down the gears, the acceleration is truly savage: we’ve just reached 180mph at the end of a short straight, gravity seeming to suck the P1 into the ground as Goodwin leans on brakes whose discs are made of the same material as an Ariane rocket’s thrust cluster – and I seem to be having an out-of-body experience.

The IPAS button – Instant Power Assist System – has helped here. Pressing it releases the electric motor’s full 179bhp to add to the V8’s efforts, making that 916bhp total, and it continues as long as charge remains in the battery pack. Recharging occurs as soon as the button is released and you no longer have the accelerator pedal pressed to the floor.

Goodwin then demonstrates deftly controllable powerslides, flicks through chicanes suggestive of a car weighing practically nothing (the reality is 1,395kg, light for a monstrously powerful hybrid), and what it feels like to nibble at a cornering force of more than 3G. This is probably the fastest road car, in the sense of its ability to lap a circuit in the minimum time, there has ever been; although Porsche, with its new 918 Spyder, and Ferrari, with the LaFerrai – hybrids both, neither of them yet delivered to buyers – may beg to differ.

It’s certainly the fastest machine I have ever encountered. If you’re one of the lucky 375, I hope you ordered it in black.