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Shock Treatment

Performance cars get a new boost from electricity.
MARK HACKING

Though the planet is at a proverbial intersection, propelled to the point of no return by an ever-increasing focus on the environment, all is not lost—for the world at large nor for car enthusiasts in particular. More and more, automakers are turning to electrification to engineer high-speed thrills without all the residual guilt. The truth be told, the signs were already there.


The first wave of hybrid hypercars from Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche proved that electrification had arrived—and that it was a good thing. More attainable performance hybrids such as the Acura NSX and BMW i8 nudged the needle along even further. The result: Electrified cars now boast increased all-electric range, quicker acceleration, and, in many cases, a more inspired kind of performance.


The wait right now is for the latest electrified hypercars from the likes of Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG et al. The world also can cool its heels while new and renewed carmakers such as Lotus, Pininfarina, and Rimac prepare to mix it up with the more established players. Until that time comes, these three compelling performance cars—and one all-electric race car—drive faster than ever toward the future.


Lexus LC500h

Electrified vehicles are better than ever across the board and, although hybrids have been around for more than 20 years, they’re still improving with age. Case in point: the Lexus LC500h. Taking inspiration from the legendary Lexus LFA, the LC is a new kind of GT, one that combines strong dynamics, an electrified powertrain, and stratospheric levels of luxury and technology.


Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine paired with an electric drive motor to produce a combined 354 hp and very quick response. The 60 mph marker appears in 4.7 seconds, perfectly in keeping for a GT that leans toward composure over neck-snapping performance. The powertrain features a 4-speed continuously variable transmission that’s tuned to mimic a 10-speed in manual mode, so the act of toggling through the gears using the paddle shifters is more entertaining than might be expected. All the power is routed to the rear wheels, giving the feel of an authentic GT (no mean feat considering the hybrid powertrain elements add around 150 pounds to the curb weight).


Despite its weight and performance credentials, the LC500h is an incredibly fuel-efficient ride, returning an estimated 30 mpg in combined driving scenarios. To round it all off nicely, even when driving through car-obsessed California, the Lexus turns heads like a screwdriver. The model looks like a concept car that somehow escaped a darkened design studio—onlookers stop, stare, and selfie with reckless disregard for safety in its presence. $97,510; lexus.com

Polestar 1

If the idea of owning the Polestar 1 sounds interesting, act fast—only 1,500 of these GTs will be built over three years. Not familiar with the car or the brand? Here’s the 500-foot overview: The Polestar brand stands alone, jointly owned by Volvo and Hangzhou-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. The company is based in Gothenburg, Sweden, and has a building on the Volvo campus; all production takes place in China. One more thing: Everything is electrified. While the Polestar 1 is a plug-in hybrid, all future vehicles from the brand will be entirely electric. Until that happens, there’s much to admire about this 2+2 coupe—beginning with the powertrain that links a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors. Net result: a combined output of 619 hp and 738 ft. lbs. of torque, as well as up to 78 miles of all-electric range. In many ways, the Polestar 1 is unlike anything on the road today. It’s a grand tourer, in the spirit of a Porsche 911 or an Aston Martin DB11. It’s a hybrid (and a tremendously efficient one to boot), but it’s also a real performance machine. The steering is ultralight at low speeds and more connected as those speeds rise. The ride is fantastic. And the all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring makes for brilliant cornering capabilities. In many ways, it’s a shame that the Polestar 1 is available only in limited numbers—because this is a true GT that will help define the future of electrified performance cars. $155,000; polestar.com

Audi RS6 Avant

In the earlier part of the 21st century, a vehicle with as much on-board electrification as the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant would have been called a “mild hybrid.” But none of the badges on this thunderous performance wagon even hint at what’s going on under the surface. To be fair, the car’s 48-volt architecture is not the star of the show—that role is reserved for the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 wedged under the hood. With 591 hp and 590 ft. lbs. of torque, the RS6 Avant is as far removed from the prototypical family wagon as you can get. The Audi accelerates to 60 mph in well under 4 seconds and can hit a top speed of nearly 190 mph—with five passengers along for the ride.


Here, electrification is employed simply to boost efficiency: a second battery powers some of the accessories, provides assistance to the engine under light loads, or allows it to shut down completely when coasting. The car also incorporates cylinder deactivation and an engine stop/start system to further increase efficiency.


While the RS6 Avant is an absolute legend overseas, this fourth-generation version is the first to land in America. It’s been worth the wait: In addition to supercar-like acceleration, the Audi carves corners like a champ, as evidenced during a rousing drive one fine day through the Santa Monica Mountains. The car’s stellar handling is the result of the all-wheel drive system to generate increased traction, as well as torque vectoring at the rear wheels and a rear-wheel steering system to help perform side-to-side transitions with the greatest of ease. Then, for those times when you just want to drive at the speed limit, this wagon responds with a high-tech interior that’s more than comfortable over the long haul.


The Audi RS6 Avant is a brilliant car, full stop, and it makes nearly every high-performance SUV on the block seem outdated and tame all at once. From $109,000; audi.com

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