When someone offers you a ride in a McLaren P1 — a 903-horsepower vehicle that's one of the rarest cars in the world — you don't say no.
That's how I found myself sitting shotgun in one of the fastest cars ever made, dicing through rush-hour Manhattan traffic. National Geographic has teamed up with Uber to promote its new show, Breakthrough, by bringing a fleet of hybrid, electric and alternative-fuel vehicles to New York City to give passengers free rides.
Yes, the P1 is a hybrid.
Though you can't request the P1 specifically, Uber users can open the app, type in the promo code "BREAKTHROUGH" and get picked up in a variety of alternate-fuel vehicles including a BMW i8, a Tesla Model S, various solar-powered prototypes, a biodiesel Porsche Cayenne and a host of others. The promotion runs from Oct. 27-30, between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. and is only available in Manhattan below 59th Street.
Breakthrough is a celebration of "real-time scientific discovery," so the selection of cars was chosen to get
New Yorkers in the cutting edge of automotive technology, hence the inclusion of the P1. It uses a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 rated at 727 horsepower augmented by an 176-hp electric motor, combining for a total of 903 hp. You can even drive it in silent, full-electric mode for up to six miles if you'd like.
Equipped with this hybrid setup, the P1 gets an EPA-certified 18 miles per gallon combined city/highway fuel economy, which doesn't seem that impressive until you realize this is a car that can cover a quarter-mile distance in 9.8 seconds from a full stop (averaging 148.9 mph).
In lower Manhattan, we didn't even get close to that speed, but I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt, the car is extraordinarily fast. Hard acceleration in the P1 is a weird mix of sensations; your ears are telling you one thing because you hear the rise in RPMs of the V8, seeming to indicate a rise in torque, but your chest is telling you something else because of the brutal, instantaneous thrust of the electric motor. It feels faster than it sounds.
Not that it sounds bad, of course. The V8 has a huge air intake right above your head, so the sound fills the cabin without being deafeningly loud. The turbos make all sorts of wooshing sounds, adding to the theater of it all.
It's sensory overload; in 20 minutes in the passenger seat, my brain was utterly fried. I can't even imagine what driving it would be like. As is the case with all the greatest cars I've experienced, the P1 lodged itself deep into my brain.