UPDATE: Porsche has announced that it has begun preparations to make the Concept E a reality, including a €700 million investment.
There have been rumours in the auto industry for a while that Porsche was going to build a smaller, 4-seat saloon model to slot below the Panamera and rival the BMW 5-Series.
What nobody expected was that Porsche would show its intent to build a Tesla-killer. But that's exactly what it's done. The Mission E concept – unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show – is indeed that smaller Porsche saloon, but the company made no bones about the fact that it wanted to picked a fight with the Californian terms, suggesting this model would go into production in the next three years, as part of a wider VW group strategy to launch 30 new electric and plug-in models by 2020.
Porsche Mission E concept preview: Bold claims
Take on Tesla and the first thing you've got to do is get the powertrain right. No little of the Model S's success has come from its outrageous power delivery – the latest insane mode upgrade in the P90 hurtling it from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds.
Clearly, a Porsche that didn't perform wouldn't be fitting of the brand, so Porsche claims that the Mission E's pair of synchronous motors can deliver just over 600 horsepower, get it to 60mph in under 3.5 seconds and 200km/h in under 12 seconds.
Producing a fully electric car is fairly bold for a brand known for its rear-mounted flat-six petrols. But to prove this is no flight of fancy, Porsche talked extensively about the similarity of the powertrain underneath the Mission E and what it's been using in its 919 hybrid race car – which won Le Mans 24 hour race this year.
Porsche Mission E concept preview: Range anxiety
If you're worried about the Porsche Mission E leaving you stranded by the side of the motorway because it's out of juice, Porsche has moved to head of the range anxiety problem in two ways.
One, the Mission E has a range of over 500km on one charge. Two, and the bigger news (and a second shot across Tesla's bow), is its 600-volt system, which means the battery can be recharged to 85 per cent in just 15 minutes. If that claim is true, it could be the car's biggest asset and make Tesla's superchargers look distinctly less than super.
Porsche Mission E concept preview: Tech, we got tech
Of course, Tesla's offering – what it's done with the Model S in particularly – goes far beyond the powertrain. The entire experience feels hi-tech and futuristic, and in part that's because of the car's 17-inch touchscreen.
Porsche doesn't offer you quite the same screen real estate, because it's gone for a very spare, delicate and slim design theme in the interior which carries the rising centre console idea of its existing cars. It is, however, still a technology delight inside.
Porsche's trademark five dials on the instrument cluster are reformed as a virtual display on a curved OLED display. Which is cool, but where it gets even more clever is that 3D-eye-tracking software follows your head, and moves the dials around accordingly – so that you can always see them as clearly as possible and they're never obscured by anything as old fashioned as a steering wheel spoke.
On the passenger side there's a holographic display that shows apps which can be selected, moved around and interacted with via gesture control.
And the Mission E can be configured (and to some degree controlled) from afar, via a Smartphone or Tablet.
Porsche Mission E concept preview: Best til last
You'll note, though, that we've not yet commented on the Mission E's most important aspect: its looks. And it was the general perception of everyone we spoke to at the Frankfurt Auto Show that Porsche has absolutely nailed the Mission E.
As many cars became less rational in their styling and adorned by ever-greater numbers of small details, surface changes and general fussyness in the name of aerodynamics (yes we're looking at you, Toyota Prius) it was refreshing to see Porsche present such a clean, calm, yet brooding design.
It has a certain level of visual menace. Its facial expression isn't angry, but nor does it look happy. The window line is straight from a 911, yet there is space for four windows. And from what we can see – strip it off the rear opening door, the crazy (cool) wheels and the exposed LED lamp lenses that wouldn't pass any regulatory standard – and despite its concept moniker, the Mission E may be a lot closer to reality than its name would lead you to believe.
Make no mistake, Porsche is serious about re-inventing itself for the age of electric, driverless cars. It knows it faces a potential battle to stay relevant. The Mission E suggests it stands a good chance of doing so and we expect a car not dissimilar to this to be on sale by around 2018. Porsche just put Tesla on notice.