The 918 Spyder is suitably squat and wide, but the Porsche lacks the visual flare and aesthetic impact of the Ferrari and McLaren. Entering the cabin is tricky with the roof panels in place thanks to the carbonfibre monocoque’s high and wide. The seat belts are at least three-point affairs, so there’s no need to wrestle a full race harness before getting down to business.
Twist the key and there’s no direct firing of the V8 engine, merely some distant whirring as the electric motors are primed for action. The windscreen provides an excellent view out but there’s no rear window due to the lightweight titanium exhaust, which is mounted atop the engine just an arm’s length behind. Instead, a reversing camera and an impressively tight turning circle come to the rescue as we manoeuvre out of the pits.
Off we go. The 918 Spyder may claim race-car lineage but it doesn’t sound like one. Besides the rumble of tyres on the asphalt and the sound of stones being thrown up into the wheelhouses as we head down to the first corner, it is all but silent. With sufficient battery charge in E-Power mode, the Porsche relies on the front electric motor to provide propulsion at speeds of up to 93mph – which makes this Porsche’s first front-wheel drive car.
Before the first lap is over I’m already gushing at the razor-sharp throttle response, the immense in-gear urge, the immediacy of the chassis and the searing V8 engine, which emits a spine-tingling mechanical shrill on the way to its 9150rpm limiter.
The juggling act between efficiency and performance has resulted in five driveline modes. An E-Power is the default mode, in which the 918 Spyder is propelled by its front electric motor and, above 16mph, the rear electric motor. Turn a rotary dial to select Hybrid mode and both the electric motors and the combustion engine combine, although the V8 doesn’t run all the time.
A further turn of the dial activates Sport-Hybrid, in which the combustion engine runs continuously and the electric motors operate most of the time, while Race Hybrid introduces torque vectoring to the front wheels and, when required, has the rear motor acting as a generator to supply power to the front electric motor. If that’s not enough, there’s a so-called Hot Lap mode that allows the electric motors to draw up to 90 per cent of available energy, or 20 per cent more than usual.
Third gear with Race Hybrid mode engaged is best for an out-of-body experience. The combined efforts of the three power sources and the shriek of the V8 under full load is mind-blowingly intense. It’s the same story in fourth, while fifth brings little respite – the torque is so strong that you reach huge speeds with little more than a fleeting prod of throttle.
The 918 Spyder uses a bespoke regenerative braking system to extend its range, with the two electric motors providing deceleration of up to 0.5g. There’s no regeneration until you hit the brake pedal, though, and just lifting the throttle engages a coasting function. Despite their complexity the carbon-ceramic brakes are not only stunningly effective, but they also deliver true feel, which is not something that can be said of the stoppers on many hybrids.
We head in to a series of bends at speed for the first time. The steering, which operates on the front and rear axles simultaneously, helps to endow the 918 Spyder with stunning agility. The weighting of the electro-mechanical system is a little lighter than expected but the tyres bite hard and there’s little roll to speak of, while the front end remains remarkably calm. No plough-on understeer, no sudden-death oversteer, just terrific neutrality and masses of grip.
The secret to the ease of drivability is the packaging all of the 918 Spyder’s major drive systems below the horizontal centre line and within its wheelbase. All three power sources are mounted exceptionally low for the best possible centre of gravity and low polar movement: the centre of the rear drive assembly, for example, which includes the petrol engine, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and rear electric motor, is just 273mm above the road; the 6.8kWh lithium ion battery is lower still and straddled by a 70-litre fuel tank.
Porsche employs the front electric motor not only for propulsion but also to tailor the handling by constantly increasing or decreasing the amount of torque that goes to each of the front wheels. As well as countering any tendency toward understeer or oversteer, the addition of drive to the front wheels via a fixed-ratio gearbox also provides the 918 Spyder with tremendous traction and drive.
The suspension uses a combination of double wishbones up front and multi-links. It is, to all intents and purposes, a race car set-up, with adjustable springs and dampers and proper metal-to-metal joints for the lowest possible tolerances and the sort of tactility that has to felt to be believed. There is also sufficient compliance to ensure the Spyder doesn’t crash over kerbs like a race car, which is enough to hint that it should cope with most roads without too much trouble.
Porsche says the 918 Spyder will now hit 62mph in just 2.8sec and 124mph in 7.9sec on the way to a top speed of “more than 211mph” – some 93mph of which can be achieved on electric power.
This is awesome performance by hybrid standards, and made all the more impressive by the claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 85.6mpg and CO2 emissions of just 79g/km. These figures have little to do with what the Porsche will achieve in the real world, but they point towards a notable advance in supercar efficiency.
Spearing down the front straight, however, throttle pinned hard in fourth, it’s the truly disturbing effect of the 918 Spyder’s torque that impresses most. The V8’s 391lb ft peak arrives at 6600rpm but there’s colossal shove throughout the range thanks to the added efforts of the electric motors.
All up, there’s a whopping 940lb ft, more than 590lb ft of which is available between 800 and 5000rpm, giving the car a tremendously flexible nature.