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We drive the 918 Spyder – the most powerful and fastest Porsche road car to date. Take cover, Ferrari and McLaren...
14 May 2013

What is it?

Off in the distance, the Porsche 918 Spyder rounds a bend and spears toward us, pursued by the high-pitched scream of its petrol-electric driveline. It flashes by the pit wall then arcs into the turn at the end of the straight, revealing a huge rear wing before disappearing from view.

I’ve travelled to Porsche’s Leipzig test track not only to witness rally legend Walter Röhrl display his talent at the wheel of Porsche’s new flagship but also to become one of the first people outside its team of engineers to drive the staggeringly complex 918 Spyder. 

It seems an impossible task given its complexity, but the 918 Spyder has progressed from concept to pre-production form in just two years. Even since my ride in the first road-going prototype last year, Porsche has reworked much of the mechanical and electrical package, and the car’s completeness today has me in awe.

The naturally aspirated 4.6-litre V8 produces 599bhp at 8600rpm, giving a specific output of 130bhp per litre. Two electric motors – one mounted within the front axle, another at the rear  – add an additional 275bhp. Combined, the three power sources output 875bhp.

This makes the 918 Spyder easily the most powerful Porsche road car ever. By comparison, the rear-wheel drive Carrera GT’s naturally aspirated 5.7-litre V10 produced 603bhp.

But is 875bhp enough? The new LaFerrari’s naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V12 and HY-KERS system develops a collective 950bhp, while the McLaren P1’s twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 and single electric motor produce 903bhp. And they are a respective 385kg and 240kg lighter than the 1640kg 918 Spyder. 

It is this thought I find myself grappling with as the car rumbles down pit lane for my turn behind the wheel.

What's it like?

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.

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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.

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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.   

Should I buy one?

In pre-production form, at least, the 918 Spyder has exceeded our expectations. For all its speed and ability to run on electric power, the truly extraordinary thing about it is the accessibility of its performance.

Porsche is yet to sign off the final chassis tuning but one thing is already abundantly clear: the 918 Spyder possesses extraordinary purchase and traction. It feels nothing if not tremendously well sorted for something so inherently complex, and it seems there’s even more to come.

“It is a learning process,” reveals Walliser. “We’re continually gathering data that allows us to improve the drive system.”   

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Carry more speed into the next corner, get on the power even earlier and you’re no nearer to breeching the heady levels of adhesion; the Spyder simply answers the call for more.

Despite its complexity, this car is also tremendously alert, providing meaningful communication and tremendous weighting as lateral forces are piled on. It’s not a car to be scared of by any means, it's one you’re urged to drive – and hard.

Provided, of course, you can forget about the price tag.

Porsche 918 Spyder

Price £664,135; 0-62mph 2.8sec; Top speed 211mph; Economy 85.6mpg; CO2 79g/km; Kerb weight 1640kg; Engine V8, 4593cc, petrol; Power 599bhp at 8600rpm (875bhp in hybrid mode); Torque 391lb ft at  6600rpm (590lb ft in hybrid mode, between 800 and 5000rpm); Gearbox 7spd PDK

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Comments
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Terrier 16 May 2013

Starting to grow on me

The design is starting to grow on me. All they need to do is make the front lights flush with the bonnet/wings and this car will look incredible. But then what do I know? - I think the Panamera is one of the best looking cars on the road.

Driving 16 May 2013

tasty

love it, technical masterpiece, 4wd compared to lalala and p1. i think kable has to be a huge follower of earlier fast & furious neon led street racers playing this cars looks to be not as tasty like the lalalala and the p1. get some taste please.

TBC 16 May 2013

Money

Having sufficient funds in today's world opens up untold opportunities in the motoring world, but I wonder, outside of a race track, and possibly highways in the Gulf region, where can owners really get the most out of their purchases? With the 918, Porsche may have achieved a balance that makes their car more relevant in the modern world, well as much as a £664,135 car can be considered relevant (as opposed to being a toy for race track days). Still, unlike some posters, I am happy to wait until it, and it's three competitors, are actually released to see how they compare.

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