Attending a recent Porsche driving day at the compact but versatile Aldenhoven proving ground near Dusseldorf, I was lucky enough to hitch a passenger ride in the new Porsche 918 Spyder.
On Aldenhoven’s 1.3-mile oval circuit, Porsche’s man in the hot seat demonstrated the hybrid hypercar’s numerous show-stopping skills: electric-only mode (super-stealthy, yet swift enough to reach 62mph in 6.2sec), launch control (0-62mph in 2.6sec, then on to 124mph in another 4.7sec), ultra-flat cornering (with significantly greater body control than the almost equally heavy 911 Turbo) and, finally, the high-Wattage kidney punch delivered by the electric motors under full throttle.
During demonstration of the latter, which takes effect when engaged in the drivetrain’s most aggressive modes, in-gear acceleration from low revs was strong from the 4.6-litre V8 alone, but then a flex of the right foot brought on the electric beans. Cripes. So that’s what 944lb ft of torque feels like. As the electric motors kicked in with their technical-sounding whine, the revs shot up (this extraordinary engine has 9150rpm to exploit before the red line) and we were flung down the home straight in a surging blur.
I tried to recall the last time I felt pinned back into my seat with such force, and one memory stood out. In our special issue to celebrate 5000 Autocar road tests (2 March 2011), we featured a 1988 Porsche 959 as part of our never-tested ‘Ones that got away’ group (alongside a Ford GT40 and Ferrari F50).
As a hand hired to help with driving that day, I spent 20 minutes circling Millbrook’s high-speed bowl in the 959. Once the photographer had bagged his snaps, he waved me past. We’d been doing about 50mph for the pics, but the empty four-lane bowl ahead tempted more.
Like the 918’s driver, I applied throttle from low revs, but initial progress was stately at best. However, when the second of the 959’s two sequential turbos kicked in, there was a genuine whiplash moment. I’d never felt anything like it, and I’m not sure I have since – 918 included – such was the hammer blow from the 959’s comparatively tiny 2.85-litre flat six.
In 450bhp standard tune, the 959 could reach 62mph in 3.7sec and go on to a 197mph maximum – just 1.1sec and 17mph off the 918’s best. Our test car on that day in Millbrook was factory-tuned to 532bhp, and for that split second, when famine turned to feast as the 959’s mega-charged drivetrain truly came alive, the g-force it imparted on my body became a personal automotive milepost.
Clearly, the 918 is by far the more complex machine, and it’s much more usable, too – not to mention eco credentials that put it in a different universe to the 959. But there are strong similarities. Both cars have four-wheel drive with a variable torque split, advanced aerodynamics and adaptive damping (the 959 had two electronically controlled dampers per corner) and both provide outrageous pace despite weighing a not-inconsiderable half tonne-plus.
Sure, where the 959’s cabin was 911-familiar, the 918’s is starship-grade futuristic – all daring shapes, slick, integrated touchscreens and custom switchgear – but the tradition of innovation is clear as day in both. The 959 even had tyre pressure monitors – claimed to be a first among road cars.
So, with its binary, off/on power delivery like a cartoon boxer windmilling his arm into a knockout punch, the 959’s slugging prowess remains a landmark for me, but the 918 has just become another: incredibly fast, yes, but composed, usable, comfortable and economical, too.