Had you forgotten about the third contender in the hybrid supercar wars, given the furious competition betwen Ferrari and McLaren? Porsche’s hybrid 918 Spyder is that third competitor, which mates a 4.6-litre normally aspirated V8 to an 84bhp front-drive electric motor and a 127bhp EV motor helping drive the rear tyres. It costs £768,026, and though Porsche won’t quite admit as much, you can still buy one of the 918 being produced - unlike the sold-out LaFerrari.
Heavier, a little less powerful but more eco-friendly than the Ferrari and McLaren, the 918 looks outgunned, but Porsche reckons it'll be the faster of the three in certain conditions. CAR spoke to Porsche’s product manager James Eastwood to find out how the 918’s development is progressing, ahead of the finished car’s September 2013 debut.
CAR: Do you need to upgrade the 918’s engine and electric motors to match the 900bhp+ of LaFerrari and McLaren?
James Eastwood: 'Although our car is heavier, its technology can make the car faster [in certain conditions]. In rear-drive cars like our competitors, you still have to do all your braking in a straight line, compromising corner-entry speed. Thanks to the 918’s torque-vectoring and independently-driven front wheels, we can maintain better drive and achieve higher entry and mid-corner speed.'
Was the four-wheel steer system developed for the 918 and pinched for the 911 GT3, or vice versa?
'It was a 918 system which Andreas (Preuninger, 911 GT car boss) borrowed when he saw the performance benefits. It makes the car so agile that over a racing lap it’s worth an extra 50bhp of power – or removing 100kg of weight. That’s another reason we don’t have to up the 918’s power to beat our rivals.'
Talking of weight, what’s the 918’s final confirmed kerbweight?
'Production cars will weigh 1700kg (with fuel and fluids on board). The lightweight Weissach package will cut 50kg of weight from the car.'
What’s been the take-up of the lightweight, track-friendly Weissach package for the 918?
'Around 50% of customers have opted for the Weissach package on their cars.'
Are all 918 Spyders now spoken for?
(Uneasy laugh) 'We can’t confirm sales numbers, but even though we are producing far more cars than LaFerrari (499) and McLaren P1 (375) we’re not worried about selling 918 examples being a problem. Our last limited-edition supercar – the Carrera GT – sold 1275 units.'
Does the typical 918 customer care about saving fuel?
'It’s a question of changing attitudes, and cars like this showing social responsibility if they are to survive. The fact that this car can achieve a combined 82mpg is a great showcase for our hybrid technology, and for some of our customers, makes this a far more usable everyday car. For example, if you live in London you can enter the city centre without paying a congestion charge, running on silent electric power, but in other areas on drivers can they can be amazed at the car’s performance.'
How quickly will technology and lessons learned with the 918 Spyder trickle down to other Porsches?
'With our hybrids, it’s already happening – look at the Panamera S E-hybrid. I wouldn’t say it’s possible to lift components straight out of [the 918] and put them in, say, a Cayman – this is a very bespoke car. But for the next generation of cars, sure.'
Do you have final confirmed performance figures for the 918 Spyder?
'Not yet. The last car we properly tested was the prototype which lapped the Nurburgring on 18/9/2012 in 7min 14sec. That car was driven by an engineer rather than a racing driver, so we expect final cars with finished aerodynamics and powertrains to improve on the current numbers'. (sub-3.0sec 0-62mph, 203mph)
What will change visually from the development prototypes to finished 918 Spyders?
'Mainly fit and finish. This car even has the indicators from a VW Golf in its light clusters! The interior will get the touch-sensitive centre console from the concept car. The rear deck will use more mesh for better cooling' [likely made of titanium].
Have you solved the issues caused by routing exhausts out of the top of the car?
'Mainly we had problems with the paintwork and bodywork wrap discolouring thanks to the heat and deposits from the exhaust [points to extra protective metal panelling behind the exhausts]. It’s actually a great way to package exhausts. This engine produces a lot of heat, but by routing the exhausts out of the top of the car we keep heat away from the low-mounted battery packs, which increases battery life.'
Could the 918 use its high-up exhausts to blow superheated air over the rear wing for extra downforce, F1-style?
'No – we wouldn’t get the benefit on a road car that F1 cars can generate.'
Will the 918 Spyder offer the same sort of ‘hoon mode’ the driver can engage to oversteer the PDK-only 911 GT3?
'We don’t think this is the sort of car that our customers will want to drive in that manner, so no! Though thanks to the four-wheel drive, this is a proper all-weather car, so it’d be great in cold, slippery conditions…'