The Porsche 918 Spyder gives us a glimpse into the electrifying future of Porsche’s sports car lineup,but does all that tech make it more or less fun to drive?
What is it?
The 918 Spyder is one of three radical supercars hitting the streets right now, the others being the Ferrari LaFerrari and the McLaren P1. All three are built around carbon tubs and augment their traditional supercar powertrains with hybrid power. Porsche’s offering is substantially cheaper, at around £650,000, but that’s not the only reason you’ve got more chance of getting your hands on one: Porsche’s planned 918-unit production run is three times bigger than its rivals, and so far only half have been sold.
What are the pub-ammo numbers?
Derived from the motor in Porsche RS Spyder racer, the 4.6-litre V8 delivers 608bhp to the rear wheels and revs to 9150rpm. To that, add 277bhp of electric power operating on both front and rear axles for a top speed beyond 211mph and 0-62mph in 2.6sec. The 918 also holds the current Nordschleife production car record, which stands at 6min 57sec (although McLaren claims its P1 laps it in 'less than seven minutes' without giving a precise time). Porsche says the hybrid drivetrain is worth 5sec of that ’Ring time.
So the hybrid bit is purely there to make power?
No, it also helps the 918 return some very un-supercar-like economy figures. Unless every journey is short enough to make the most of a full battery charge, you can forget the 91mpg claimed economy, but the 918 can do 18 miles purely on electric power at speeds up to 93mph, and on a long distance run from Stuttgart to the launch in Spain, where the petrol engine would have been in regular use, the car achieved more than 30mpg. For a near-900bhp car, that’s not to be sniffed at.
Does all this hybrid stuff mean it drives like an arcade game?
Definitely not. Ignoring the hybrid part for a moment, the 918 is a great sports car in its own right. The electric steering is very good, far more satisfying than the 911’s (which engineers say will improve), the ride quality is excellent and the carbon ceramic brakes, despite a lingering lack of feel due to the brake regeneration effect, are massively effective and far less wooden than the Panamera Hybrid’s. As well as adding top end power, you can really feel the electric motor working when accelerating from, say, 60mph in seventh gear. Traction is excellent and the handling balance, aided by four-wheel steering that mimics the stability of a longer wheelbase, makes this a surprisingly friendly car to push hard.
Is it obvious when the petrol engine kicks in?
Unless you’ve been born without lugs, then yes. With those twin exhaust pipes exiting above your head the V8 makes a right racket, although the engine can come and go from the party in town driving without introducing any massive shunt. A rotary controller a bit like Ferrari’s manettino helps you switch between modes. There’s E-power, which is a purely electric, and can still get the 918 to 62mph in 6.1sec. If you need more, simply push the pedal past a detent to bring the petrol engine into play. Hybrid mode uses both power sources to maximise efficiency, while Sport and race prioritise performance. Pressing the red button in the dial’s centre while in Race mode engages the Hot Lap function and delivers maximum power.
The interior looks very slick. What can you tell us about it?
Climb through the conventionally opening door (not difficult, and made easier by removing the two roof panels which store in the nose) and you’re faced with some familiar Porsche style dials, but the rising centre stack features a very modern touchscreen, not unlike the one in McLaren’s 12C. Porsche’s design Boss Michael Mauer told us to expect something similar on the next generation of Porsche cars. The build quality is excellent and the driving position very good with little pedal offset, although the seatback is very upright and there’s no tilt adjustment for the wheel (which would have added 600g…).
And what’s going on with those rather garish Martini graphics?
That’s a £10,000 option along with a red flame package inspired by the livery of Porsche’s 1970 Le Mans-winning 917. You can only order them if you go for the €70,000 (around £58,000) Weissach package, a performance-focused suite of parts including lightweight alloy wheels, Alcantara interior and winglets behind the back wheels that help shed 40kg and improve stability. Unsurprisingly the Nürburgring time was done on a Weissach car, whose 40kg weight saving gets it to 186mph in 19.9sec, 2.1sec faster than the standard car.
So should I buy one?
We’ve yet to get behind the wheel of the P1 or LaFerrari so can’t make any comparisons, but the Porsche is brilliant to drive, and fully delivers on its promise to work in town and on the track. Do most millionaires really care that it emits 72g/km? Probably not, but the supercar hybrid is only going to become more common, and it’s a relief to discover that the result can be every bit as exciting as the cars they’ll replace.