We drive the Porsche 918 Spyder; the first of the new generation of hybrid hypercars.[Not a valid template]
Make no mistake; the Porsche 918 Spyder is a hugely important car. Its significance is two-fold, for not only is it the continuation of a historic Porsche super sportscar lineage that includes the 550 Spyder, 904 Carrera GTS, 959, GT1 and Carrera GT but it’s also our first look at what the future of performance motoring has in store for us. Unless you’ve been living in a cave with a blindfold and earplugs on, you’ll know that Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren all announced hybrid supercars that would be arriving at around about the same time, and that time is now. While first drives of the LaFerrari and P1 are imminent, the 918 Spyder is the first of the power triumvirate to show its cards in this game of big power poker.
Stood in the pit lane of Valencia’s picturesque Ricardo Tormo circuit, I’m getting my first proper poke around the 918 Spyder and in the metal it looks absolutely stunning. Most photos of the 918 that have been floating around are of the Weissach package version, meaning a retro race livery and various bits of carbon fibre aerodynamic addendums that to my eye look tacky and ruin the purity of what is one of the prettier designs of recent time. In standard form the 918 Spyder has nigh-on perfect proportions, lines that are elegant and menacing all at the same time, with plenty of subtle styling cues that give a nod to Porsche’s illustrious past.
Click a button hidden in a louvre behind the door and it swings open to reveal a wide carbon sill; a hint of the fully carbon chassis that underpins the 918. Drop into the fixed back lightweight carbon bucket seats and I am greeted by an interior as futuristic as you would expect from a car of this type, and one that likely previews the direction of mainstream Porsche interiors going forward. The first detail that I notice is the swooping centre console with a fancy new touchscreen housing sat-nav, climate control and entertainment system, which means there’s no longer the usual mess of buttons as in the rest of Porsche’s model range. The alcantara-covered steering wheel has a beautiful milled aluminium centre, to the right of which is a bright red button that looks like it might be used to launch a missile, but is actually part of a rotary dial that controls the various driving modes, but more on that later. The conventional Porsche layout of three round gauges, with the rev counter taking pride of place in the centre, sits in front of the driver. Where it breaks with tradition is with an LED powermeter around the central gauge that illuminates in bright green to remind me that I’m are in a hybrid.
Which brings us nicely to the complex tech-fest housed under the gorgeous skin of the 918. There’s enough of it to fill this entire magazine. I’m going to focus on the highlights, but even then there’s enough to frazzle the brightest of brains. Still, let’s start with the powertrain, at the centre of which is a high-revving 4.6-litre V8 loosely derived from the one in the all-conquering RS Spyder LMP2 race car. It’s been re-engineered for durability and tractability, but it’s still capable of producing 608bhp at 8700rpm. There are also two hybrid electric motors, one driving the front axle and one the rear, that add another 286bhp and are supposedly derived from the 911 GT3 R hybrid racing car that came oh-so-close to winning the Nurburgring 24 Hour race a few years back. Power and torque are distributed via all four wheels (petrol motor output through the rear axle, electric motors through both) and the latest generation PDK transmission offers shift times as quick as 0.05sec.
The attention to weight-saving is borderline psychotic, but then is has to be with the battery packs and motors weighing hundreds of kilos. The aforementioned Weissach Pack may add a whopping $84,000 to the price-tag, but it shaves 40kg by using magnesium wheels and a body wrap instead of paint. Still, there’s no arguing with the fact that 1640kg remains heavy for a hypercar; by comparison, the Carrera GT weighed just 1380kg. Like its rivals, the 918 has active aerodynamics, both for generating downforce and reducing drag. Unlike its rivals though, you get the sense that the focus is more on the latter than the former. Intakes open and close automatically and the rear wing raises, lowers and alters its angle of attack as it sees fit.