Evo's Our first taste of the new Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid hypercar on track
What is it?
The new Porsche 918 Spyder. On the face of it, it’s Porsche’s answer to the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari, but the boffins from Stuttgart clearly believe it’s a much more complete car, thanks to a true hybrid petrol-electric drivetrain and greater concessions to everyday use. It even has cupholders!
There's a full carbon chassis and a fabulous high-revving 4.6-litre V8 derived from Porsche LMP2 programme, but re-engineered for durability and tractability, yet still capable of producing 612bhp at 8600rpm. The redline is 9150rpm. In addition the hybrid electric motors contribute a further 270bhp, bringing the 918’s total combined power output to 875bhp. Power and torque are distributed via all four wheels (petrol motor through the rear axle, a pair of electric motors through the front and rear axles) and the latest generation PDK transmission offers remarkable shift times as quick as 0.05sec.
Attention to weight saving is borderline OCD, but then is has to be with the battery packs and motors weighing hundreds of kilos. A ‘Weissach Pack’ shaves 40kg by use of magnesium wheels and a body wrap instead of paint, but there’s no denying 1640kg remains heavy for a hypercar (the old Porsche Carrera GT was 1380kg). Aerodynamics are also critical, both for generating downforce (though nothing like the crazy McLaren P1) and also for reducing drag to increase efficiency. Intakes open and close automatically and the rear wing is busy raising, lowering and altering its angle of attack.
There’s also a rotary ‘Map’ switch located on the steering wheel for selecting the five driving modes – E-Power, Hybrid, Sport Hybrid, Race Hybrid and Hot Lap – which control the full spectrum of the Spyder’s performance, from electric-only to full-beans.
What’s it like to drive?
You start the Spyder with a key, but there’s no sound for it always moves away on battery power alone. The Spyder will run for 20 miles like this, but use the last bit of the throttle’s travel and, much like kickdown in a conventional automatic car, the V8 awakens, at which point you’re in Hybrid mode. The systems are impressively integrated; apart from the very obvious – and welcome – noise from the V8, you’re unaware of what contribution the batteries are making to your progress, just that the car shifts with the ease and muscularity of a car with a big, torquey engine. Each turn of the Map switch awakens and intensifies the Spyder, sharpening throttle maps and shift times as normal, but also giving more (and more) of the battery power more of the time.
The steering is immediately impressive. It’s quick, but not unnaturally so, the rate of response matching your expectations perfectly. There’s abundant grip and an encouraging balance, with just enough body roll to know how hard you can lean on the front-end, but not so much as to diminish the sense of flat cornering. When it does slide it does so like a rear-drive car, so again feels natural.
Of course it’s a hugely rapid machine – Porsche claims 0-62mph in 2.8sec, 0-124mph in 7.9sec and 0-186mph in 23sec - but for a car that has the best part of 900bhp and more than 900lb ft of torque it doesn’t feel crazy-fast. Bluntly, if Ferrari and McLaren deliver on their promises a 918 Spyder won’t know which way they went.
There are shades of 458 and MP4-12C about the V8’s sound and response, but when you really stretch it this motor is sharper and even more feral. It sounds mighty, too, thanks to a huge amount of work on the top-exit exhaust system. Coupled to the latest generation PDK transmission it makes for a searing race car-like experience.
The one area that really does need work is braking. There’s a disconcerting non-linearity to the retardation and pedal feel when braking from high speed into a tight corner. It’s all to do with the regenerative braking system and how it harvests energy, and Porsche’s engineers know it’s an area they need to improve before the car enters production.
How does it compare?
In Top Trumps terms, not brilliantly. Both the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 boast far greater performance, thanks to less weight and more power.
Porsche would contend the Spyder is a much more complete vehicle: one that functions as a true plug-in hybrid (you can fully juice-up the batteries in 25 minutes using Porsche’s bespoke high-speed charger) and is as refined and capable as a Cayman or 911. We’ll drive the finished 918 later this year. Whether we ever get 918, P1 and LaFerrari together for the group test of the year remains to be seen.
Anything else I need to know?
There’s a Hot Lap mode, which draws 20 per cent more power from the batteries (90 per cent of total power) for all-out performance. It also sends more energy to the LED headlights, making them more intense for qualifying lap get-out-of-my-way attitude. We kid you not… _________________ >Competitive Porsche Insurance <
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