Porsche has poured everything it knows into its incredible 918 Spyder. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at a machine which sets the template for future hypercars.
Ten Second Review
By most normal rules, a car that generates 875bhp doesn't then return up to 94mpg but then the Porsche 918 Spyder is a car that defies convention. It's devastatingly rapid, as a sprint to 62mph in 2.8 seconds and a sub-7 minute lap of the Nurbrurging will attest. Perhaps more intriguing than its sheer pace is the 918's brain-warping technology. It's a genuine game-changer.
Porsche isn't a company used to being a makeweight when it comes to high end performance cars, yet it looked as if its 918 Spyder was set to fulfil exactly that role. The LaFerrari and the McLaren P1 seemed to have stolen the Porsche's thunder in their bids to become the king of the next-generation hybrid hypercars, yet as all three pounded the Nurburgring in what seemed to be the world's most expensive game of vehicular one-upmanship, it was the Porsche that emerged the fastest, logging a time of 6.57s with an optional 'Weissach Package' fitted. Prototypes of the 918 Spyder seemed to have been trailed for ever but for a car this complex, designed from a clean sheet of paper, it actually made production remarkably quickly. The first show car appeared at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2010 and the full production version debuted at Frankfurt in September 2013. It's a technological tour de force and we can but hope that some of its capability trickles down to more affordable models.
The 918 Spyder has been designed as a no-compromise showcase of Porsche's latest technology. It features a carbon fibre monocoque chassis, which is dressed with composite plastic body panels and then features chassis components made from aluminium, magnesium and titanium. The engine is a mid-mounted, 4.6-litre V8 petrol unit that generates 599bhp at 8700rpm. It's augmented by a pair of electric motors, one up front and one on the back axle, which develop a combined 282bhp. Therefore, Porsche's fastest ever road car develops a total of 875bhp and features a 535bhp per tonne power to weight ratio. Drive is directed via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the front wheels when under pure electric power and to all four wheels when petrol and electric power are combined. Porsche has developed an electronic management system to juggle these requirements with five driving modes: E-power, Hybrid, Sport Hybrid, Race Hybrid and Hot Lap. In E-power mode, it'll drive up to 20 miles purely on electric power and can even whir to 62mph in less than 7 seconds. Rather more enervating is Race Hybrid mode, which demolishes 62mph in just 2.8 seconds, 124mph (200km/h) in a mere 7.7 seconds with the 918 only running into an impenetrable wall of physics at 214mph. Active aerodynamics keep it planted to the road, while you also get regenerative carbon ceramic brakes and the electric motors on the front wheels also acts as a torque vectoring system. Quite how Porsche managed to combine all of this technology into a road car in such a short space of time defies belief.
Design and Build
The 918 Spyder's shape looks a logical development of that of the iconic Carrera GT. It's a graceful and clearly mid-engined shape, with just enough endurance racing in its genes to look like a road-legal competition car. Getting into this Porsche is no easy task with the targa roof panels in place, as you'll need to negotiate a high and wide sill before dropping into the left-hand driving seat. Once there, you'll be grateful for the conventional three-point seat belt and realise that it's a comfortable driving position, albeit with headroom at a premium for taller drivers. There's an unfamiliar glass centre console, three pod-like instrument binnacles facing you, plenty of naked carbon fibre on display and one of the best three-spoke sports steering wheels I've ever laid hands on. Should you wish to drive the 918 topless, the roof panels stow in the nose section. Everything feels beautifully made and light, helping the car reach its 1634kg kerb weight figure. That's good, and the batteries are placed low in the car for optimum weight distribution, but the weight figure pales next to Ferrari and McLaren's offerings which are not only more powerful but 385kg and 240kg lighter respectively.
Market and Model
Porsche claims it won't build any more than 918 units of this vehicle and it's perhaps a reflection of the perceived numerical superiority of the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari that it's still possible to walk into your local Porsche centre and place a deposit on a 918 Spyder. You'll need to come good with a sum of just over £650,000 for the standard car - or in the region of around £720,000 if you specify it with the optional Weissach performance package. This pack features a raft of small but effective aerodynamic upgrades, including front bumper winglets for added downforce, magnesium wheels and other lightweight but hugely expensive componentry that then shaves another 35kg off the kerb weight. That said, the fact that Porsche managed to one-up Ferrari and McLaren at the Nurburgring, coupled with the 918 Spyder's price coming in at over £200,000 less than either of its key rivals makes it look like the value offering here. The trouble is who in this market wants value? Extremity, outright power and expense are plus points in the hypercar sector, which is why Porsche still want your business and Ferrari need to prequalify you as a potential owner.
Cost of Ownership
It's hard to countenance too many people who have the cash reserves to be able to spend over £650,000 on a plaything being overly worried about fuel bills. That said, it's hard not to be impressed, if slightly nonplussed, by the economy and emissions figures of the 918 Spyder. Can a car that's got a higher power to weight ratio than a Bugatti Veyron really return 94mpg and emit just 79g/km? That's better than a Prius. There seems to be an element of 'cycle beating' here, Porsche cleverly gaming the EU systems for fuel economy measurement. It's something that hybrid cars have long been able to do and it'll be interesting to see what sort of real world economy figures the car is capable of. Depreciation is the great imponderable with the 918 Spyder. Those of you who remember the launch of the Carrera GT in 2004 will recall a very similar scenario. Porsche planned to build 1,500 cars but eventually just 1,270 were produced. It too was overshadowed by the more powerful Ferrari Enzo and the Bugatti Veyron, but after a period of poor residuals, it's belatedly been recognised as one of the greatest Porsche road cars of all time. Perhaps the 918 will go through a similar cycle. One thing's for sure. In the long term, talent talks and the 918 Spyder doesn't seem short of it.
It's an incredible time of plenty if you have a spare million euros or so to throw at a car. The choices have never been more tempting, but whittling your selection to the three state of the art hybrid hypercars from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche would not appear to favour the German car. The 918 Spyder is shatteringly fast, intimidatingly intelligent and quietly beautiful. It might well be the best car of the trio. It's not the most extreme though and in a market where subtlety is not a valued commodity, that may make this amazing car a surprisingly tough sell. If you have progressed beyond Top Trumps comparisons, you'll find the 918 Spyder a supremely well engineered vehicle and one which will be remembered as a model which decisively changed the way Porsche builds sports cars. If you prefer nuance, elegance and thoughtfulness in design to attention-deficit gaucheness, this may well be your perfect car.