December 16, 2013
2015 Porsche 918 Spyder. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt
Valencia, Spain – Driving onto the first corner out of the pits in the million-dollar 918 Spyder, Porsche’s fastest and priciest production supercar ever, and the sound coming out of the brazen heaven-pointing twin rear pipes is… complete and utter silence.
That’s because we’re starting off for the first few corners in pure electric E-Mode, where two separate electric motors on each axle offer up a combined 286 hp of silent but instant motivation. If you avoid very fast or deep dips into the throttle (roughly less than 75 percent), these noiseless motors can keep you going up to 150 km/h without waking up the ominous 608-hp V8 behind your head.
These electric motors as well as the advanced 6.8-kWh lithium-ion battery allows Porsche’s supercar to offer better fuel efficiency than a Toyota Prius. Yes, that Prius. The one with a combined 3.9 L/100 km city and highway fuel efficiency rating in Europe (NEDC scale). And no, this is not some hallucinogenic typo: the 918 Spyder’s combined hefty gas engine combined with its no-gas e-motors come in at 3.1 L/100 km NEDC average. Going even further into this backwards automotive Twilight Zone, the 918’s Weissach performance model rates slightly better than both, averaging 3.0 L/100 km overall, thanks to its 41 kg lighter curb weight.
The fact that Porsche’s supercar recorded the fastest lap around the daunting Nürburgring at six minutes, 57 seconds, plus manages to get good fuel economy – not just for a supercar, but any car – is an incredible technological feat. In effect, the 918 Spyder bends the previously opposite extremes of hybrid-like fuel efficiency and world-beating acceleration, bringing them together in a way that has the potential to seismically shift the definition of supercar performance.
“The electric power is about as much as the first Porsche Turbo had – so it’s a complete different story from what you’re used to,” said Michael Hoelscher, technical director for the 918 Spyder. This car’s chassis has its engineering roots in the RS Spyder Le Mans class-winning prototype race car, following in a long line of motorsport-derived supercars. “In every decade Porsche has built a super sports car,” he stated, citing 904 Carrera GTS in the 1960s, the first car with a plastic body, and the 911 Turbo in the 1970s that was originally planned as a race car with road homologation.
In the ‘80s, it was the legendary Porsche 959, which only sold 292 units, said Hoelscher, but became a pioneer of electronic all-wheel drive in supercars, both at Porsche and amongst other supercars.
The Carrera GT arrived in 2003, and gained some notoriety late in 2013 as the unfortunate last ride of Paul Walker, star of the Fast and the Furious movie franchise, when he was a passenger in a Carrera GT which crashed at high speed, killing him and the driver. Up to 918 examples of Porsche’s latest US$845,000 supercar will be produced, a bold naming and pricing strategy for a company that usually doesn’t publicly predict sales figures.
Our day started at the Ricardo Tormo circuit near Valencia, where I sampled a lighter Weissach edition 918, then we took the highway to downtown Valencia in a more luxurious ‘regular’ 918 Spyder. Here we experienced it for the first time with the two carbon-fibre reinforced plastic roof panels stored away in the front trunk, one’s rear view mirror and view up ahead shimmering from the unique sky-pointing exhaust heat over the 918’s lightweight CFRP body.
2015 Porsche 918 Spyder. Click image to enlarge
It’s great that the 918 driver can stow away this roof while on the road, unlike the removable targa panel in the Grand Sport versions of the sixteen-cylinder Bugatti Veyron, the 918’s distant corporate cousin. But with only 110 litres of capacity, stowing those panels meant no room for even a coat or a camera bag, with little room in the cabin behind or between the two seats to store anything. This car is more commuter than grand tourer, especially given those minimal fuel consumption figures.
Speaking of which, we didn’t get close to its official 3.0 fuel economy average, even with serenely silent motoring right up to the highway, and right to 150 km/h when gentle on the gas. On a full charge, Porsche estimates 16-31 km of electric-only driving is possible. In about 50 kilometres worth of bumper-to-bumper city and hard charging highway driving, the 918 Spyder’s computer reported a very reasonable 9.4 L/100 km overall average. Those are mid-size V6 sedan numbers, and considering how we pushed it on the highway, likely closer to what a sporting compact four would achieve if driven in the same rev-happy way.