2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Second Drive
Could you hold on a second? I need to pick up all those pieces of my brain that are scattered everywhere.
I feel like a monkey before a monolith. I'm standing next to the first 918 prototype at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain. The car is mesmerizing in its nakedness, with wires flowing in every direction. The Porsche engineers are pointing here and there and explaining that its center of gravity is lower than the wheel hubs; that its chassis components are lighter than the Carrera GT's; that each laser-cut hole in the mesh tray sitting over the engine is a different shape, and how the process of cutting those holes takes an hour of cycle time; how they carried over engine and suspension concepts from the RS Spyder race car; how items such as ceramic wheel bearings and the elimination of paint in favor of film wrap help reduce weight by 88 pounds in the $84,000 Weissach package; and so on. Frank Markus covered many of these details in his First Drive last May, but here in the metal, it's too much to take in at once.
Without question, the 918 exemplifies the absurdity expected of a near-million-dollar hypercar. It has three powertrains, adjustable aerodynamics, comically large carbon-ceramic brakes, and horsepower and torque figures that need context to be understood. But from the driver's seat, the 918 doesn't simply feel like the next iteration of a flagship. It feels like an entirely new type of car.
Acceleration notwithstanding -- though it's expectedly spectacular with a combined power-to-weight ratio similar to the original Bugatti Veyron -- it's the various ways the 918 drives that make it feel decidedly next-generation. Gliding down pit lane under electric power in the E-Mode setting, for example, is strangely entertaining. Here the 918 easily reaches freeway speeds with the sole soundtrack of electric motors whirring and a mixture of road, tire, and surprisingly loud brake noise.
While the 18-mile range makes E-Mode more of a curiosity (or a short-lived zero-emissions point of pride), turn the dial on the bottom right of the steering wheel to H and the 918 becomes a parallel hybrid with stop-start, using the engine as a generator or when greater acceleration is requested. The 4.6-liter V-8 doesn't have any accessories attached to it and starts and stops quickly with little drivetrain lash. It also startles everyone standing near -- 9150-rpm V-8s make for great pedestrian warning chimes.
Further around the dial, Sport and Race modes use the engine for primary propulsion and the motors to add power, balancing out the V-8s peaky powerband (max torque is 390 lb-ft at 6600 rpm) by adding grunt at low rpms. Hot Lap mode -- the best-named feature on any recent car -- is activated by pressing the red button in the middle of the dial and uses the battery reserves more aggressively. The motors' effort is largely invisible; it just feels like an immensely powerful V-8. And what a V-8! With its flat-plane crank, this mill shrieks its way to redline. Downshifts return a deafening static of innumerable tiny explosions. With vertical exhaust pipes about a foot away, the engine noise simply consumes the interior -- and everything else in a 100-foot radius. (Entertainingly, E-Power mode and Race mode are one turn away from each other, so going from tree-hugging hippie to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll happens instantly.)
While a car of this caliber would seem tricky, the ease of handling is astonishing. Fantastic steering response, a long wheelbase, a rear steering system, and numerous other elements help it deliver confidence similar to that of the current Porsches, but at a level of speed that makes it difficult for your brain to compute. It's not that the 918 feels slow, but that it doesn't promote any need for concern about the speeds it reaches. As I attempt to explain this to Timo Kluck, a member of the team responsible for setting Nürburgring lap times for Porsche, he quickly nods and says "Yes!" He adds that when Porsche was shooting a promotional video for the 918, the helicopter filming it repeatedly asked him to slow down.
Part of that confidence comes from a well-sorted stability control system. It has a welcomingly high threshold before smoothly intervening, allowing small mid-corner adjustments but stopping them before they turn into full slides (more likely: spins). Yet, for how stable the 918 feels, irresponsibility will punish you -- lift off abruptly mid-corner, wait, and physics will take over. Unless your resume shows results from the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the 12 Hours of Sebring, you'll be faster with traction control on.
There's a learning curve as you acclimate to the way the 918 wants you to drive. While I found it easy to get to speed, it also relayed how much remained on the table. Its lofty performance potential felt attainable with time. Its trio of powertrains constantly searches for speed - the front motor adds power during oversteer to pull you out of a slide, for example. The overall traction is such that you find you can always add more throttle earlier in corners. You can always brake later and deeper, too. A special brake booster and volume accumulator attempt to maintain consistent braking feel while the system switches from battery regeneration to friction braking. Most of the time you can only tell by listening to the brakes -- if you can hear them over the downshifts -- but occasionally I noticed a slight change in pedal feel during the transition. Porsche says it's still working on final calibration.
The 918 provides so much that these thoughts don't last long. A 4.6-liter flat-plane, 599-hp V-8 that revs to 9150 rpm? Indeed. Styling worthy of long, lusty stares? Got it. A plug-in hybrid that offers 18 miles of electric-only range but that also acts as additional power? Yup. Exhaust pipes that shoot flames straight to high heaven? That too. Fuel economy? Porsche hasn't released U.S. figures, but on the European test cycle the 918's consumption and CO2 emissions roughly matches that of the Toyota Yaris Hybrid -- we'll give that one a yes.
The 918 doesn't drive like a technical exercise, but like a fully formed, thoroughly developed, and extremely thrilling machine. It is as engaging to technical intellect as it is to pure instinct. The state of awe it leaves behind is long-lasting. I still can't shake that sensation, but I don't really want to.
|2015 Porsche 918 Spyder|
|Engine||599-hp/390-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve 4.6L V-8 plus 127-hp/155-lb-ft front and 154-hp/277-lb-ft rear electric motors; 874 hp/944 lb-ft comb|
|Transmissions||1-speed reduction front, 7-speed twin-cl auto rear|
|Curb weight||3700 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||182.9 x 76.4 x 46.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.5 sec (mfr)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||Not Yet Rated|
|Energy Consumption, city/hwy||Not Yet Rated|
|CO2 emissions||Not Yet Rated|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|