We drive the 918 Spyder – the most powerful and fastest Porsche road car to date.
Off in the distance, the Porsche 918 Spyder rounds a bend and spears toward us, pursued by the high-pitched scream of its petrol-electric driveline. It flashes by the pit wall then arcs into the turn at the end of the straight, revealing a huge rear wing before disappearing from view.
I’ve travelled to Porsche’s Leipzig test track not only to witness rally legend Walter Röhrl display his talent at the wheel of Porsche’s new flagship but also to become one of the first people outside its team of engineers to drive the staggeringly complex 918 Spyder.
It seems an impossible task given its complexity, but the 918 Spyder has progressed from concept to pre-production form in just two years. Even since my ride in the first road-going prototype last year, Porsche has reworked much of the mechanical and electrical package, and the car’s completeness today has me in awe.
The naturally aspirated 4.6-litre V8 produces 599bhp at 8600rpm, giving a specific output of 130bhp per litre. Two electric motors – one mounted within the front axle, another at the rear – add an additional 275bhp. Combined, the three power sources output 875bhp.
This makes the 918 Spyder easily the most powerful Porsche road car ever. By comparison, the rear-wheel drive Carrera GT’s naturally aspirated 5.7-litre V10 produced 603bhp.
The 918 Spyder is suitably squat and wide, but the Porsche lacks the visual flare and aesthetic impact of the Ferrari and McLaren. Entering the cabin is tricky with the roof panels in place thanks to the carbonfibre monocoque’s high and wide. The seat belts are at least three-point affairs, so there’s no need to wrestle a full race harness before getting down to business.
Twist the key and there’s no direct firing of the V8 engine, merely some distant whirring as the electric motors are primed for action. The windscreen provides an excellent view out but there’s no rear window due to the lightweight titanium exhaust, which is mounted atop the engine just an arm’s length behind. Instead, a reversing camera and an impressively tight turning circle come to the rescue as we manoeuvre out of the pits.
Off we go. The 918 Spyder may claim race-car lineage but it doesn’t sound like one. Besides the rumble of tyres on the asphalt and the sound of stones being thrown up into the wheelhouses as we head down to the first corner, it is all but silent. With sufficient battery charge in E-Power mode, the Porsche relies on the front electric motor to provide propulsion at speeds of up to 93mph – which makes this Porsche’s first front-wheel drive car.
Before the first lap is over I’m already gushing at the razor-sharp throttle response, the immense in-gear urge, the immediacy of the chassis and the searing V8 engine, which emits a spine-tingling mechanical shrill on the way to its 9150rpm limiter.
The juggling act between efficiency and performance has resulted in five driveline modes. An E-Power is the default mode, in which the 918 Spyder is propelled by its front electric motor and, above 16mph, the rear electric motor. Turn a rotary dial to select Hybrid mode and both the electric motors and the combustion engine combine, although the V8 doesn’t run all the time.