Need to know: Porsche 918 Spyder

During the past week, members of the press have been allowed to sample Porsche’s 918 Spyder, still in pre-production form. The responses seem mixed, but that’s only to be expected for a car which takes such an unconventional route to achieve its super car performance.

It would be wise to take these first reviews with a pinch of salt, since the 918 Spyder represents a new breed of sports car, and until McLaren’s P1 and LaFerrari are available to sample it’s difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions.

Suffice it to say, a hybrid supercar deploying around 900 horsepower is unlikely to feel like any other car, and will probably take some adjusting to.

I remember speaking with Jörg Bergmeister back in 2010, who was racing Porsche’s 911 GT3 R Hybrid in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) at the time.

When I asked “does it feel like a 911 GT3 R to drive?”, his answer was an emphatic “No. It’s better” and he went on to elaborate that it required a very different driving style (than a two wheel drive petrol powered race car), and took him many races to learn. But once he’d adapted his driving style he said he’d choose the GT3 R Hybrid over any other GT race car.

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There’s a clue to this in Porsche’s press release for the new 918 Spyder. They talk about the unique all-wheel drive concept with a combination of combustion engine and electric motor at the rear and the second electric motor powering the front axle.

And they go on to say that “..due to the individually controllable front drive, new driving strategies for extremely high, safe cornering speeds can be implemented, especially for bends.” This seems to be a theme of the early first reviews, unquenchable grip and the ability to apply maximum power with minimal loss of traction.

SEE ALSO: Watch the Porsche 918 Spyder set its 7:14 minute lap around the Nürburgring.

Porsche has already laid down some expectations on how quick the 918 Spyder will likely be – on track. Specifically that 12.93-mile stretch of Asphalt and concrete better known as the Nürburgring.

The 918 Spyder’s current lap time, set in September 2012, is 7:14 minutes, which was set in an early prototype and you get the impression should be easily bettered by the final production version. That’s approximately 20 seconds quicker than the Porsche Carrera GT, even though that weighed around 1380kg compared to the 918 Spyder’s weight of approximately 1,640 kg (when configured with the “Weissach” package).

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The “Weissach” package car weighs around 35 kg less than a standard 918 Spyder and uses very lightweight magnesium wheels to reduce unsprung masses. It can also be distinguished by the roof, rear wings, rear-view mirrors and frames of the windscreen made from exposed carbon fibre, Alcantara instead of leather trim and special colours and designs based on legendary Porsche race cars.

Despite the 918 Spyder’s many unique features, there are some which you’ll recognise in the recently launched 911 Turbo S – rear-axle steering, similar to that used in the 911, which uses an electro-mechanical adjuster on each wheel to add up to three degrees steering in each direction. The end result is greater manoeuvrability at low speeds and better stability at higher speeds.

Also, like the 911 Turbo, the 918 Spyder uses what Porsche calls its Porsche Active Aerodynamic (PAA) system. It’s clearly a lot more sophisticated on the 918 Spyder, which features two adjustable air flaps ahead of the front wheels which produce a “ground effect” at the front axle.

“The 918 Spyder’s V8 engine produces 130bhp/litre which compares with 105bhp/litre for the Carrera GT

These active aerodynamics follow a range of programs depending on the drive setting, which includes a choice of Race Hybrid, Sport Hybrid, Hybrid and E-Power modes.

There’s another mode, which can be activated via a “map switch” on the steering wheel, and although it doesn’t change the aero setting, it does deliver every ounce of performance available in its appropriately named “Hot Lap” mode.

Although performance should be more than impressive, it’s hard to view it in quite the same light as the P1 or LaFerrari. Its 4.6-litre eight cylinder engine delivers 599bhp, while the remaining 268bhp comes from its 95kW front and 115kW rear motors. That V8 engine is derived directly from the RS Spyder race car and is capable of being revved at speeds of up to 9,150 rpm. It delivers 130bhp/litre too, the highest power output per litre of any naturally aspirated Porsche engine and considerably more than its predecessor, the 105bhp/litre Carrera GT.

One of the striking features of the 918 Spyder’s V8 are that it operates purely to propel the car, without the need to support any auxiliary systems, it also makes an extraordinary sound due to its so-called ‘top pipes’, which sees its tailpipes terminate immediately above the engine.

While Porsche don’t expect owners to use their 918 Spyder as an everyday car, they’ve made provision for a quick turnaround when it comes to recharging its lithium-ion batteries. As in all electric-powered vehicles, there’s an inherent fire risk when discharging such high amounts of energy.

SEE ALSO: EV Futures: Electric dreams – from nightmare to nirvana.

The 918 Spyder’s battery features 312 individual cells with liquid-cooling provided by a dedicated circuit, this keeps it safe and maintains its performance over the unit’s lifetime – which Porsche are happy to cover with a 7-year warranty. While the traction battery can be charged within 4 hours from a standard 230V home socket, it can be rapid charged in 2 hours via the Porsche Universal Charger (AC). If you choose the (optional) Porsche Speed Charging Station (DC), this time drops to just 25 minutes.

We’re still four months away from the final production version of the 918 Spyder, which lucky owners will take delivery of for just £664,135. That’s at least £200,000 less than the P1 and LaFerrari, but they’re considerably lighter and a great deal faster. Take your pick..