We have Miatas and BRZ/FR-Ss, GTIs and Focus STs, 300-hp V-6 Mustangs (and 400-hp V-8s), 495-hp Jaguar roadsters, 11-second Mercedes-Benz station wagons, and a handful of exotics (and sometimes even near-exotics) in the 10s. There are also 200-mph sedans, beautiful things, weird things—in short, there’s no shortage of something for everyone. This, plus forums to talk about these things, eBay and Bring a Trailer to buy them, and a mind-blowing generation of video games that let us realistically experience the dreams we can’t afford. Yet the mood in the automotive sphere tends to be a little dreary. We yearn for the good old days or, more often, fear the bad ones to come. Diesels and hybrids and EVs are the future, and they’re going to ruin it all.
The Hybrid Ambassador
There’s no family-hybrid-esque Atkinson-cycle four puttering away beneath the 918’s perforated engine cover. Think, instead, high-output V-8 bristling with modern engine technology. Porsche says the engine was derived from that in the Le Mans class-winning RS Spyder, but you really need to stretch the definition of “derived” for that to be the case. In large part, the only commonalities between the RS Spyder’s 3.4-liter and the 918’s 4.6 are that they both have flat-plane cranks and 90-degree vee angles, and saying that 90-degree vees on two eight-cylinders implies shared roots is like claiming you and Billy Joel must be cousins because you both have goatees.
But if the 918’s engine shares little with the racing car’s mill, it also shares little with those of any lesser Porsches. For starters, it breathes in reverse. Air enters from the outside of the heads and is exhausted in the valley of the vee. Then, rather than wind their way to the back of the car, the spent gases simply exit skyward from a pair of gaping cannons mounted immediately aft of the occupants’ heads. There’s not room for much muffling before this happens, which is fine by us—not to mention a boon to driver alertness. The block and the heads are aluminum, the connecting rods are titanium, and the exhaust system is Inconel, a lightweight and super-expensive nickel-based alloy. Keeping the internals light and the crank flat means the V-8 can rev to 9150 rpm, a speed at which it emits a scream of such intense, pure rage that we felt obliged to apologize. (The V-8 continued screaming nonetheless.)
The V-8 makes 608 horsepower, three more than in Porsche’s previous limited-edition flagship, the Carrera GT. But the 918 then adds roughly the output of another old flagship, the 930 Turbo, via two electric motors. One wedges in between the V-8 and seven-speed PDK transmission; the other sits aft of the front cargo hold. The battery pack sits low behind the passengers within the carbon-fiber monocoque. Total system output from the engine and motors sits at 887 horsepower and a maximum of 944 lb-ft of torque. (For even more details on the 918’s powertrain and its operation, check out technical director Don Sherman’s prototype drive here.) We weren’t able to gather instrumented test data, but figure on a 0-to-60-mph time of 2.6 seconds and a quarter-mile time of about 10 flat. And in case you missed it, the 918 Spyder is the first production car ever to break the seven-minute barrier at the Nürburgring. Not only that, but Porsche’s drivers say they were told to exercise caution and insist they could do better than the 6:57 they stamped into the record books. Chalk one up for hybrid goodwill.
It’s a good thing the seats back up to a bulkhead, because under full throttle, the 918 feels as though it might rip them clean out of the floorboards. Every time you floor it, you get a preview of your first (or next) face lift. The pull is relentless. With two different types of electric motors spinning at two different speeds, a gas V-8, and Porsche’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox all operating in concert, this is among the most sophisticated powertrains on the road. But occupants feel no transition of power flow between motors and engine. To the end user, it simply feels incredibly fast and unbelievably seamless. Not since we discovered QWOP and browser-window Asteroids have we been so happy with computers.
Yes, We Are That Good
If Porsche were actually concerned with keeping the seats moored, it would have had to hem in its lightweight buckets on all sides, because this car generates stupefying g forces in all directions. What’s truly amazing, though, is how approachable this car’s supernatural powers are. We lapped Spain’s 2.5-mile Circuit de Valencia behind a 911 Turbo S—no slouch itself, logging a 7:27 on the Nürburgring—piloted by Porsche’s own test driver. While the 911 savant in the Turbo S manhandled his mount around the track, wringing every millisecond from his lap time, we flounced along behind, a little bored by the lack of effort required to stay on his bumper.
All-wheel drive is a major factor in the 918’s stability, but the motor on the 918’s front axle hits its 16,000-rpm redline and disengages at 165 mph, so keep that in mind before executing any rapid directional changes at ludicrous speeds. A center of gravity right around the wheel bearings contributes to the 918’s having all the roll and dive of a parking block. The steering is of course electrically assisted, but we almost don’t believe that this helm, so heavy and direct and alive, could be. Rear-wheel steering helps the 3750-pound (or 3650 with the weight-shaving and über-expensive Weissach package) 918 turn in as immediately at low speeds as would a much smaller car, while it lends the stabilizing sensation of a longer wheelbase above 50 mph.
And when you want it all to stop, the 918’s brakes are some of the strongest we’ve experienced in a production car. The brake pedal here is ever so slightly squishier than the benchmark pedals in other Porsche sports cars but still better than about everything else on the market. And, yes, the brakes incorporate energy recuperation—up to 0.5 g of braking, at which point the honking, 15.4-inch carbon-ceramic rotors finally get bit by the Acid Green calipers. But as with the powertrain, any trade-off is imperceptible to the driver. To the sole of your foot, the pedal just feels firm and progressive.
In a typical hybrid, great care is taken to soften the transition from electrical to gas-fired operation. Here, it’s sort of hard to hide. Remember that part about the 608-hp flat-crank V-8? The 918 is mischievous, always ready to startle you with a deafening bark from behind your ears. The driver has to push past a detent in the accelerator travel to light the engine, but it’s like intentionally triggering a mousetrap: The snap still makes you twitch. With the roof panels consuming all but about half a cubic foot of the trunk and the eight shrieking past 7000 rpm, conversing requires you to shout so loudly your vocal cords will hurt. With the roof panels in place, it’s only slightly quieter. The sound doesn’t just enter your ears—it fills the cabin with a tangible pressure. It’s exhilarating. And when you finally back off and the rowdy V-8 shuts down, the silence is equally jarring. Then, though, occupants can hear the whine of electric motors, the brushing of the brakes, and the crunch of pebbles beneath the tires. The 918 puts on a show for the people behind, too, as heat shimmer suddenly appears over the gaping exhausts when the engine fires up and disappears the instant it shuts down. You didn’t expect an $847,975 Porsche hybrid to behave like a regular car, did you?
Indeed, the 918 teems with special touches. Atop its sweeping center console is a touch-screen complete with an Audi-style writing surface that accepts inputs via fingertip scribbling, which will surely trickle down to workaday Porsches. All the knobs and even the vanes in the HVAC vents are real aluminum. And that mesh engine cover? It’s stamped from a solid sheet of stainless, and then a laser cuts 7335 holes in it over the course of about four hours. Our favorite detail, though, involves the tire sidewalls, portions of which are laser etched for a texture remarkably similar to that of suede. (The 911 GT3 offers the same touch at a saving of about $700,000.)
Before you start complaining that the 918 is too expensive, consider this: At a starting price of $847,975, it actually represents a saving of about a half-million bucks compared with its Ferrari and McLaren contemporaries. Those two, though, at 950 and 907 horsepower and each about 3300 pounds, have the potential to best even the 918’s astounding Nürburgring record. Those two are also sold out—the Ferrari before the public even knew anything about it. Porsche, on the other hand, still has about half its 918-unit 918 production run available.
Yes, it’s expensive, but so were the first microwaves, and now people who don’t own one of those are weird. We already know the next-gen Nissan GT-R will be a hybrid, and it’ll probably be a lot more affordable than this Porsche. Before you know it, hybrid hypercars will cost as much as a Chevy Cruze! Won’t that be a great day, when you meet somebody and decide he’s strange because he doesn’t have a 900-hp hybrid? We’ve a lot to be thankful for today, but tomorrow looks even more amazing.
source: caranddriver.com BY JARED GALL