Republished: 02/10/2014 (Original Date: 05/22/2013)
Andreas Stahl, Contributor
It seems an impossible task given its inherent complexity, but the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder has progressed from concept to preproduction form in just two years.
Project boss Frank Walliser explains: "We initially revealed an intention to build a successor to the Carrera GT with a concept that we showed at the Geneva motor show in 2010. But with the change of top management at Porsche, a definitive decision to go ahead wasn't made until 2011. It is a clean sheet project. The whole car has been developed from scratch."
Just how far it has come can be summed up in one set of figures: 7 minutes, 14 seconds. This is the lap time Porsche recorded on the very first outing of the 918 Spyder at the Nürburgring last year, undercutting the old Carrera GT by a massive 16 seconds. No wonder Ferrari and McLaren are eyeing the new car warily.
Behind the Wheel in Leipzig
The first preproduction example off the line rumbles down pit lane of Porsche's Leipzig test track and comes to a halt beside us. It is suitably squat and wide, but the new 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder lacks the visual flair and outright aesthetic impact of the Ferrari and McLaren.
Entering the cabin is tricky given the rather high and extra wide sill that forms part of a carbon-fiber monocoque. Despite boasting the optional Weissach package, the seatbelts in the latest prototype are three-point affairs, so there's no need to wrestle into a full race harness before getting down to business.
Twist the key, which is the same as that of other recent Porsche models, to trigger the ignition. There is no direct firing of the combustion engine, as the power electronics detect there is sufficient battery charge, merely some distant whirring as the electric motors are primed for action.
The windscreen is quite upright, providing an excellent view out front over two curvaceous front fenders. There is no rear window owing to a need to accommodate the lightweight titanium exhaust system, which is mounted atop the engine just an arm's length from where you sit. A reversing camera mounted low down in the diffuser is the only means of seeing where you're going in reverse.
The Traditional Engine
The naturally aspirated 4.6-liter V8 is often described as being derived from the smaller 3.4-liter V8 engine used in the Porsche LMP2 racecar, but Walliser says the only real connection between the two is the 90-degree angle between the cylinder banks. "It is, in essence, an all-new engine. They do not share any components," he reveals.
The dry-sump unit, developed exclusively for the 918 Spyder, produces 608 horsepower at 8,600 rpm in final production trim, giving it a specific output of 132.2 hp per liter. Two brushless electric motors supplement the V8: one mounted up front within the front axle assembly developing 154 hp and another sited at the rear with 127 hp.
In Hybrid mode, the three power sources provide a total of 887 hp, which easily makes the 918 Spyder the company's most powerful road car ever. Its performance numbers reflect that fact, as Porsche says the 918 will hit 62 mph in just 2.8 seconds on the way to a top speed that is put at more than 211 mph.
On the Track
As we join the track and run down into the first corner, it doesn't sound like a car with such immense power. Besides the rumble of tires and the sound of stones being thrown up into the wheel houses, it is all but silent. With sufficient battery charge in E-mode, the new Porsche relies on the front electric motor to provide propulsion at speeds up to 93 mph and a range of around 18 miles.
The steering, which operates on the front axle and rear axle simultaneously, helps to endow the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder with stunning agility. There is whip-crack sharpness to the way it turns in, although the overall weighting of the electromechanical system, which shares components with the similar setup on the latest 911 GT3, is a little lighter than expected. The tires bite hard as the chassis accepts a heavy dose of lateral force. There's extremely little roll to speak of, and the front end remains remarkably calm. It's easy: no plow on understeer, no sudden-death oversteer, just terrific neutrality and masses of grip to allow alarmingly high cornering speeds without ever feeling fidgety.
It's all very friendly, very predictable. The secret to the ease of drivability, claims Walliser, is a decision to package all of the 918 Spyder's major drive systems below the horizontal center line and within its long 107.5-inch wheelbase. All three power sources are mounted exceptionally low in the chassis for the best possible center of gravity and low polar movement.
The 6.8kWh lithium-ion battery, which can be charged to 80 percent capacity in just 18 minutes using a high-voltage plug-in charger, is lower still and is straddled by an 18.5-gallon fuel tank. Both are mounted directly behind the rear bulkhead.
The juggling act between efficiency and performance has resulted in five driveline modes. An E-power program is the default mode, in which the 918 Spyder is propelled by the front electric motor and, at speeds above 16 mph, the rear electric motor. Turn a rotary dial on the steering to select Hybrid mode, and both the electric motors and the combustion engine are introduced to the drive process, though with an emphasis on fuel saving, the combustion engine doesn't run all the time.
A further turn of the dial activates Sport-Hybrid, in which the combustion engine runs continuously and the electric motors operate most of the time. Race-Hybrid adds a further dose of aggression, with torque vectoring introduced to the front wheels and, when required, the rear motor acting as a generator to supply electrical energy to the electric motor mounted up front.
If that's not enough, Porsche has also given its new supercar a so-called Hot-Lap mode that sees the parameter of the battery charge altered to allow the electric motors to draw up to 90 percent of available energy, or 20 percent more than usual.
Race Setup, Street Ride
The suspension, which largely consists of cast-aluminum components, uses a combination of double wishbones up front and multilinks. It is, to all intents and purposes, a racecar setup, boasting adjustable springs and dampers and proper metal-to-metal joints for the lowest possible tolerances and the sort of tactility that really has to be felt to be believed.
Test tracks are never a good place to judge ride quality, but there is sufficient compliance to ensure the 918 Spyder doesn't crash over curbs like a dedicated racecar. There is plenty of give in the springs and damping. Not a lot, but enough to hint it should cope with most roads without too much trouble. Walliser suggests it rides better than the Carrera GT, which should hold it in good stead. The wheels, which come in alloy as standard and even lighter magnesium with the optional Weissach package, are 20 inches in diameter and 9.5 inches wide up front and 21-by-12.5 inches at the rear. They're mated with 265/35ZR20 front and substantial 325/30ZR21 rear tires.
The 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder uses a bespoke regenerative braking system to extend its range. As in the Panamera hybrid, there's no regeneration until you hit the brake pedal. Lifting the throttle engages a coasting function. Despite their complexity, the brakes, which consist of 16.1-inch front and 15.4-inch carbon-ceramic discs, are not only stunningly effective at wiping off speed but deliver true feel, which is not something that can always be said of the stoppers used on many hybrids.
The Flexibility of Huge Torque
Spearing down the front straight of the Porsche test track, throttle pinned hard in 4th gear, the 918's torque makes a huge impression. The combustion engine doesn't deliver its torque peak of 390 pound-feet until you've got 6,600 rpm wound on the crank, but there is colossal shove throughout the rev range thanks to the efforts of the electric motors. All together there is a whopping 940 lb-ft of total torque, which gives the new car a tremendously flexible nature.
Third gear with Race-Hybrid mode engaged is best for an out-of-body experience. The combined efforts of the three power sources and the penetrating shriek of the combustion engine under full load is mind-blowing in its intensity. Same story in 4th, though it takes more commitment. Fifth brings little respite: The torque is so strong you reach huge speeds with little more than a fleeting prod of the throttle. In terms of raw speed and longitudinal stability, it feels as resolved as the Bugatti Veyron.
Carry more speed into a corner, get on the power even earlier and you feel you're no nearer to breeching the heady levels of adhesion. Push harder and the 918 Spyder simply answers the call for more, and you can keep edging up to the dynamic boundaries because along with the stunning level of midcorner grip, that steering, despite its inherent complexity, is also tremendously alert, providing meaningful communication and tremendous weighting as lateral forces are piled on.
A Complete Package
The new 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder feels nothing if not tremendously well sorted for something so inherently complex. And with a few more months before the first production cars begin rolling down a dedicated line at the company's Zuffenhausen plant, it seems there's even more to come. "It is a learning process," reveals the enthusiastic project boss, adding, "We're continuously gathering data that allows us to improve the drive system."
In preproduction form at least, it has exceeded our expectations. We could bang on about its impetuous speed and ability to run on electric power. But the truly extraordinary thing about the new car is the accessibility of its performance. This, and the ease with which you get to grips with it. It's not a car to be scared of by any means. But one you're urged to drive... and hard. Provided, of course, you can forget about the price tag.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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