PORSCHE is a car company that’s constantly looking to shift the goalposts and recalibrate our expectations of what’s possible, but with the 918 Spyder it has set fire to the goalposts and is dancing on the ashes. Its power figures are simply absurd, its (conservative) 0 to 100km/h time of 2.6 seconds gobsmacking, but it’s not just what this car does in a straight line that makes it so impressive.
WHAT IS IT
The ultimate expression of a company ethos, the 918 is about extreme performance and superior handling, with result being basically a race car for the road, only faster. A howling V8 and two electric motors push 652kW and a whopping 1280Nm through all four wheels. Yes, it’s a hybrid and yes you can drive it in electric-only mode, but no one ever will, because with all three power sources on line and the Race setting providing both ground effect over the front axle and huge downforce at the rear, they’ll be having too much fun.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
No one in Australia got to buy a 918 Spyder – despite the very reasonable $1.5 million package offered by Porsche, which included driver training and track days – and now they’re all spoken for, but pretty much every motoring enthusiast in the world would like to know what they’re like to drive. The answer involves a large amount of swearing, sweating and smiling.
We live in undeniably wondrous times when a car like this even has rivals, but there are clearly two – the La Ferrari Ferrari and McLaren’s P1. Both offer far more visual drama and more supercar heritage, but it’s hard to imagine either of them truly trouncing the 918 on road or track.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Driven back to back around Phillip Island with a 911 Turbo and a GT3, the 918 Spyder wasn’t just much, much faster, it was the easiest to drive, with so much grip and surety of handling that it’s insane cornering speeds seemed almost sensible. Almost. An incomparable driving experience.
PLUS: Race-car looks, race-car performance, race-car handling and a truly deafening barking and bellowing from those top pipes, just behind your ears. Astonishing brakes, too, which come in very handy.
MINUS: Wind would rip your hair out with roof down, if you weren’t wearing a helmet, price, they’re all sold.
One of these epochal super hybrids was in Australia recently – you may have seen Mark Webber getting sketchy in it at Albert Park – and the local Porsche people went all out to celebrate the occasion, which won’t come around very often seeing as they’re now all sold, not one of them to an Australian.
Don’t feel ashamed of your billionaire brethren, though, because a few of them were initially interested in the $1.5 million 918 “package”, which included track time, training and maintenance, until they calculated that some $300,000 of their outlay would be going to the government in the form of luxury car tax.
The GT3 and the Turbo were at the track so we could “get up to speed”, by hurling them around the hairy beast that is Phillip Island, but they simply weren’t quick enough to stay in front of the supreme Spyder – Porsche’s fastest road car ever, with an official 0 to 100km/h time of a conservative 2.6 seconds and a 0 to 200km/h sprint of just 7.3.
So when it was time for the 918 we had Craig Baird pacing us in his Carrera Cup racer instead.
Clearly, this was no ordinary track day, but then the 918 Spyder – with its two electric motors and one riotous 4.6-litre V8 making a combined 652kW and 1280Nm – is no ordinary car. Indeed, it’s simply unlike anything I’ve ever driven.
A lap of the Island in a GT3 is a raw, powerful experience that raises beads of sweat and adrenaline levels in equal measures, but it feels like a quick spin to the shops in a golf cart after switching to the roaring 918.
It’s not the power that blows you away, although that many kilowatts does defibrillate you marvelously, it’s the torque, which is simply stupendous, as Porsche’s chief instructor, and a man who’s driven more than 40,000km in Spyders, Matthias Suemmer, explained.
“When you drive, for example, at 70km/h in seventh gear, in some cars you floor it and you’re waiting, nothing happens. In this one,” he snaps his fingers, loudly, “it doubles speed right away. That’s the torque you have.”
Baird, who reckons the 918 makes a V8 Supercar look pedestrian down the Island straight, simply couldn’t accelerate fast enough to get out of the way of even nuff-nuff journalists. I was still pouring on speed at 275km/h going past the pits when Matthias pointed out from the passenger seat that I wasn’t allowed to overtake the Cup car.
I saw 292km/h under the bridge at day’s end when Matthias took the roof panels off for some seriously hot laps in the sunshine. I also think I saw my life flashing past.
So, the 918 is fast, and organ-crushingly so when you dare to punch it out of a slow corner, and yet, remarkably, it felt less intimidating to drive than the clearly slower GT3.
The trick is partly in the packaging, with the V8 sunk low in the car, all the electric components and batteries barely off the ground and the gearbox fitted back to front, all in the pursuit of a race-spec centre of gravity that is “lower than the wheel nuts, which gives you amazing turn-in capabilities”.
On top of that, in Race mode – just one of five settings available through a toggle switch on the button-plastered steering wheel – you're given the gift of ground effect thanks to the Spyder’s active aerodynamic system, which opens air channels around the diffuser at the front of the car, sucking it down to the track with like a black-tarmac hole. Throw in the huge active rear wing and you’ve got almost 300kg of downforce at 300km/h (still 45km/h shy of top speed).
The result is that you feel, if not invincible, then at very least God-like. The G-forces feel scary, but you never get the sense that the car will do anything but grip, rip and grip again. The brakes, which also provide regen for your batteries, are so powerful that you fear for your retinas detaching.
Yes, $1.5 million is an absurd amount of money, but the Porsche 918 Spyder is, even for a company that knows a thing or two about extreme vehicles, an absurd amount of car.
Model: Porsche 918 Spyder
Engine: 4.6-litre V8 plus two electric motors.
Transmission: 7-speed PDK
Fuel economy: 3.1L/100km
Performance: 0-100km/h in 2.69secs
Price: N/A (you could have had one for $1.5m, but you missed out)