First drive: Porsche 918 Spyder

Wheels flies 56 hours for 28 minutes on-track in a $2million hybrid Porsche supercar. Wouldn't you?

Wheels magazine, Porsche 918, Spyder, Valencia, first drive, exclusive, production

Porsche calls the 918 Spyder its blueprint for the future. This exclusive two-seater carbonfibre supercar is the automotive fulfilment of everything Porsche has learned over the last fifty years since the 904, and a signpost pointing boldly down the road of the next fifty.

It is the most convincing and mind-blowing exponent yet of a driving future that values both the enthusiast and the environment.

Now that Wheels has driven the 750,000 euro 918 Spyder – that's LHD only and therefore not registrable in Australia – we know how awesomely capable it is. But that doesn't come as a surprise.

After all we've been reading about the Spyder since the concept debuted at the Geneva Auto Salon in 2010. Forty months later, the production car differs slightly from that concept – top-exiting exhausts instead of side-pipes, for one – but it is faithful to the concept's promise, both in its stunning looks and stratospheric ability.

What is most surprising is how easy it is to tap into and exploit the performance that makes the 918 Spyder the fastest production car ever to lap the Nurburgring. This is an easy supercar to drive hard.

There are no histrionics often associated with such highly-focused, overly-sensitive and insanely quick machines – the Carrera GT, for example, did not suffer fools. Push beyond the limits of the Spyder's spiritual predecessor and you'd get hurt. As we were reminded this very week with the death of Hollywood star Paul Walker.

In the 918 Spyder, the limits are higher but the talent required to explore those limits is much, much lower. Slide over the wide carbon fibre sill into the Spyder's uncompromising race buckets and you're confronted not by a minimalist race-car cockpit, but a lavish and luxurious abode.

The Spyder has satnav, it has Bluetooth, it also has an advanced touchscreen infotainment system that will be adapted to next-generation 911s, Boxsters, Cayennes and all other Porsche production models. The compact steering wheel, too, has been developed primarily for the 918 Spyder, but will permeate the rest of Porsche's range, though the diameter will change to meet the differing needs of sports coupes and SUVs.

As for the drivetrain, the Spyder's combination of high-revving 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine and two electric motors will most likely remain unique to this rampant mid-engined supercar. But the concept of marrying combustion engines with electric motors and fast-charging batteries will also flow through all future Porsche model lines. Likewise, the ability to harvest brake energy and drive on nothing but recuperated electricity for kilometres at a time.

These are the reasons -- as much as drawing a line in the sand ahead of McLaren's P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari – that Porsche undertook the 918 Spyder project. That is why it's okay for Porsche to lose hundreds of thousands of Euros on every one of the nine hundred and eighteen 918s it will build (though nobody we spoke to at Porsche would say how much each one costs to build).

The 918 Spyder is a classroom for Porsche. It's also a vanguard for the future. An exploration of technologies and systems Porsche must utilise in order to stay ahead of the pack.

But, getting back to what it's like to actually drive the 918 Spyder: would you be shocked if I said it didn't feel fast? We're talking about a 1674kg car capable of accelerating from rest to 100km/h in 2.6 seconds, just one second slower than an F1 car. A low-slung roadster capable of doubling that hundred in another 4.7 seconds. Of hitting 300km/h from standstill in less time than it takes for you to read this paragraph.

The 918 Spyder sounds fast, ridiculously so, because the powerful V8 sitting right behind the driver's head is far from quiet or contained. It screams, it pops, it burbles, it howls, and it sounds so bloody good doing so.

To the driver's left, behind the door's trailing edge, is a huge air intake which unleashes a demonic, throaty howl under load. Behind you, those emotive top-pipes turn that howl into a full blooded roar at anything above 3,000rpm. And make no mistake, the 918 Spyder does feel fast when it accelerates. Maybe not as violent initially as a 911 Turbo, but it sustains that violence longer, much longer.

But the Spyder is so composed on-track that there's absolutely none of that fear one usually associates with pushing supercars towards their – or more likely our own – limits. It communicates everything so quickly and so crisply that you feel one with the tyres, with the drivetrain, with the steering, the brakes. It's as close to a symbiotic relationship as any production car has ever offered.

It's not until the 991-series 911 Turbo S that's acting as my pacecar at the Ricardo Tormo circuit outside of Valencia, Spain, falls off the racetrack trying to keep ahead of me that the 918 Spyder's true prowess finally hits home.

I'm a motoring journalist. There's a reason I earn my living writing articles, not racing cars. The bloke in the 911 Turbo S who's just messed up under brakes and sent Porsche's ultimate all-wheel drive 911 into the weeds is a professional driver. More than that, he's the Porsche 918 Spyder driving instructor.

And the 918 Spyder is so good it allows me to outdrive a professional in a 412kW 911 Turbo S. He gathers the Turbo S up and brings it back onto the track, continuing to lead my Spyder around the circuit. But from that moment on, my attention is subverted.

I find myself drawn to the body language of the Turbo in front, watching it squirrel under brakes, the front wheels constantly adjusting through the corners, watching the rears squirm and slide as he searches for every last ounce of grip to keep ahead of the 918 Spyder.

The Porsche 918 Spyder is so good it makes a well-driven 911 Turbo S look slow.


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