Porsche 918 Spyder, Front view 23 Photos Zoom

Porsche 918 Spyder: Hybrid sports car put to the test

For Porsche, merely being faster is no longer enough: ideally they are still looking still defeat their competitors on the racetrack and then score additional points within a city environment with their emissions-free electric drive. This balancing act, which was previously deemed impossible, is realised more smoothly than suspected.

Anyone who has ever pondered the correlation between performance on the one hand, and weight on the other, will have automatically asked themselves the key question: What if? What would the driving performance and the lap times on the racetrack look like if the Porsche 918 Spyder did away with all of the hybrid components, that is, the 138-kilogram battery, the pair of electric motors and the highly complex control electronics, along with the host of cables?

It's true: this would make Porsche's new high-flyer precisely 312 kilos lighter. But would this actually make it any faster?

Two additional power sources in the Porsche 918 Spyder

It is not quite as simple as that. Ultimately, without the two additional power sources, more oomph would be lost than the original 1974 911 Turbo actually had under the hood to begin with: namely the 129 bhp of the water-cooled electric motor on the front axle, with up to 16,000 rpm and the 156 bhp of the electric engine, which is sandwiched between the V8 engine and the dual clutch transmission.

In total this amounts to 285 bhp and almost 600 Newton metres of torque that would be lost – a loss that, in so far as we can see, would be difficult to recover from.

Without the complex hybrid technology, the 918 Spyder would also become a completely different car – in fact it would just be another sports car with a traditional design. One with predictable, not to say traditional characteristics – no more, no less.

The Porsche 918 Spyder brings an element of surprise

Had its predecessor, the legendary Carrera GT, "simply" undergone developments in terms of conceptual design, then this would certainly have resulted in a new record-holder on the Nordschleife, but not one that would have also offered such a wide range of applications and as many surprise features as the Porsche 918 Spyder, in all of its current technical complexity.

However, if ifs and buts... Because the level to which much-loved conventions are fulfilled is known to be increasingly dependent on the extent to which the technical equipment is also politically important, there is no need to be concerned regarding the sustainability of the 918 Spyder concept. A 30-kilometre range in battery mode and an average consumption of less than twelve litres of premium fuel should suffice to render the system performance of 887 bhp and the torque of well over 1,000 Newton metres largely harmless in terms of its political impact.

The best of both worlds

Irony aside: anyone who has driven silently through the city and the countryside using the electronic drive, which is both laid back yet nippy, to then take on the Nordschleife in Race mode just a short time later will inevitably agree with Porsche's claim that the 918 Spyder combines the best of both worlds. And they will also appreciate the claim that the gene pool for future generations of sports cars is to be found in this vehicle.

The argument that at least comparable potential with regard to power and efficiency can be realised without hybrid technology, that is, with larger engine capacity and/or by means of turbo charging, is no longer convincing once you have experienced the subtle sensation of electric power on your own body.

First, let's look at the figures: from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.6 seconds, and to 200 km/h in 7.4 seconds. And a speed of 300 km/h is reached after just 19.1 seconds. Any questions?

The manner in which this intoxicating process works is something new: spinning, screeching tyres? Fishtailing? Gear-shifting jolts? None of this detracts from this elegant and smooth show of power. The 1,642-kilogram Spyder takes off like a gazelle and zooms towards the horizon as if in fast-forward. This acceleration draws horizontal tears of joy from the corner of your eyes. Traction? Not an issue. In spite of its considerable weight, the AWD vehicle drives as though the inertia of the masses has no affect on it whatsoever.

But something is different: the dramaturgy of the drive system and the engine sound that develops with increasing rpm are not congruent, as is usually the case. In spite of the famous sound of the V8 naturally aspirated engine, developed on the racetrack and located behind the passengers: this is not what leaves its mark on proCee’dings, it is the electric motors working in the background. In spite of how little you hear and see of the carefully cooled engines, their contribution to the end result is huge. If you are struggling to appreciate this, you should activate the "Hot Lap" mode using the red button in the centre of the map switch. As a counterpart to electric mode, this represents the other extreme within the range of driving modes.

The boost is music to your ears

Hot laps, you must be joking: when it comes to forwards thrust, when the accelerator pedal reaches the half-way point lethargy suddenly takes over. The reason: the combustion engine – which still provides 608 bhp – is left on its own. Only when this imaginary threshold is passed does the driver's foot on the throttle initiate the fantastic paradigm shift: the energy flow is reversed, the electric motors are no longer charged, but in an instant deliver all of the power they have received from the lithium ion battery. Their deployment is gentle, but impressive. Provided their charging status is above 50 percent, the contribution of the two electric motors is 100 percent.

On the Nürburgring Nordschleife, which is over 20 km long, you should exCee’d the half-throttle position as seldom as possible – for two valid reasons. Firstly: because otherwise it will be scarily fast. Secondly: so that you can still mobilise the full electric power as you approach the almost three-kilometre-long high-speed section at the end of the course. The speed bonus for economic driving is 320 km/h – mind you, this is on the ascending Döttinger Höhe. This takes the pressure off you having to risk more than 3/4 acceleration on the Kesselchen track section for instance – knowing full well that Porsche-factory driver Mark Lieb reached 280 km/h here. In so doing, he shocked everyone who has taken to the ring with a similar aspirations to the core. His record time: 6:57 minutes.

The firework that is the 918 Spyder is just as unbelievable, even when placed in less skilled hands: after one lap of the ring, it doesn't take much longer than another half lap before the battery is fully recharged once again. This high-flyer really sets the benchmark in this regard. However, in any case I required longer to charge my own battery – unfortunately for my lap of the Nordschleife as well.

Horst von Saurma

Author

Photo

Rossen Gargolov

Date

23 February 2015
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