Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1, Front view 29 Photos Zoom

Porsche 918 Spyder vs. McLaren P1: 875 and 903 HP vying for legendary status

They are vying to be the supercar of the decade. The first comparison on the Hockenheim Ring, with the cars pushed to the limit, determines whether the McLaren P1 or the Porsche 918 Spyder have what it takes to achieve legendary status.

The chequered flag has settled, the shower of confetti for the champion has dried up – two days after the DTM final, a hangover prevails at the Hockenheim Ring. Sweepers clean the paddock, cordless screwdrivers whirr, heavy-lifting cranes remove the steel beams of the multi-level motor homes. And suddenly the dismantling squad comes to an abrupt stop. Smartphones are hurriedly switched to video mode, while gleaming eyes form a fascinated guard of honour – number 23 and 007 are turning into the pit lane.

Allow us to introduce: number 23, alias Porsche 918 Spyder, in white paint with Martini stickering. It is by no means the new service car of James Bond that hides behind the number 007, even though this fast car could satisfy the requirements of the most famous MI6 agent of all, with the exception of the missing rocket launcher. Typical British heritage, black paint, toned side panels and 903 HP – before us stands the McLaren P1 with production number 007.

McLaren P1 brings the F1 to mind

The McLaren P1 is one of this quartet of heroic cars that enthrals onlookers even when still in the stand. Its silhouette is intended to bring its legendary predecessor the McLaren F1 to mind, but not to copy it. As already seen in the F1, which was built just 72 times between 1992 and 1998, carbon fibre material also plays a leading role in the development of the P1. The bodywork of the current supercar from Woking consists of seven carbon fibre components.

"We kept entirely to what Colin Chapman once said to us: nothing is as easy as nothing," said McLaren Chief Design Engineer Dan Parry-Williams. The very fact that the Brits use a quotation from the legendary lightweight construction guru from Lotus demonstrates the priority afforded to the topic in the development of the hybrid, referred to internally as "Project 1".

At the core of the P1 lightweight construction concept is the bodywork centre cell made from pre-impregnated carbon fibre mates (Prepreg). Unlike in the monocoque construction of the MP4-12C here part of the vehicle's roof, including its intake, is integrated. The weight of the McLaren P1 chassis: just 90 kilograms.

The rear section of the McLaren P1 is fascinating

Wow, we walk around the McLaren P1 like it's a work of art, that cannot be assessed with just one glance. The rear section fascinates most of all. At the touch of a button the rear wing, which with the engine disabled is concealed flush inside the curved body, extends with a gentle buzz. Alongside the mechanics of the wing the air inlets, covered only by a thin mesh, through which you can see the cooling fan behind - another teaser for what's to come.

But not until you check out the mouth of the exhaust! Behind the central vent sits an Inconel exhaust system, which, at 17 kg, is five kilos lighter than the pendant in the already familiar 12C.

When it comes to the exhaust, the plug-in hybrid from Weissach definitively eclipses its counterparts. The exhaust pipe of the Porsche 918 Spyder runs to the upper part of the rear of the car, immediately above the engine, close behind the cockpit and out into the atmosphere. Household ladder, lifting truck or first floor – a must during every first encounter with the 918 is a look at the Swabian supercar from above and at the exhaust concept, the first of its kind to appear in a series-produced vehicle.

McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder - the supercar of the decade?

In comparison to the McLaren P1, the silhouette of the Porsche 918 Spyder is a more classic design, although the Porsche body work has also been optimised in the wind tunnel. When looking at the facial features of the 918,, the Carerra GT is everywhere. The majority of the current development team were already employed during the development of the legendary 2003 supercar.

Is this a good indication that the Porsche 918 will also sucCee’d in replacing the Carrera GT as the great love of Porsche fans? Until now, the author of this piece was not ready to replace the 1:18-scale model car on his shelving unit, at least not yet. But there are fans out there who play with life-size specimens and actually face the question: give up the mythical Carrera GT for the Porsche 918 Spyder, yes or no? Today we are attempting to provide them with a little assistance.

Similarly to in the McLaren P1, in the 918 Porsche deploys a monocoque with an assembly carrier as a drivable, so-called rolling chassis, rather than a unibody construction. All chassis components and the majority of the external skin of the bodywork consist of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFP).

Weissach package for the 918 Spyder

Today's test specimen also features the Weissach package, which hopefully won't lead to too many marital crises. For an additional charge equivalent to the value of a Porsche Boxster GTS – or in figures 71,400 Euros – with this optional package the Porsche 918 Spyder sheds a further 41 kilos. The biggest contribution to this, the world's most expensive diet, comes from the lighter magnesium wheels, which save 35 kilos. In addition to this, the Weissach package includes flaps at the front wheel housing vent, which are meant to increase downthrust. Aeroblades mounted behind the rear wheel housing are intended to improve the flow of air and reduce air resistance. On top of this, there is stiill the six-point safety belt for the driver and passenger.

However, whether you have the Weissach package or not – the McLaren P1 wins the lightweight dual well ahead of the 918: with an unladen weight of 1,634 kilos (incl. the Weissach package) the Porsche still weighs 150 kilos more than its British competitor. Carrera GT fans now sigh longingly in light of the unladen weight of the Porsche mid-engine icon, at 1,380 kilograms.

Click, click, click – our photographers shoot the final static shots in the pit lane. Not a second to loose before the Hockenheim sky transforms this into a "Wet Race". Gullwing door up, a sidestep in a slightly backward direction, the stretching exercise required to climb into the P1 over the wide carbon side wall of the monocoque is similar to that with its smaller brand relative, the 650 S.

The cockpit of the P1 resembles the 650 S

The lightweight carbon bucket seats (each just 10.5 kg) with their thin Alcantara covering, low sitting position and very good lateral support leave no doubt that the McLaren P1 is more interested in being a racetrack companion than a shopping queen. With its free-standing central console, the cockpit is suspiciously similar to its 833,000-Euro cheaper brother the 650 S, but with regard to its more driver-oriented ergonomics, the entry-level McLaren has already shone – so why fundamentally modify everything? Even die-hard 650 S drivers won't notice that drivers and passengers in the P1 sit closer together and that the interior has been made 16 millimetres narrower.

The feeling of spaciousness is even more airy than in the 650 S thanks to the glazed roof elements in the gullwing doors, although that said, we haven't come to Hockenheim to gaze at the stars. A glance forwards, a press of the red start button, and then? The 3.8-litre V8 turbo by the name of M838TQ does not awaken with the aggression of an explosive charge, although it could afford to. No, it only briefly raises its dark voice, which during the start-up procedure is enhanced by the presence of an electronic chant, before lapsing into a rumbling V8 neutral beat. Interesting: in order to reduce weight, the P1 engine lacks a starter motor. This job is performed by the 26-kilo and 132 kW (177 HP) electric motor that sits beneath the V8.

In comparison to the 3.8-litre biturbo from the 12C, the P1 engine features a new air guidance system to optimise cooling and a larger turbocharger. With a maximum charging pressure of 2.4 bar rather than the previous 2.2 bar, these now drive the V8 to 727 HP. The result: a power ratio of 196 HP per litre of engine capacity and a system power of 903 HP.

Configure the set-up and off we go

Four driving modes – Normal, Sport, Track and Race – are available to choose from. The set-up selection creates genuine lust for the 916 unbridled horses from Woking. A press of the Race button on the central console and the countdown begins. 27, 26, 25 seconds – the seconds count down to the bottom right of the instrument cluster, while above this a playful vehicle graphic explains how the McLaren P1 sharpens its claws for the limit range. With a mechanical whirr, the chassis is lowered by 50 millimetres and the rear wing rises 30 centimetres. The hydro-pneumatic chassis (Race Active Chassis Control) is another development from the 12C and adjusts the damping and suspension depending on the selected driving mode.

Now in Race mode, the spring rate should increase by 300 percent. With tightened tuning, the P1 steps onto the GP course at Hockenheim. Just like in the 12C and 650 S, so too in the P1 McLaren does away with conventional stabilisers and a mechanical lock. The latter task is to be taken on by the electronically controlled brake-steer function.

Without putting on any airs, the mid-engine two-seater fitted with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission starts moving. We could now fire the British HP projectile into orbit with a Launch Control start, like striking a golf ball with a heavy iron, but we prefer a calm warm-up lap. 240, 250, 260 km/h – in spite being only at half-throttle, this intention has already dissipated into thin air by the time we reach the Parabolica. Speaking of air: at 257 km/h the McLaren P1 is said to generate around 600 kilos of downthrust, thus producing as much downward force as the GT3 racer from McLaren.

McLaren P1 close to the GT3 racer

Unlike the GT3 racer, the McLaren P1 doesn't need to worry about the Balance-of-Performance rules. Here there are no air restrictors putting the brakes on the HP passion. The combustion monster is free to open up. Even without the use of its electric boost system referred to as the IPAS (Instant Power Assist System) and its DRS function (Drag Reduction System), the P1 casually brushes its GT3 racing brother and the 641 HP 650 S road version aside when it comes to longitudinal dynamics.

When the optional Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres used (standard tyre: P Zero Corsa) are brought to temperature, the P1 is transformed into something astonishingly close to the already tested McLaren GT3 (2/2013). Thanks to its steering, which is more directly geared than in the 12C/650S road model, the P1 delivers highly precise, albeit somewhat pointed steering characteristics similar to those of the GT3 model.

The Sachs corner, and a tendency to understeer in the limit range as in the 12C and 650 S? Problems that no P1 driver has to worry about – the McLaren steers with such accuracy it is like telepathy. We wish that all McLarens could have this level of front axle precision, with immediate effect.

Lambo Aventador for starter, Bugatti Veyron for dessert

Of course, with more than 888 HP driving exclusively over the rear axle, and with ESP disabled, the accelerator doesn't want to be operated by a driver with clumsy feet, but nonetheless this is no place for cowardly sidesteps. The P1 also accelerates from tight hairpin bends with a good level of traction. Those who like things different, can also have it different. Power oversteer is just a small finger movement away - sorry, make that toe. Incidentally, the McLaren P1 strikes back at drivers lifting their foot off the gas with gloriously hellish turbo hiss.

For three Hockenheim laps we have been squinting at the red IPAS button to the right and the blue DRS button to the left, on the steering wheel. Warm-up done, accelerate out of the Parabolica and press IPAS. There, at the moment when the 727 HP combustion engine weakens slightly on account of its large-dimensioned turbo charger, the permanent magnet synchronous electric engine steps in support, with a 177 HP boost.

Whereas in combustion mode the P1 only reaches its maximum torque at 4,000 rpm, now, uninhibited, it pushes its way up from the low revs with a system power of 903 HP and provides a workout for the driver's neck muscles. There is not a single dip to be found in the torque curve, even immediately after gearing up.

Porsche 918 Spyder with a fantastic full throttle concert

Next lap, once again at the Parabolica, right thumb presses IPAS, while the left thumb presses the DRS button – the P1 now delivers the almost perfect illusion that every driver is Jenson Button. Based on a Forumla 1 principle, the rear wing position moves from 29° to 0° and reduces the downthrust of the P1 by 60 percent. Click, in your mind, your brain pushes the fast forward button. Lambo Aventador for starter, Bugatti Veyron for dessert – the P1 erases everything you previously knew about supercar acceleration.

The digital tacho reads 291, 292, 293 km/h – the top speed on the high-speed track section has every DTM driver turning green with envy (DTM: approx. 260 km/h). The P1 is reportedly able to sprint to 300 km/h in 16.5 seconds. The best thing about this: the P1 not only moves with extreme agility, but also feels very light in the process, which is particularly evident when decelerating.

Back into the pit lane. While, crackling, the P1 pauses for breath, we climb into the Porsche 918 Spyder. The free-standing central console brings to mind the beloved Carrera GT. The ergonomics and sitting position inside are close to perfection. 918 driving dynamics engineer Jan Frank, who is today accompanying the Martini 918 to Hockenheim, has already activated the so-called Hot Lap mode for maximum track performance. Five driving modes can be selected via the map-switch, which is actually a rotary switch with a central pushbutton, to the bottom right of the multi-function steering wheel (E-Power, Hybrid, Sport-Hybrid, Race-Hybrid, Hot Lap).

As the Porsche 918 Spyder rolls out of the pit lane, we quickly disable the ESC and traction control. For Carrera GT owners, it should be mentioned that the 918 with its seven-speed PDK doesn't play the diva when starting up. Without the PCCC clutch of bygone GT days, "any housewife could start-up the car," Jan Frank had previously said. He's right.

7,000, 8,000, 9,000 rpm – when, a short time later, his 600 HP 4.6-litre V8 naturally aspirated engine reaches the rev limit of 9,150 rpm, the Porsche 918 Spyder snaps up the sound evaluation title unchallenged. Thanks to the top pipes, a fantastic full throttle concert burns in the ears of the passengers.

Its V8 genes stem from the former LMP2 RS Spyder. With 130 HP per litre, the 918 V8 delivers the highest specific power of a road-approved aspirated engine. At the same time, at 135 kilograms, the completely strap-free direct injection engine weighs less than many a turbo-charged four-cylinder series engine.

And how does the 918 run? "Not bad," as they say in Swabia, which in other parts of the country means it "goes like the hammers". Unlike in the P1, Porsche opts for a hybrid all-wheel concept with a combined combustion and electric engine drive system at the rear axle and a second electric motor at the front axle. This produces a total electric power of 210 kW (282 HP). The system power is 875 HP.

Noticeable weight difference

Now, shortly before the braking point on the Parabolica, five separate cooling circuits with a total of seven air-heat exchangers are working at full blast, as the Porsche 918 Spyder storms towards the hairpin at 285 km/h.

At this, it is a fraction slower than the McLaren, by from the very first lap the Porsche conveys a greater sense of trust. Responsible for this feel-good factor in the limit range is not only the all-wheel drive, but also a host of control systems. "We have placed great value on driveability. Without control systems, a vehicle in this category would no longer be state-of-the-art. This begins with the rear axle steering and continues with the regulated transverse differential locking and adaptive damper system," Porsche man Frank had said earlier.

The 918 confirms what he said with almost neutral handling in the limit range. The active aerodynamics also play their part in this. Here, in Performance mode, the rear wing is fully extended (120 mm) and positioned at an angle of 14°. In addition to this, to adjustable air flaps in the underbody, in front of the front axle, open and direct a proportion of the air into the diffusor channels of the underbody panelling.

What can the P1 achieve on the Nordschleife?

Unlike the McLaren, Porsche use a regenerative braking system. AAside from with the ceramic braking system taken from the 991 Turbo S, the Porsche 918 decelerates using its electric engines in Generator mode. The throttle response and the feeling on the pedal in the limit range feel in no way synthetic. On the contrary - with the Michelin Pilot sport Cup 2 tyres with the ID code N0, the ABS control interventions are a touch more balanced than in the P1.

However, we must be clear: in comparison to the P1 the additional weight in the 918 is clearly evident, both when braking and when cornering. The P1 not only feels lighter on its feet, but, subjectively speaking, its centre of gravity feels to be much lower than in the supercar from Weissach. There are also clear differences in the tuning of the steering. Whereas the P1 steering delivers almost race car-like, ragged feedback, the steering of the 918, adapted from the 991 Carrera, represents a compromise that is required to bridge the gap between everyday driving and track driving.

We also have to direct some criticism towards Woking. Even if today's torque measurement from each of the seven fast laps of the Hockenheim Ring place the P1 ahead of the 918 in terms of lateral dynamics, there are three figures that speak out clearly in favour of the Porsche hybrid: sic, five, seven – the Porsche 918 completes a lap of the Nordschleife in a proven 6.57 minutes, making it the first road-approved vehicle to break the seven-minute mark.

The McLaren is yet to provide official proof of having achieved this feat. A nine-page McLaren press release did announce the cars accession to the "Under 7 Minutes" club in December 2013. Although McLaren are yet to state a lap time. First be modest, and then set off a firecracker – this is something that the people at Porsche have always been able to do that little bit better.





18 March 2015
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