Porsche 918 Spyder

An incomparable driving experience

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THERE aren’t many jobs for which a Porsche 911 Turbo and a 911 GT3 are considered too slow, but there is one – acting as the there is one – acting as the pace car for the blisteringly berserk 918 Spyder.

One of these epochal superhybrids came to Australia recently 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.

A few billionaires were initially interested in the $1.5-million 918 ‘package’, until they calculated that some $300,000 of their outlay would go to the government in the form of luxury car tax.

The GT3 and Turbo were at the track so we could “get up to speed” by hurling them around the hairy beast that is the Phillip Island GP circuit, but they simply weren’t quick enough to stay in front of Porsche’s fastest road car ever, with an official 0-100km/h time of a conservative 2.6 seconds and a 0-200km/h sprint of just 7.3.

Clearly, this was no ordinary track day, but then the 918 Spyder, with its two electric motors and one riotous 4.6-litre V8, is no ordinary car. Indeed, it’s 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 adrenalin 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 marvellously. It’s the torque, which is simply stupendous.

Baird, who reckons the 918 makes a V8 Supercar seem pedestrian by comparison down the long 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 it was pointed out that I wasn’t allowed to overtake the pace car. Later, I saw 292km/h under the bridge when they took the roof panels off for some seriously hot laps in the sunshine. I also think I saw my life flashing past.

But while the 918 is fast, organ-crushingly so when you dare to punch it out of a slow corner, remarkably it felt less intimidating to drive than the clearly slower GT3.

The trick is partly in the packaging, with the V8 engine 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 Porsche says is “lower than the wheel nuts”.

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 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 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 Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Porsche 918 Spyder 4593cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v + two electric motors 652kW @ 8500rpm 1280Nm @ 4000rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1674kg 2.6sec (claimed) 3.1L/100km (EU) $1.5m

Sold out

PLUS & MINUS

Wind would rip your hair out with the roof down; price; they’re all sold Race-car looks, performance and handling; the sound; astonishing brakes

Shifting to auto

FOR those of us who mourn the slow death of the manual gearbox and poo-poo the PDK unless we’re self-shifting with the paddles, the 918 brings more bad news. The gearbox in this techno box of tricks is so wondrous it’s actually faster, and genuinely better, if you just leave it in Drive and let the software sort it out.

“We’ve done the tests and it’s simply faster this way, no human can do it better, so I just leave it in automatic mode, always,” Porsche’s chief 918 instructor Matthias Suemmer says.

Shifts in Hybrid Race mode take an F1-like 50 milliseconds. h f h

OR TRY THESE...

La Ferrari $1,760,000

THE fastest road-going Ferrari ever combines silky-smooth V12 power with twin electric motors to produce 708kW/900Nm. It’s also the lightest of the three hypercars, with the best power-to-weight ratio. Sadly, like the 918 and P1, it’s completely sold out.

McLaren P1 $1,550,000

IF you buy La Ferrari for its V12 purity, the McLaren is the tech-head’s choice. Wonderfully complex, its power comes from the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as the 650S, but mated to a single electric motor to boost outputs to 673kW/901Nm. The result is neck-snapping savagery.

HOT LAP!

Use the free viewa app and scan this page to watch the 918 scorch Phillip Island.