The 2014 Porsche 918 Spyder is the most advanced hybrid ever built. And it’s really fast.
– By Basem Wasef
Strapped into the carbon-fibre tub of a Porsche 918 Spyder prototype with a five-point racing harness, my heart thumps expectantly as I wait for take-off. After all, this is the most sophisticated Porsche – and one of the most technologically ambitious cars – ever built. The 918 concept, unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show and quickly dismissed as vapourware, has rapidly evolved into a rolling laboratory for high-performance hybrid technology. I’ve come to the Nürburgring Nordschleife racing circuit in Germany to steal some seat time between Porsche’s 918 development runs, and it’s my turn in the passenger seat. The pilot applies the throttle and my ride-along on the ’Ring’s neighbouring roads begins – with a whisper.
In full EV mode, this parallel plug-in hybrid pulls away making about as much noise as a Prius in “creep” mode; that is, it’s entirely silent. E-Power, one of the other five drivetrain settings, yields a cruising range of only 25 kilometres, so my test driver soon selects Hybrid using a small red joystick on the steering wheel. Although the acceleration immediately feels gutsier as he manoeuvres past a swarm of car paparazzi, there’s only a slight hint of the 500-plus stabled beneath the midmounted engine bay – just the occasional switch between faint electric drivetrain whine and the bass-heavy thump of the 4,6-litre 433-kW V8.
Things kick up a notch in Sport Hybrid, with the internal combustion engine taking a more prominent role in propulsion, and it’s here that the 918 starts feeling like a supercar. Then the guy behind the wheel cracks a grin. He flicks his thumb and flips the switch to Race Hybrid. With our butts only 17 cm off the ground, the car blasts forward with Star Trek-like warp speed. The V8 bellows in its entirety, and the two electric motors provide extra boost while the custom-made Michelins stay planted to the tarmac.
We don’t even crack 150 km/h, but the performance is so jaw-dropping, so utterly alien, that I’m left with nothing to compare it with. Numbers mean a lot in the supercar game, and the 918’s staggering Nordschleife lap time of 7:14 (the record is 6:48), 0-to-100 km/h in under 3 seconds, estimated price tag of about R8 million and projected official fuel economy figure of 3 litres/100 km should go a long way towards securing its status as a revolutionary car.
Next time, I’m driving.
Motivating Factors (See diagram below)
1. Porsche Doppel Kupplungsgetriebe
The burdensomely named seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox originally saw duty in the 997-era 911 Turbo S. Mounting it with a 180-degree rotation – Porsche calls it upside-down positioning – adds to the car’s extremely low centre of gravity.
2. Rear Electric Drive Motor
This 95 kW motor works in conjunction with the V8 engine to power the rear wheels as needed. When both the front and rear motors are engaged, the 918 is essentially AWD. Both motors also act as brakes to recuperate energy.
3. and 7. Power Electronics
Electronic management is critical for smooth, predictable power delivery. These control units also decouple both of the electric motors above about 230 km/h to avoid over-revving; above that, the V8 works alone to hit the 918’s 325 km/h top speed.
4. V8 Engine
This mid-mounted 4,6-litre V-8 produces 433 kW at 8 500 r/min and 500 N.m of torque at 6 500 r/min, which surpasses the output of the powerplant of the RS Spyder LMP2 race car on which it’s based. Exhaust is expelled through top-mounted pipes.
5. Lithium-Ion Battery
This liquid-cooled 6,8-kWh battery houses 312 cells that recharge via the regenerative braking system. The battery constitutes about 300 kg of the car’s 1,7-ton kerb weight and can be replenished by a quick charger in just 2 hours.
6. Front Electric Drive Motor
Driving patterns, drive-mode settings, and load demands determine electric motor use. When the independent front motor kicks in, it drives the front wheels with up to 85 kW of power; a built-in gear pack works with the motor from 0 to 240 km/h.