2015 Porsche 918 Spyder, the $1 million green monster: Motoramic Drives

It's the dawn of a new age of supercars. That’s the drama I sensed as I made the various connections to Valencia, Spain, and the off-season test circuit used by Formula 1 squads where I would drive the Porsche 918 Spyder.

It's the first of an evil trio of wild exoticars emerging from Europe in the coming months, with Germany's $845,000 Spyder followed by the $1.2 million McLaren P1 from England, and Italy’s $1.2-million Ferrari LaFerrari. In-depth comparisons between the three are already being made, some even choosing a favorite and a fastest just on paper and from photos. While inevitable, I say avoid it because all three of them are fabulous and beautiful cars, each with its own approach, priorities, and warp-speed thrills.

This new age of utterly über drives is also meant to be a relatively green one in a clear nod to pollution-choked Chinese cities. But, make no mistake, the greener P1 is bound to be quicker and more drivable than the notorious F1 before it; likewise the LaFerrari versus the Enzo, and ditto if we put this 918 Spyder up against its predecessor the Carrera GT. How extremely far these particular hairy monsters of the road have come in their sheer quickness and sophistication can convert even the most staunch retro grump. The European rating for miles per U.S. gallon for the 918 reads an average 78.4 mpg combined city and highway from the 18.5-gallon tank, though our EPA figures are always lower.

The risk with any Porsche test is getting kidnapped into a litany of facts and decimal points, but I want to minimize that. I was feeling childlike and nervous because I wanted to just drive the sucker on this heady track. Knowing all the points on the 918 where titanium bolts have shaved off grams of weight could wait. The plan: five fast laps of the 2.5-mile circuit with the middle three being the fastest. The guys at Porsche just told me not to risk dinging their very expensive pre-production 918s and to use the laps at will as an opportunity to try out the five driving modes selectable with the "map switch" at the lower right of the steering wheel. I was at no time to get sneaky and switch off the electronic stability control nor the traction control. (Maybe next time.)


But the 918's complicated power sources do need a brief explainer. The 918 Spyder is a true plug-in electric hybrid, with the fuel cap at the left rear cabin pillar and the electric plug-in outlet at the right rear pillar. A new 4.6-liter naturally aspirated V-8 sucking down high-test gas from behind the two passengers churns 599 hp at a high 8,700 rpm, and 398 lb.-ft. of torque that drops off at 6,700 rpm. The gas-powered engine rarely runs alone, thanks to two electric motors: one 127-hp unit in front with a single gear ratio acting solely on the front axle up to 165 miles per hour, and a 154-hp motor at the back axle that boosts rear-wheel power and torque right up to the 214-mph top speed directly via the seven-speed Porsche dual-clutch transmission. Total power therefore equals 875 hp, while available torque ranges between 590 and 944 lb.-ft. The hefty 3,691-lb. 918 can accelerate to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds, according to Porsche's official statistics.

I guarantee you that that figure is sandbagging.

How you interact with this three-pronged drive-/powertrain depends on the flavor you choose from the map switch: E-Power, Hybrid, Sport Hybrid, Race Hybrid and Hot Lap. In pure electric E-Power mode, the 918 can reach 93 mph for sustained periods; lawfully driven, the 918 can travel 19 miles on electrons alone. As you’ll be needing these e-boost bursts most while in either E-Power or Hot Lap, it is in these two extremes where the regenerative engine braking and actual brake pedal regen of the Porsche carbon-ceramic brakes are at their height. You can thus fully recharge the 304-lb., 6.8-kWh lithium-ion battery assembly in 25 minutes or less under the proper conditions, the same time it takes to do so at a DC quick-charge station while parked.